Chasing Moon Shadows

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Jamie Simpher
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Published on Apr 22, 2024

On April 8, eclipse fever swept through North America. Schools closed, festivals were thrown, and I took 4 airplanes to make my way from Kansas City to Mazatlán, Mexico, so I could experience 4 and a half minutes of the sun passing behind the moon with the lowest possible chance of cloud cover.

As I’m sure everyone is aware, given the mania surrounding the recent celestial event, a solar eclipse occurs when the sun, moon, and earth are all aligned, with the moon briefly blocking our view of the sun and creating a shadow that crosses the continent. But the enthusiasm in the leadup to the eclipse may have given some the impression that it’s a rare occurrence. It’s not.

Eclipses happen every year or so—if you’re willing to travel to experience them.

The 2017 eclipse was my first experience with syzygy. I was living in St. Louis at the time. My uncle, a self-proclaimed umbraphile who has chased the moon’s shadow all over the world and seen 14 eclipses to date, couldn’t wait for the one that would sweep through his hometown. He wanted to bring friends and family from everywhere to a little town called Cobden, Illinois. Yes, the eclipse would be visible in St. Louis, but by driving just a little out of the way, we’d get more totality and a lower chance of cloud cover. He had rented out an entire hotel a decade in advance—only to have it go out of business less than a year before the eclipse.

He scrambled to book an Airbnb with a huge backyard for all his guests to camp. My brother and I drove out after work with a beat-up old tent and a couple of blankets because we didn’t have sleeping bags. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep, but it didn’t matter; as soon as I saw the shimmering corona, I was hooked.

In 2019, a friend and I traveled to Vicuna, a small village in Chile known for producing pisco. My uncle couldn’t make it but advised us to choose that particular location. We drank pisco sours and explored the village-wide festival until the hour drew near. Then, we joined a huge crowd of people on a hillside and pulled out our eclipse glasses. On my uncle’s guidance, I had brought extras, just in case, to share with anyone who didn’t have them.

We stared up at the sky as it gradually darkened. The birds freaked out. The crickets got confused and started to chirp. The street lamps on the bridge began to glow. And then came the moment of syzygy. A collective gasp made up of the breaths of everyone on the hillside. We had come from all over the world to share this moment.

On the drive back to our hotel, my friend and I made plans to come back in 2020 for the next eclipse, which would also take place in Chile. Of course, that one didn’t work out. Due to world events and the complicated logistics of getting oneself to East Timor, I wouldn’t see an eclipse again until this year.

Mazatlán was alive with energy. We arrived at 10 o’clock at night and had to wait almost an hour for a cab. When we finally got one, the driver told us he’d been picking up umbraphiles from the airport since early in the morning and would be up with the sun to take another flight full of people into town before the big event.

We stayed in a quirky Airbnb on Corona Street with my uncle, his friend, and a treacherously narrow staircase. We ate freshly shucked oysters on the beach for breakfast. We befriended the owner of a mezcal bar, who taught us that there’s as much variety to mezcal as there is to wine.

And for 4 and a half minutes, we watched the sun disappear.

In the lyrics of Lorde, “I never watch the stars, there’s so much down here.” In the pathway of a total solar eclipse, even the busiest ants among us have no choice but to look into the cosmos in wonder. The details of our lives fall away under the enormity of the moment. For a few minutes, as the celestial bodies align, everyone under the sky—no matter where they come from, what language they speak, or how far they traveled to get here—shares the same experience.

And then it’s over.

If this year’s eclipse has turned you into an umbraphile, you don’t have to wait until 2044; I’ll be chasing the moon shadows to Northern Spain in 2026. If you want to go, now is the time to start planning your trip!

After all, my uncle, the umbraphile, has already booked a whole villa in Luxor, Egypt, for 2027.