A novel and screenplay by Jeffrey R. Charles.
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Copyright 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 Jeffrey R. Charles.
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Syzygy is inspired by the total solar eclipse expedition experiences of Jeffrey R. Charles and the experiences of a few South American people he became acquainted with during his 1994 eclipse expedition. Among other things, Syzygy explores the effects Latin American culture and politics can have on a visitor, particularly in situations where the visitor may become sympathetic to the plight of the country's poor after seeing it first hand. Even when a visitor does not actively promote causes of the poor, simple association or identification with them can lead to difficulty which may be imposed by some among an area's privileged, and the unsuspecting traveler or those he meets can be drawn into some degree of political intrigue and socioeconomic conflict.
The story exaggerates the actual experience, but not to an extent beyond what could potentially occur in some areas. (This paragraph was written in 1997, so it may become dated.) One need only recall political imprisonment of some in Peru to see the extremes of what can actually happen to a person in Latin America. It is important to note that the paranoia and sanctioned oppression exhibited by the Peruvian government are not prevalent in modern day (e.g. circa 1997) Bolivia, which has policies that are far more civilized by comparison. In order to include more action in the story, demands imposed on the fictional central character in will not degrade his health as severely as Mr. Charles' health was degraded on his 1994 expedition.
The Syzygy story begins with a brief fictional account of an eclipse in South America, then emphasizes a different eclipse over the central United States during the 19th century. The way people talk is intended to be authentic to the time, so antiquated terms such as "Injun" are used, as are antiquated phrases such as "throwed in jail".
A dusky sunlight covers the bleak, high altitude landscape of central South America. A few birds are in flight as they seek the refuge of their nests. It has only been a few hours since sunrise, but these birds respond to the fading light just as they have in the past days and months. All is quiet.
In the distance, a group of people have come to notice the changing light. Many eventually seek shelter as they would during a storm or at the end of the day. They know that the present events are unusual because the sun is high overhead, but they do not know just what is happening. Some remember being told that their people used to have explanations for unusual events. Before the Spanish came and plundered their civilizations, it was said that some could predict even the times that unusual events would occur. But the Spanish had come more than a generation before, and there was no one left who could predict events, or even tell them what was happening now.
The sunlight grows dimmer and dimmer. Soon, it dims so quickly that the fading light is obvious to everyone in real time. On one side of the sky, a diffuse darkness appears to descend on everyone. Many become alarmed and there is panic. The sun is going out!
The few who dare to stay outside and look up see a small sliver of sunlight shrink into a small bead and go out, but there is still something in the sky where the sun was. A dark, round area is surrounded by a ring of light. The light has bright lines in it which extend out from the dark round area. It is as though a great eye is looking back at them. Some people scream or shout. Some are frozen with fear. The sun as they knew it is gone!
The view of the ring of light fades to a darkness, then:
A star field fills the field of view. Gradually, one point of light near the center becomes brighter than the rest and it becomes apparent that it is being approached. It soon becomes obvious that the light is blue, then it can be seen that it is a planet with a smaller dark gray sphere in front of it, slightly off center toward the right. As the planet grows larger, the relative size of the gray sphere appears to enlarge and gradually become more centered in front of the blue planet. As it becomes centered, it completely covers the planet, then it appears to grow still larger and gradually move off to the left and out of the field of view, again revealing the blue planet. The blue planet continues to appear larger until the view is filled with an area on its top half. The planet is the earth, and all but the upper part of the North American continent fills the field of view. An unusual round dark area having a feathered edge has become visible on the northwestern limb of the planet. It is the shadow of the moon, about to move over a largely unsuspecting population.
The viewpoint shifts to shifts to an aerial view of a man rapidly riding a horse over hilly and grassy terrain. A ground level view shows that he is a middle aged man with graying hair. From his vantage point, the ride over the rolling hills is exhilarating. An aerial viewpoint from behind him shows that the terrain in the distance ahead is relatively flat and that he is approaching a farm.
