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Kate Smith asks 9 year old Skye how she would describe the eclipse and she says: “dark”…


She’s not wrong. She’s too busy dancing to K-Pop to indulge my questioning, although she had been excited to the point of unchoreographed dancing at the time of the event.

I never thought I’d see a total solar eclipse in the Mexican desert beside an old ruined chapel, or was that just someone’s garage with a cross on the top?

Surrounded by semi-arid yet tree-covered mountains they often resemble a pointillist painting, so much so that they create the impression of being the screen backdrop to a play, or a mid-20th century film set.

The stage was also propped with flowering and fruiting cacti, with shocking pink flowers on top and small ribbed rugby-ball shaped yellow fruits nearer the bottom.

Tiny desert flowers were sprinkled across the ground. Occasionally you’d find an incredibly spiky, silvery-branched bush with orange cone-line flower heads, like aggressive buddleia.

The eclipse started about an hour before Totality, the sun a reverse Pacman with the moon. We spent most of the hour wandering around individually or in small groups. I stood, staring at the bees, flowers and leaves, to see if they would notice the fake night, and sleep and close up.

We gathered together about ten minutes before Totality, and I felt the anticipation rising in my limbs and head and chest, somewhat obsessively checking the progress of the tiny moon across the enormous sun.

Totality - 12:15, 8th April 2024, Diego, Durango State. Eleven gasps and a few gulps. The light possibly resembled Mars. The sky above us was dark, but surrounding us on the horizon was a strange 360-degree glow that could have been either sunrise or sunset.

We stood in total silence apart from a few semi-voluntary “wows”.

The corona created just enough light to make it feel like dusk. A phenomenon that is nothing more than the perfect alignment of three very differently sized globes. With observers on only one of them. This observer wasn’t entirely sure why there seemed to be a red spot at approximately 5pm on the corona.

I thought it was perhaps a solar flare or just a trick of the eye. In fact it was a ‘prominence’ - loops hundreds of miles wide made of plasma - hot gas made of electronically charged hydrogen and helium.

According to NASA: “The prominence plasma flows along a tangled and twisted structure of magnetic fields generated by the sun’s internal dynamo… An erupting prominence occurs when such a structure becomes unstable and bursts outward, releasing the plasma.”

I’m not sure if this was the first time in my adult life that I’d really noticed a natural phenomenon that I knew absolutely nothing about at the time. It felt like a discovery. I also wondered how it must have felt to witness an eclipse without knowing what it was.

Four eternal minutes that felt like nothing. The beginning of which, in less than a second, found every one of us us completely and utterly raw and sincerely awestruck. Goodness knows how many elsewhere felt the same. That light!

I tried to take it in, in the aspirational hope of recreating it in a painting, even though this would be impossible not least due to my lack of ability. There was no point trying to take a photo, it seemed, although thank God some in our group tried.

I hadn’t really fully thought about what I was about to see even after we got there. I had been looking forward to it, sure, but I had no real expectations. This worked out very well for me.

After it ended and the tiny chink of sun that was needed to immediately bring the light almost back to normal appeared, we were all still semi-speechless for a while.

A feeling of peace continued to wash over me periodically as we drove to the tienda to buy food for dinner.

Why does the human mind often struggle to take in such phenomena fully? Why are we so distracted by our own amazement?

Before we left the Desert, I walked off and stood alone for a minute or two to allow the sensation and experience to sink in before it was washed away and replaced with something else.

We have to go out to experience life and we need stillness for the experiences to sink in, to seep into us so they will stay with us and not slide off as soon as we turn away. ■

Kate thanks the SICK writing group for their comments

The Great American eclipse: 8th April 2024


I also wondered how it must have felt to witness an eclipse without knowing what it was


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