Archive for August 11th, 1999

St Clare

How fast does a bullet travel? Something shot across the Atlantic Ocean today at 1800 miles per hour, and gouged a trail through Europe. Billions watched it pass in awe—at least if the weather permitted–a total eclipse. Here’s what Annie Dillard has to say about surviving a total eclipse:

“… I heard screams. People on all the hillsides, including, I think, myself, screamed when the black body of the moon detached from the sky and rolled over the sun. But something else was happening at that same instant, and it was this which made us scream. … The second before the sun went out we saw a wall of dark shadow come speeding at us. We no sooner saw it than it was upon us, like thunder. It roared up the valley. It slammed our hill and knocked us out. It was the monstrous swift shadow cone of the moon. I have since read that this wave of shadow moves 1800 miles an hour. Language can give no sense of this sort of speed—1800 miles an hour. It was 195 miles wide. No end was in sight—you only saw the edge. It rolled across the land at 1800 miles an hour, hauling darkness like a plague behind it. Seeing it, and knowing it was coming straight for you, was like feeling a slug of anaesthetic shot up your arm. If you think very fast, you may have tie to think, “Soon it will hit my brain.” You can feel the deadness race up your arm; you can feel the appalling, inhuman speed of your own blood. We saw the wall of shadow coming, and screamed before it hit…
This was the universe about which we have read so much and never before felt: the universe as a clockwork of loose spheres flung at stupefying, unauthorised speeds. How could anything moving so fast not crash …
Less than two minutes later, when the sun emerged the trailing edge of the shadow cone sped away … coursed down our hill and raced eastward over the plain. … At once the yellow light made the sky blue again; the black lid dissolved and vanished. The real world began there. I remember now; we all hurried away. We were born and bored at a stroke. We rushed down the hill. We found our car. We never looked back. It was a general vamoose, and an odd one, for when we left the hill, the sun was still partially eclipsed—a sight rare enough, and one which, in itself, we would probably have driven five hours to see. But enough is enough. One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief.”

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