|In ancient Chinese lore, Hsi and Ho were tasked by king Chung Kang, with a special job: ensuring the moon would not collide with the sun. One day they went out drinking, and while they were out there was an eclipse, with rioting and mayhem in the streets. Hi and Ho were punished, but they had already set a trend. In Cornwall, England, during this summers total solar eclipse, the people were less concerned with seeing the event without being blinded, and more concerned with getting blind drunk.
Hsi and Ho were in tune with the same instinctual licentiousness that swept modern day Cornwall. The days leading up to the eclipse on August 11 were rife with determined debauchery. Humans were acting like dogs sensing an earthquake : knowing something significant was taking place, vigilant for trouble. We had heard exactly when and where the event would happen, and which was the best vantage from which to view it. None of us had seen a total eclipse before, however; nothing in our collective frame of reference could prepare us for a collision on this scale. We began to go mad.
The weather report had warned of overcast skies in the lane of Totality; a lot of people stayed away. We ignored the spineless defeatists. We were betting on the kind of miracle that happens when a million minds concentrate on one thing : BLUE SKY BLUE SKY BLUE SKY. We were ready to go.
You need three essential items to record a total eclipse of the sun : old school 3-D viewing glasses (approved by Eclipse Ltd., the leader in Solar Eclipse viewing eyewear (so as not to go blind like some of the less fortunate folks who have done so while staring directly the SUN!)), a waterproof throwaway camera , and a bottle of champagne ( we were not about to break with Hsi and Hos ancient tradition). The plan was to paddle far enough into the ocean to get the full effect of night on the sea as Totality was achieved. We werent just putting ourselves into the most psychedelic of viewing positions possible, turning the oceans surface into a kind of 360 degree cosmic light canvas. We were challenging our innate fear of this false midnight. We would face this cosmic disaster from the open sea, bobbing like juicy sea apples in idiotic 1950s 3-D glasses, getting drunk.
As always, with a plan this good, the authorities showed up determined to spoil it. The life guards had decided to fly red flags the whole length of the beach; no one was to enter the water until after the eclipse. We cursed our own innocence; how could we have failed to anticipate so obvious a gambit? But we had a move of our own to try : we would totally ignore them.
Affecting nonchalance, we walked straight towards the water. No one looked back. At the waters edge we heard the sound of the 4-wheeler coming up behind us. To hell with em. We all ran into the surf, jumped onto our boards and paddled out through the waves. A lifeguard got on the megaphone to shout us out, he was trumped by forces greater than us all. The moon and sun had made First Contact, and there was no way in hell we were coming out of the water until this eclipse had passed.
The cliffs had filled with wide-eyed humans. The much-feared cloud cover was clearing. During a total eclipse of the sun, the sense of night time darkness does not really take effect until the final stages of Totality, so the difference between being in a place that gets 97% and one that gets 100% is massive. We were seeing the real thing, a fast terrifying descent into night that left man, beast and bird nothing to do but go crazy.
The dogs were the first to begin the symphony of chaos that ensued at 98%; from their backyards and leads they barked and howled, confused by the sudden change in light and activity. Next were the seagulls and birds along the cliffs which began squawking and screeching and flying in circles. They were by far the most intense manifestation of the bestial madness as their aerial panic was broadcast between us the changing heavens. They flew in every direction trying to find a quick solution to this most unexpected days end. They needed to get home, and quick, and none of them were ready. The streetlights came on.
Now, with the dogs barking, the birds flying every which way but home, and the sun on a rapid course to getting swallowed whole, the humans now began their move toward frenzy. The occasional holler from the hillside would herald a few from the beach. The hollers soon became hoots and yawps. Our champagne bottle was emptying fast. As it got darker and darker, the auto-flash features on the tourist cameras began popping randomly along the whole coastline. Soon it was like a stadium concert display of flashing lights, big and small, like an offering of our own measly light show to feed the one happening above us. Folks were now screaming with abandon as the sun became but a sliver. The horizon to the west was bright orange. To the south was an ominous gray and it was closing fast. To the north a dwindling twilight. The east was like night already. It got suddenly colder. The clouds were intermittent, the cheers of humans corresponding to the moments of heavenly clarity. The break in the clouds came, the flash bulbs popped wildly, voices screamed their best sun-worshipping calls, the champagne bottle tipped up, and then it went black.