What I Saw in the Dark

by k.e. harloe

The author dimly visible in a kayak during the April 8 eclipse, just before the totality; light the color of brass on the water, a sliver of lemon above the treeline, and above it a sky full of eerie blues, mauves and orange-grays
Photo courtesy of the author

In April, the path of a total solar eclipse was expected to cross the North Country, the rural region of northern New York where I grew up. The partial eclipse would be viewable from a wide range of places, but the path of totality, wherein the moon fully obstructs the sun, would only be viewable from within a path about 100 miles wide. 

Where I live now, in Albany, the eclipse would be at 96 percent. But local astronomer Aileen O'Donoghue insisted that the “difference between 99.9% of totality and totality is the difference between day and night,” adding, “Don’t just sit twenty miles outside of totality and say it’s good enough. It’s really not.”

The media went into a frenzy, predicting dangerous traffic, and shortages of food and fuel. Annie Dillard’s 1982 essay, “Total Eclipse,” was everywhere. “Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him,” she wrote. Okay Annie. It all seemed a bit much.

Still, I live so close to the path of totality that I made plans to go. The day before, I drove with a handful of friends to a lake at the northern edge of the Adirondack Mountains, rolling my eyes at the doomsday signage littering the roads; I laughed as my trip-mates sweated over their phones in a last-ditch effort to convert the nonbelievers. 

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