The date is August 7, 1869. The place is a few miles northeast of the small northeastern Kansas town of Grasshopper Falls, which later came to be known as Valley Falls. In a few hours, something extraordinary is going to happen.
Syzygy, Part 1: "An Unusual Day for Pioneer Benton Marfold"
Cy Pittenrouge, the local sheriff, is riding to the Reichart (pronounced Ritchert) farm northeast of Nichols' station in order to check out a report that a fence had been torn down, presumably by outlaws. Richard, his wife Ilene, and several other members of the Reichart family were among the first pioneers to settle in the area. Richard and his wife are now in their 50's, and do not have any children. Richard is tall and of medium build, has dark graying hair, and a mustache. He tends to talk in a loud and enthusiastic way most of the time, and is locally known for keeping his wagon in tip top shape. Ilene has long black hair which shows only slight graying. As farmer Reichart is repairing the southern part of his fence, Cy can be seen approaching a farm house in the background. Cy arrives at the farm house, dismounts his horse, and Richard's wife, Ilene, comes out to meet him.
Ilene: "Cy Pittenrouge! So good to see you!"
Cy: "Much obliged to see you, Ma'am. How's things with y'all?"
Ilene: "Richard's out a mendin' the fence. Some folk teared some a it up last night."
Cy: "I heard there'd been some orneriness out this way, so I thought I'd ride out an' see if i'twas all so. Housen Lots' place looks somethin' terrible. His barn woulda got burnt clean up if he hadn't seed some feller a settin' the fire an' run 'im off."
Richard walks up and says: "Howdy, sheriff!"
Cy asks: "How ya doin' today, Mr. Reichart?"
Richard responds: "OK I guess. Some of my crops ain't too good though, bein' as a some critter got in here after my fence was all messed up. I kin show ye a place where me fence was teared up over here."
Cy: "Good seein' ya 'gin Misses Reichart."
Richard and Cy walk back toward the fence on the south side of the farm while Ilene goes inside the house.
Cy asks: "Any idea who mighta' done this?"
Richard responds: "Nope. No idea, but I guess 'ya heard that the railroad wants more a me land. Ya'd think they'd be satisfied. I already let 'em run a track aside me property. Whata ya think?"
Cy replies: "I think it has to do with the railroad all right. There's been a lot a property damage along the railroad's proposed spur route ta half mound. Too much damage ta be a coinkerdink, err, a, coincidence, but I don't think the railroad done it."
Richard: "Ya don't?"
Cy: "Nope. Cuz the big railroad fellas 'round here seem to be a gittin' along with most folk now. I think some ornery folk acted on their own initiative so they could try and git hired ta do dirty work fer tha railroad. If they kin git enough folk mad at the railroad, more folk might resist them new rail routes they wanna build. That could make the railroad git more likely ta hire troublemakers like them, kinda like how them lawyer varmints git folk a fightin each other back east. Speakin' a ornery folk: Ever hear 'bout Ezra (pronounced Ezry) Hoskins?"
Richard and Cy arrive at one part of the fence Richard had been repairing, which is only a few dozen yards from the railroad tracks.
Richard: "Nope. Shore ain't. Think he mighta done this?"
Cy: "Ezra and his kin are ornery fellas outa Plattsburg, Missouri. I hear'd they been a messin' 'round these parts lately. Yep, I think it was Ezra Hoskins, or if it wasn't, it was one a' Ezra Hoskins' boys. They been in a lotta' mischief before, and I been a' wantin' ta see 'em throwed in jail for a long time. Cain't seem ta catch 'em in the act though, otherwise I could git 'em throwed in jail. Y'all oughta take care travelin' alone, seein' as what's happened."
Richard: "Seems ta be harder an harder ta git troublemakers throwed in jail now, with civilization and its bleedin' heart varmints a movin' in around us and all."
Cy: "Yep, and its a gonna git worse. Why, I bet that less than a hunert years from now, there'll be a million folks a livin' west of the Mississippi. It'll shore be crowded then. Well, I better be a gittin' back ta Grasshopper Falls. God speed with yer fence."
Richard: "Thanks fer a comin' by sheriff."
