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A Timeless Quest for “Nightfall at Noon”
Remember that essay contest you guys had a while ago: “Where would you go if you could go anywhere – any time, any place?” I know you awarded the prize a long time ago, but I couldn’t let go of the idea.
One of my hobbies is to travel to remote places to see solar eclipses. I saw my first one on Saturday, March 7, 1970 when I was a senior in high school. A bunch of my friends and I took off on an 80-mile trip to see the eclipse. “Awesome” is not a strong enough word to describe the day’s events. I’ve been hooked ever since.
I took my wife on a “Love Boat” cruise in 1991 and introduced her to eclipses down in Mexico. We also went to France for two weeks in August, 1999, for a European eclipse.
But these are the “normal” trips. I have been known to do strange things that no one understands - like when I flew to Aruba in February 1998 to photograph the eclipse. I never left the airport. I immediately flew back to the US after the show was over.
So when you announced the contest, I was intrigued with the idea of traveling in time to view an eclipse - specifically, one described by Herodotus in 430 BC. The war between the Medes and the Lydians had been raging for six years. The armies were equally matched and there was no end in sight. Another battle began on May 28, 585 BC. This time, however, in the heat of the battle, a total solar eclipse occurred. When confronted with this fantastic event, the Medes and the Lydians signed a peace treaty and sealed it with the marriage of the daughter of the Lydian king to the son of the Median king. What an amazing sight this must have been – two armies stopped dead in their tracks by a solar eclipse.
There’s another total solar eclipse this year on June 21st that crosses southern Africa from Angola to Madagascar. I’ve been doing some research to see if I can take the same sort of trip that I took for the Aruba eclipse. I would land in Lusaka, never leave the airport, take my pictures, and fly out the same day. Unfortunately, the cost of airfare – in the $3,000 to $4,000 range -- is prohibitive.
I guess that I’ll just have to imagine myself out on the Median plain, watching the two armies approach one another and knowing that “nightfall at noon” will soon end a war.
Spencer R. Rackley IV