Oberlin Blogs

My Obligatory Eclipse Blog Post

April 28, 2024

Thorin Finch '26

The sky above the arboretum during the Eclipse.
The Arboretum at second twilight. Photo credit: Thorin Finch

I don’t normally write these kinds of day-in-the-life blog posts, but in light (or rather in darkness) of recent events it seems only appropriate to chronicle those truly unusual events that occurred beneath the shadow of the eclipse last Monday. As you may already be aware, the last time Ohio experienced a total solar eclipse was in 1806, before the founding of Oberlin College. Thus, while I was lucky enough to have witnessed the 2017 eclipse as well, I found myself getting swept along with the contagious energy of the Oberlin community as we readied ourselves for our first-ever total solar eclipse.  


Despite all the excitement, Monday morning seems at first stubbornly normal. Light streams in through my window as the sun rises, accompanied by the cheerful tones of my morning alarm and the faint, lilting serenades of birds encouraging Spring to get out of bed and be on time for class, just this once. The sky is streaked with scattered clouds, moving jauntily along as I walk my well-trodden paths—Stevenson for breakfast, then down past Tappan Square to Bibbins for my morning class. After the chaos of a busy weekend, the machinery of my mind slips back into the academic routine.

And yet—signs of something strange abound. Around me on the sidewalks, heads turn perpetually skywards. Conversations about the weather have gone from a pleasantry to an imperative, as every cloud looming in the sky threatens to obscure the sun. In my morning class—10 AM, well removed from the temporal vicinity of the approaching celestial phenomenon—attendance is at an aphelion. Attendance at antemeridian academics is rather like an eclipse at the best of times—occurring gradually, and only rarely reaching totality—but today the classroom is unusually empty. When I leave Bibbins again, there are already people beginning to gather in Tappan Square, harbingers of what is to come. 

Waning Gibbous

My afternoon class has been cancelled, blotted from the calendar by the path of totality. So with no readings to occupy me, I retire to my room, and let the morning air join me at my desk as the gravity of my ongoing composition project continues to hasten the decaying orbit of my free time. And, as the faint echoes of my chordal experimentation mingle with the rising chorus of activity in North Quad, the pilgrimage begins.

They come in ones and twos at first—with sun hats and picnic blankets, lawn chairs and pinhole cameras. They are the intrepid forerunners, intent on securing themselves a good vantage and patient enough to arrive early. But they will not be alone for long. The official observation party is on one of the athletics fields; a distant, northerly land of which I know little. Eventually, the murmurs of anticipation grow too difficult to ignore, and my impatient feet carry me outside into the sunlight. The clouds still hang in the sky, but the day has warmed into a proper spring one, replete with birdsong and the dappled shadows of trees. Under greater scrutiny than ever before, the mercurial Oberlin weather has delivered the perfect atmospheric canvas. Pulling out my eclipse glasses, I glance upwards and see a tiny dent in the bright circle of the sun, seemingly unnatural in its perfection—the occlusion has begun.

Half Sun

In my mind, the walk to the arboretum is something for quiet afternoons, a welcome reprieve from studying or rehearsal. On several occasions, I have found myself simply wandering the empty streets, admiring the wonderful variety of Oberlin’s eccentric houses. But today, every stately stoop and unkempt lawn is populated, and it is not until I reach the edge of the arboretum that the steady chatter of the town fades. 

Of course, that is not to say that it is quiet. In a rare alignment of celestial bodies, almost all my closest friends have found our schedules free and our paths converging, and there is much to be said. A friendly neighborhood cat takes an interest in us as we pass its yard, and for a moment the celestial phenomenon playing out above us is eclipsed by its feline charisma. Bending down to beckon it, I wonder briefly what this gregarious cat will think when it sees the sun being blotted out. Without the artifice of eclipse glasses, the poor fellow will have no idea that the sun is diminishing until totality is upon it. 

If I were a cat, I would probably think that the world was ending. Or that the sun had coughed up a very dense hairball.

A group of Obies wearing eclipse glasses, looking skyward
A gathering of my friends, outfitted for the eclipse.
Waning Crescent

My friends and I have made our camp along the shore of the reservoir—far enough from the beaten paths, we hope, to ensure a tranquil environment in which to appreciate the eclipse. The arboretum is radiant in the afternoon sun, dappled shadows shading the bank thanks to the spring canopy above us. Odd, that on one of the first warm days where the sun is out, we have gathered by the droves to wait for the few short minutes when it won’t be shining. 

Blankets are unrolled, beverages uncapped, old inside jokes dusted off and new ones begun. Our excited chatter mingles with the chatter of returning birds and the rustling of the branches overhead; time passes quickly, like a spring breeze. Our little gathering grows as friends accumulate, our shadows reach ever more distinctly across the ground. I can feel my anticipation burgeoning as uncanny twilight begins to creep across the horizon. I can only imagine what ancient peoples thought, those who had not learned to predict such things, when they witnessed such a thing. The borders of reality seem thin; anything could happen. 

A stranger stops at the lakeshore beside us, fishing pole over his shoulder. He’s fishing, he explains at our baffled querying. “This might be my only chance to fish during a total solar eclipse,” he says, and… 

Well, I suppose that’s true. 

New Sun

It is upon us. 

After watching the moon’s slow progress over the past hour, totality descends with incredible swiftness. Eclipse glasses forgotten, we gaze in amazement as twilight falls around us, a sunset on the horizon in every direction. A spontaneous cheer arises from watchers all across the arboretum—even after all the waiting, all the anticipation, we still find ourselves lacking the words to capture the moment as it arrives.

A view across the Arboretum during the eclipse
My view across the reservoir during the eclipse.

All around us, crepuscular creatures spring to life, unaware that this dusk is only temporary, all while far above the sun’s corona blazes like a halo, rendered suddenly and strikingly visible in the gloom. My first instinct is to take a picture, but I know that the paltry lens of my camera will never do this moment justice, so instead I try my best to paint the moment in my mind, so that even when daylight has long since returned I will remember it. 

A selfie of a group of Obies with the eclipse in the background
The Eclipse Gathering: I'm standing second from left, with the hat.

The three minutes of totality are endless and yet gone in a heartbeat. As the sun’s edge begins to appear, piercing the twilight with its dawning light, a spontaneous melody starts up somewhere behind me. The gaggle of watchers on the shoreline has grown to include several members of the Obertones, and they are now engaged in an impromptu A Capella serenade to our second sunrise of the day.

Here comes the sun, do-do-do-doo

Here comes the sun, and I say,

It's alright

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…


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