This month the sun disappeared. On the 14th of November a precise alignment of the sun, the Earth and the moon meant folks of Far-North Queensland, Australia would experience something other than another cyclone; the totality of a solar eclipse. Some people travel enormous distances for these occasions. I’ve a friend who rode the train from Brisbane to Cairns for the event. He was living in Innisfail the year Cyclone Larry struck. I’ve heard there’s always a group of hardworking, enterprising freaks who get the obligatory festival up and running. A total solar eclipse complete with its own festival against the tropical backdrop of F.N. Queensland. I imagine it must have been quite the event. And imagine I only can; as at the time I was around 2000 km away in a cemetery with my best friend, a thermos of hot coffee and two pairs of eclipse glasses. Brisbane is too far south for totality. However, the moon would still cover 80% of the sun. The cemetery is located on top of a hill and has an almost panoramic view. Also many of my relatives are buried here and, as we all know, important events should be spent with family.
This was my first solar eclipse. But the gift of insomnia has privileged me to three lunar eclipses. The last one was in a night sky filled with ragged, racing clouds. At the crucial point, a patch of sky cleared as our group of three watched the moon undergo its final transformation from pearl to red. Sadly, all nocturnal magic was revoked with the arrival of the neighbour. Completely oblivious that something magnificent was happening, he compounded his ignorance by informing us that the moon was, in any case, not real. This is the kind of guy that thinks people like David Icke should be taken seriously. Soon afterwards the neighbour went to South America to take part in an Ayahuasca ceremony. The last we heard of him was that upon his return he’d sold his house, bought an expensive, custom-fitted van and was heading north to work at the solar eclipse festival.
Conspiracy theorists insist that Neil Armstrong never set foot on the moon; that the whole event was a hoax. Many of these self-appointed experts, like my old neighbour, were still in nappies when Humanity left its first footprint on another world. I was seven at the time and remember watching the live broadcast on a black and white television with another hundred school kids. The moon landings happened! Deal with it! It’s that same moon which now appears as a black disc biting into the orange circle of the sun. I watch this majestic spectacle with my eclipse glasses on. My friend notices a young woman sitting a hundred metres or so away writing in her diary and goes to talk to her. The young woman is part of a Christian fellowship group which missed out on the e-mail from the almighty saying to go forth and prepare ye for the eclipse. My friend lends her a pair of eclipse glasses. The young woman puts them on, gazes towards the heavens and is gobsmacked by what she sees.
The sun continues to darken until there’s just a fingernail of orange left. Look away from the sun; take the glasses off and the sky still looks cloudless and bright. But this summer morning feels pale, less intense. That is until the moon slides away from the sun and a familiar warmth floods the Brisbane air. A week later I caught up with my friend who’d spent 24 hours on a train to get to Cairns. Was it worth it? He replies that the sky cleared for about thirty seconds but, they were the right thirty seconds. And witnessing thirty seconds of totality has got to be better than sitting through a cyclone any day.