The Siberian Eclipse


Bouncy Russians!

Russian Hippies!

In the morning only the super blister and a few smaller ones on my ankle remain, the others have retreated to nothing more than patchy red marks. I’m happy with the progress and they don’t affect how I feel during the day at all, it’s just a mild inconvenience to have to keep it bandaged. We are all itching to get to the river and get comfortable, but three more Serbian guys arrive around ten and the group is almost impossible to motivate. Ten people meander through showers and the process of eating breakfast and lunch. Yana brings around the pots I borrowed from Vortex Yulia yesterday and I’m overjoyed to find some Rendang left over. There’s just enough for a small plate so I heat it up with some rice and finish it for breakfast. Like most curries, leaving it overnight has improved it and I savour this unexpected and magical start to my eclipse day. Ryan can’t bear the wait and hovers near the door with all his gear, willing everyone to be ready. Eventually we make it out the door and start moving towards the river after two with just two hours to go before the eye of the dark sun opens.

Yana being incredibly cute watching an eclipse..

So we are walking down a long, twisted street in Novosibirsk, it angles gently down to the riverside where we will witness Totality. As ever, the pavement is uneven and randomly constructed, each section created by our old friends Boris and Yuri. It isn’t a long walk from the apartment; but it doesn’t have to be long to be sweating in Siberia. It’s already in the high twenties and the humidity is oppressive. All of my instincts and experience about climate tell me I’m somewhere in South East Asia, but the heaters built into the wall of every room here tell another story about the Siberian winter. The day is still overcast and everyone is still worrying we won’t be able to see Totality. We stop to buy some beer and picnic food. A wind has sprung up and is slowly clearing the clouds away. I knew it would be a beautiful day for Zatmenia, ‘Eclipse’. There’s still an hour to go before the moon first touches the face of the sun, so we plan to sit on the grass by the river and enjoy the afternoon. There are now eighteen of us gathered together; Vortex Yulia, Yana and Vanya, Olya (Vanya’s friend from St Petersburg who arrived this morning to see it), three of Vortex Yulia’s friends, the two Xaviers, Ryan, Lukash, three Serbian astronomers, Marco and three crazy australians. There are seven countries represented between all of us and we are about to share Totality together under the Siberian sun.

Vortex Yulia bursts into laughter and abundant enthusiasm,
“I’ve passed the exam with a high distinction!”
“The English one?” Don asks.
“Yes. I’m now able to teach the top level of English, so I can ask for more money too!”
“That’s fantastic!”, I yell, giving her a huge hug and lifting her off the ground.
She is smiling even more exuberantly than normal and everyone gathers around to congratulate her.
“Now for your reward Yulia”, I continue, “I’m going to make the sun turn black for a few minutes!”
“Oh really! You are spoiling me!” She exclaims, laughing.

Our astronomers setting up...

There are a lot of people wearing labcoats selling eclipse glasses to the throngs of people making their way to the riverside. We push along the crowded foreshore to the riverside theme park. There’s mass indecision on where to seat ourselves, I want to stay on one of the concrete barriers along the edge of the pathway that we can use as a seat. I’m not happy with the idea of sitting on the grass with my super blister still reminding me what a bad idea that can be. Eventually we find an open grassed area high on the green slope that leads down to the river. We have a view of the stage area below, set with its back to the river and opening up to us. I find a plastic bag and place it under my legs before sitting on the grass and opening a cold beer. Everyone has prepared to different levels to catch the eclipse with their cameras. The Xaviers and Ryan have tripods and hefty cameras with filters to catch the full event. The Serbs also have filters for their cameras and they quickly arrange to share the tripods during the whole eclipse. I just have my normal camera and a deal with Don to take a photo of each other during Totality. My plan is to experience Totality as much as I can without worrying too much about capturing pictures. They all hope to catch the diamond ring. When Totality starts and finishes there is a moment where the corona forms a golden ring around the black sun and just where the final point is covered or uncovered is a beautiful white diamond. It is normally a very quick, transitional effect. In Turkey, it lasted for about two seconds at the end of Totality and we are wondering what this one will show us. Every Totality is different.

