What was most notable were the birds. As the peak of the eclipse came to an end and the sky began to brighten, the birds started to sing. As though it were morning.
An eclipse is the world as we know it turned utterly wrong. The sun is not supposed to disappear midday. It excites something core in us when we witness it, like an elemental, limbic fear. Everything about an eclipse feels very strange.
I arrived at the overlook 5 hours before and staked out a good spot next to the first pioneers, Brent and Kathy, from Florida. We were on the Everett Memorial Highway out of Mt Shasta City, on a high perch looking over the valley and the Siskyous beyond.
Just before the eclipse began there were hundreds more, cars lining the road as far as you could see. People crowded the slope opposite the road and they clustered at the overlook pullout. There were old people and young couples and families, a boy wearing a Superman cape, middle-aged new-agers playing a tape of a hindu chant, repeating and repeating and repeating, we feared it would become the soundtrack of the eclipse, until I gently suggested that they might want to turn it down a little. There was the clutch of astronomy geeks with the Celestrons. There was a gathering of fiddlers across the road and under the trees, giving a concert of reels and jigs. There was a group of white robed Spanish speakers. There was a long white haired, full bearded, roly-poly drunk wandering through. There was the expert, pontificating on what was going to happen, completely clueless as to the actual facts. There were loose dogs, labradors to chihuahuas, wandering underfoot. There were coyotes calling in the distance.
At first contact the crowd began to quiet. People took pictures, through eclipse goggles, with their cellphones. The world slowly began to dim. The patches of sunlight through the trees began to take on crescent shapes. The shadows sharpened. The coyotes called. The world dimmed more quickly now, more than half of the sun was gone. I noted a 2 stop drop, ¼ the light than when we started, then half again and then another drop. The world felt very queer. The scimitared sun thinned, the horns grew and wrapped around the black orb and the disk was now wrapped in a ring. The crowd cheered.
I've been through five previous total eclipses. I expected an annular eclipse, where the sun is not completely covered and the corona doesn't glow in a starry night sky, to be a big step down. I'd been likening it to being on a date and only getting to third base. Nice, but no big payoff.
I was wrong. It's more like a real eclipse than I thought. The anticipation felt the same. The same, limbic system shudder. The physical phenomenon were the same, the quickening dimness, the sharpened shadows, the birds going to roost. There was a climax of sorts, a soft plateau of one, just less intense. Then came the return of the light, just like a total eclipse, the sense that the parabola had been crested and the arc had reversed, and the world was being set right again.