21 Years Ago…

…I was in France for the total solar eclipse. It was my first eclipse, and I remember being in two minds about where to try and see it. It would have been far easier to drive to Cornwall. And to see an eclipse on English (well, Cornish) soil, would have been wonderful. But the prospects for clear skies was better in France.
As it turned out, there was 100% cloud cover on the morning of the eclipse. And even as we drove to the observation site in Rheims, it was cloudy.
But, as often happens during eclipses, the temperature drop during totality thinned the clouds out somewhat, and we got to see totality. I took the photo below.
It wasn’t till seven years later that I got to see a complete eclipse, from first contact through. That was in Turkey, and it was quite amazing seeing it from a beach by the Mediterranean.
And of course, there was the Great American Eclipse of 2017. Another wonderful experience.
But you never forget your first one. It’s not just the sight of the solar corona, it’s the whole feeling of standing in the Moon’s shadow. The only time you ever can do that. And the many different effects… the false, unearthly twilight. And it got so dark, (because of the cloud cover). I saw the Moon’s shadow racing across the lake I was sitting by. I’ve never seen that at the other two eclipses, and I’ve looked.
Each eclipse is unique. People tell you that, and you can’t imagine they would be, but they are. France 1999 was so dark, and slightly sinister even. But I remember the champagne corks popping as the clouds parted, and the cheers and gasps as we saw the great ring of fire in the sky. I suspect we were even more excited because all morning we’d expected to be clouded over. There was only me and one old guy on the bus that were optimistic as we drove to the observation site. Weather changes quick – you can never rule stuff out.
Some people in the same park in Rheims didn’t get to see it totality. That’s so unfair. My friend who went to the Faeroe Islands to see the eclipse of 2015 had a similar situation, where some people on her trip saw totality and she didn’t. Luckily she came to the States in 2017 on the same trip as me, and got to see a complete total eclipse from first contact to last, and it was indeed magical.
But France 1999 will always mean such a lot to me. I dearly hope I get to see another eclipse but even if I don’t, I feel I’ve been so lucky to see nature’s greatest spectacle.


Totality in Rheims, taken with my Olympus 35mm SLR