Things seen and unseen at the solar eclipse, 2024

Strange darkness, confused birds, and the varieties of scientific experience.

Solar eclipse seen through trees branches
Eclipse through trees (Laura Anca Chichisan)

I watched the eclipse from a cemetery. My friends and I were mostly alone, on top of a hill. We sat in a small area cleared of graves beside a large headstone with a 10-foot tall crucifixion scene. Even in a small town like Terre Haute there was giddiness in the air. An hour before totality we stopped for lunch at Oy Vey! Jewish Deli, and every single person who came in and out had eclipse glasses sticking out of their pockets. A few minutes after 2PM it started. I stepped outside and looked through my eclipse glasses for the first time. They produced total darkness except for one spot. The sun had a bite taken out of it. The eclipse had begun.

A cemetery seen during daytime
Calvary Cemetery, Terre Haute, Indiana, before eclipse (Dan Samorodnitsky)
A cemetery seen during twilight of a solar eclipse
Calvary Cemetery, Terre Haute, Indiana, during totality (Dan Samorodnitsky)

I felt taken over. I walked back inside and practically yelled “IT’S STARTING” to everyone in the room. I offered my glasses to a man waiting for soup. Two small children emerged from the kitchen to go outside and look for themselves. With binoculars the sun’s corona was already visible, a faint peach fuzz. A large sunspot was clearly visible, like a birthmark on the sun’s upper left cheek. We drove through town, shouted gleefully at some city employees setting up telescopes, handed a few of our extra glasses from our 15-pack to a family of four, and then continued on looking for our spot. 

I’d initially planned to find some nice scenic state park for my viewing, but after hearing one newscast after another about the sheer size of the star watching migration, the plan changed to simply driving until we hit a likely looking place on the side of the highway to pull over. I had three pairs of eclipse glasses in my breast pocket, just in case. At the top of a hill we saw a cemetery, spread a blanket, got out cookies, and incense. We wrote wishes on a piece of paper and burned them.