a long time ago someone i know wanted me to proofread a draft of a new children's book she hoped to publish. she described herself as "ecliptic".
"i think you mean "eclectic", i said.
"no, ecliptic. like clipping things from different places."
"'eclectic' would be a better fit. 'ecliptic' is a word that refers to the path the sun takes across the sky."
she would not be dissuaded.
it is hard for me not to think of this conversation when i think of this word, or when there is an eclipse.
yesterday morning there was an eclipse. it was supposed to have been a big thing because if you were standing in the right place at the right time, you would get to see the super-rare occurrence of an eclipse that starts annular, goes total, and finishes annular.
of course the most awesomest place to be standing for this would have been equatorial africa.
as it was where i live, the best of the eclipse was to have happened at sunrise.
that would be no biggie for me, as i am in the habit now of waking between 0400 and 0500, but there's a little thing about the topography of my home: i live pretty close to downtown west bolton vermont (go ahead and google it) and it is pretty much right where the spine of the green mountains rises up suddenly.
on one side of my road it's flat wetland and generally a downhill slope toward the champlain valley but on the other side of the road -whoosh!- the mountain goes right on up.
it is very dramatic.
now is probably a good time to remind you all that i keep a gallery of pictures of the view from my desk. it is just what it says it is: pictures of the view out the window by my desk.
yes, it is very pretty. i can't take credit for that.
anyway, that very dramatic change in elevation directly to the east of my house means that at no matter what time commonly accepted civil sunrise is supposed to occur here, ACTUAL sunrise can happen here an hour and a half later because my horizon is so close to me and so far above me.
so in order for me to see some of that eclipse, i had to go somewhere with a view east and a low horizon.
that's not all that easy to do unless you want to do something strenuous like walk up to the top of camel's hump or something.
and here's the kicker: the weather forecast was for a sky partly cloudy. technically this means there might be some clouds. in reality this means the sky will be clear except for that place where a solar eclipse is happening. there will be a big cloud there.
but i went out anyway, in case i could see part of it at some point.
i'm going to pause here and remind you that you should not stare directly into the sun. that will totally burn your retinas and you will go blind. most of the time you CAN'T stare directly into the sun because the light in the visible range of the spectrum makes it hurt way too much, plus your pupils contract and restrict the amount of light going in. during an eclipse, however, there's less visible light so your pupils stay wide open to let in all those burny wavelengths and that would be bad.
so you should only look at an eclipse through special protective lenses or through a projection viewer. in terms of protective lenses, your sunglasses are not good enough. a welder's helmet will be fine. there's a specific rating of protection you should look for, and if you're going to go that way, you should look it up.
me, i have a cute little pinhole viewer.
so it's six-thirty in the morning and i'm standing on a hill in duxbury vermont at thirty-four degrees looking plaintively into a strip of clouds behind which the sun is supposedly in a VERY COOL ECLIPSE.
but then when the eclipse is nearly over, the sun POPS out from behind the cloud and i get to see a little of it. i took a picture of the inside of my pinhole viewer and sadly even though i could clearly see the disc of the sun with the little chunk bitten out, it is difficult to focus my camera on the inside of the little viewer with sufficient detail for you to see what it looked like to me.
it's possible to mess with it in manual mode but you have to spend a lot of time getting the focus just right while also lining up the tiny pinhole with the sun and the camera with the viewing hole in the box and quite frankly i prefer to spend that two minutes looking at the thing i came to see instead of desperately trying to adjust my camera focus to the last perfect millimeter while juggling a shoebox.
so. here's a pretty good view of the inside of my viewer. you'll have to take my word for it that when your EYE is stuck up against the hole, you can make out the tiny little eclipse image pretty well.