“First Contact!”
It has begun.
The moon has quietly touched the edge of the sun’s disk and in under an hour we will be trying to get our eyes to focus on the ever shifting corona surrounding the black hole in the sky. The atmosphere changes around us. The word spreads quickly past our small group to the thousands that are gathering along the riverbank to share the event. Everyone is reaching for their eclipse glasses to see for themselves.

Olya and Vanya checking out the partial...

Yana and Vortex Yulia preparing...

Most locals were blissfully unaware there would be a Totality coming to their home city until a few days or a week before the event. I’ve already been in Novosibirsk for more than a week telling people about it almost every day and then adding that I’ve come all the way from Australia just to see it. They think I’m crazy. They are right. Even our hosts don’t really understand it, but they will soon enough; no amount of words in any language can capture this experience. But the sheer magnificence of it still makes you want to try to share the moment with the whole world. I receive messages on my mobile from our friends in Yekaterinburg, they can also see the partial eclipse and are enjoying it. I ask Lukash if I can borrow his filter for a minute,
“No worries”, he says with his magically broad smile. We’ve taught him this classic Australian sentence already.

I snap some shots of the ever decreasing sun.

Taken over 45 minutes as the sun gets covered...

..and the show goes on...

I share a shot of vodka with everyone to celebrate the start of the eclipse and look down the slope to the river. There is live music playing on the stage now and it’s being shown in closeup on a huge video screen to one side of it. Some people are dancing in front of it and hundreds more people are arriving from the Metro station every minute. The music has a singer who is using a style of throat singing. The music is tribal, earthy and ethereal all at once and will continue through Totality.

Lukash getting ready to catch the diamond ring

The sun looks like the crescent moon through my eclipse glasses and you can now see with the naked eye that the quality of light has changed. I make three trips down to the river looking across the water to capture the rapidly shifting shadows and tones. The anticipation grows every minute; the crowd is shifting with an energy that keeps building. Everyone is smiling, even the Russians who mostly prefer a severe, dour face as their standard expression, have discovered something new. Birds are moving back to their nests and are twittering and settling as they do at sunset. I borrow Lukash’s filter and take a few more photos while moving around our group talking to everyone.

Russian furries

The small group next to us features three stunning young girls who could easily attend a professional photo shoot anytime. They are with two typical Russian guys who are pretty average looking and busily not paying the girls too much attention. The girls have just realised they are next to people from different countries and want photos to prove it. The photo session continues for a while as everyone takes turns in front of and behind the cameras. The girls all have toy fox tails hanging from their back pockets and it seems important to them to capture their tails in every picture in a variety of poses. Without even asking we know they’re Russian once this performance begins.

You can almost feel electricity in the air. The anticipation has grown suddenly and intensely, the crowd is abuzz. I check my camera is on a good setting for the most important picture of the trip and hand it to Don, he passes me his in return.

We all know it’s very close now.

I swap between looking through the eclipse glasses and glancing at the sun. It now leaves a crescent shaped residual image in your eye instead of the normal circle.

There is screaming, whooping, shouts of joy. I am a part of this noise.

The diamond ring begins….and lasts a couple of seconds…so long…the longest first ring I’ve seen. I am lost in the black sun. Language falls away into pure emotion. Somehow I stand for the eclipse picture and take Don’s in return. Then I move away from the group and stare in ecstasy. My pilgrimage is at an end. I cannot get my eyes to see the corona properly…it moves…sliding out of focus just when it seems to be about to come clear. I am singing. Lasciatemi Morire. You leave me to die. It lasts a moment and forever at the same time. I’m still trying to see the corona clearly when the second diamond ring begins and I know my eternal moment is ending.

It lasts even longer than in Turkey or Australia before returning the sun to its normal intensity.

I want to keep looking at it, to live under the Totality.

There is pure joy, exhilaration. I cannot stop smiling; the light has been turned on again. I move around our group and welcome my new eclipse brothers and sisters.

Now they understand.

Our photographers have captured the diamond ring beautifully and we all admire the pictures and remember the moment for ourselves.

I will see these natural, silent, cataclysms wherever they are.


The Pilgrimage is Complete

The 45 minutes before Totality, including what you can see with the naked eye first

Lukash caught this awesome sequence of the diamond ring



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