Total Solar Eclipse

Under the brilliant starry sky we are waiting for dawn and the eclipse. It’s just after four am and similarly minded folk are on the move. There’s a lot of traffic on the road. But we’ve got our spot. We wait.
The Milky Way and then the fainter stars disappear as the sky shifts from black velvet to deep blue. Venus is well risen, our guide for a clear view to the east.
By a quarter to five we see a distant cloud bank, dark in the pale sky. Coastal clouds. A long way off, but how far up the sky will they rise? It’s all back in the melting pot again.
The sun will only be about fourteen degrees above the horizon at the time of the eclipse. If the clouds stay as they are I reckon we’ll have a few degrees spare. We breakfast on fruit cake and bottled water. Alison insisted on a full tank, at least a gallon of water and basic rations on board before she would embark on such a perilous anabasis into the outback. She may have a point. Anxiety has whetted our appetites and the warm air is dehydrating.
The sun rises around five thirty. Small patches of light cloud drift over the sky to the north. A sense of panic rises. Do we make a further dash westward? Or do we hold our ground here? This is not good for the health.
We make the decision to stand and fight, observe, whatever. The sun now becomes partially visible through the clouds. We put on our eclipse spectacles bought for a few dollars a couple of days back. We can see nothing though them. Have we been conned by the grasping locals? Ten to six and we get a clearer view of the sun. Now the spectacles provide a fine view of the half-eaten sun. The honest yeomen of Queensland are exonerated. We see a fat crescent which I can project with the binoculars onto a sketch pad.
The sun has now cleared the cloud bank. My confidence that we will have a clear view of totality is increasing, but it’s still a tense situation. By six twenty the crescent of the sun is very slim. The quality of the morning light is changing, it is dimmer, less vibrant.
Six thirty, the crescent is a sliver which is clearly visible to the naked eye without much discomfort. The light around us is very eerie. It is not like dawn. It is not like evening. It has a dead, colourless quality which is disturbing. I place the blank sketch pad so it’s facing the sun. I’m sure I see faint, rapidly moving shadows on it. This is a diffraction effect on the last rays from the sun which I have heard about.
It’s here, and astounding. The sky suddenly dims to a deep, deep twilight and the brighter stars appear. A tiny, brilliant necklace, Bailey’s beads, surround the dark moon for an instant and I seem to see a deep redness within them. The pale corona of the sun pushes out from the black disk of the moon like a gas stove being lit..
There are ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Aaahs’ from further up the road where a lot of people are parked. We chime in too. ‘Wow!’ Is the most articulate comment I can muster. ‘That’s just wonderful’ gasps Alison.
The scene before us is something the mind has difficulty taking in. We’ve seen it so many times before in photos and video. But this is different. There is a stark sense of the enormous scale of the event we are watching, like seeing an unbelievably high mountain. If you didn’t know what was going on this would be terrifying. I attempt to use the camcorder. It turns out that I get a few seconds of decent video but the camera is all over the place, a fair reflection of my state of mind. We’ve only just been lucky though, a cloud is very close to the sun.
Then a brilliant spot appears on the upper left of the disk. The diamond on the ring grows and as suddenly as it started totality is over. We are back in the eerie twilight. I have a poignant sense of the passing of a magic moment. This incredible event will happen again, millions of times. But it may well be that I never see it again.
Driving back down to Port Douglas feelings of quiet elation and contentment take over. I get quite jingoistic. Our defeat by cloud at Rheims in 1999 has been avenged! We have seen the total eclipse of the sun!