Cy: "Oh, I almost fergot. Some folks from outa town tell me there's a gonna be an e-clipse of the sun this afternoon. They say its gonna be differ'nt than any 'clipse we's ever seed before, somethin' 'bout it bein' total er somethin', whatever that means. Prob'ly nothin' special."
Richard: "Yep. Most a the time they say there's a dog gone e-clipse, things don't look no differ'nt ta me a'tall. The only in'er'stin' one I kin recall was on some mornin' way back in October a '65. Thanks fer a tellin' me about this un though."
Richard puts down his tools and dusts off his pants.
Richard: "If y'all can wait up a spell, I'd like ta ride into town with ya. I could use some more supplies fer me fence."
Cy: "I can wait, but I gotta stop by Benton Marfold's place on the way back." Richard: "Well, I ain't seen ol' Benton for quite a spell, so I may as well tag along.
Richard grabs his tools, walks over to his horse, puts the tools in the saddle bag, and he and Cy walk the horse a few hundred feet back toward his house. Less than half way back, he finds a note attached to an uprooted fence pole.
It reads: "Be back fer yer barn an yer crops today. Don't try an stop us."
Richard reads the note and looks concerned.
Richard: (as he hands the note to Cy) "Hadn't seed this before. Whata ya reckon they's a gonna try?"
Cy looks pensively at the note and slowly shakes his head side to side.
Cy: "I've seen this sorta thing before. It's Ezra Hoskins and his boys all right. They may try an' burn y'all out, and with the drought we've had, no fire would stay put on just one farm. That's the trouble with ornery types: They're too unsophisticated to think about problems their actions will cause in the long run."
Richard: "So what's there to be done?"
Cy: "Nothin' for now, bein' as they may try an' shoot anyone who interferes with 'em. I can try an' round up enough folks in town to watch yer land today. This is the first time the Hoskins boys ever told anyone 'bout what time and place they were plannin' ta cause trouble. They prob'ly won't be back fer a spell though, bein as they prob'ly know I'd be a checkin' things out this mornin'."
Cy and Richard reach the farm house and Richard goes inside and takes off his hat. Ilene greets him. He shows her the note that had been attached to one of the fence posts and tells her to keep an eye out for troublemakers. He kisses his her, grabs his hat, goes outside and mounts his horse.
Cy and Richard ride away to Benton Marfold's place, a couple of miles closer to town. Benton is in his 30's, unmarried, and has lived in the area for more than 10 years. They ride part of the way over low, rolling, grassy hills and the rest of the way on a trail that runs between farms. Finally, they arrive at Benton's place in a little less than 15 minutes, dismount and tie their horses, then knock on Benton's door. Benton answers the door.
Benton: "Well, howdy! Good to see ya, sheriff, and you too Richard. It's been a spell. C'mown in! "
Richard, Cy, and Benton greet, shake hands, go inside, and sit down.
Benton: "Word from Housen Lot has it that there's been some property damage recently. Any luck trackin' down the culprits?"
Cy: "A lot more places been messed up than I first thought. Richard's fence was messed up last night, and Housen Lot's place was really tore up somethin' fierce.
Benton (surprised): "Housen Lot's place again, last night? What he told me of happened a few days ago."
Cy: "Yip. No luck finding the culprits, but I think I know who they is."
Cy: "Well, it was either Ezra Hoskins or one of Ezra Hoskins' boys. Ever hear of 'em?"
Benton: "Only by reputation. Whenever somethin' ornery happens, I often hear people say it musta been Ezra Hoskins or one of Ezra Hoskins' boys. If he and his boys cause so much trouble, why ain't they been throwed in jail?"
Cy: "Gotta catch 'em in the act or have witnesses, and nobody ever seems ta see nothin'."
Benton: "Glad to see that you mighta figgered out who done it. Some folk been a blamin' the Delaware Indian folk a livin' near me, but I haven't seen 'em cause any trouble 'tall. I have a lot a contact with 'em, being a tutor and all."
Richard: "You tutor Injuns? I thought most of 'em didn't like our ways?"
Benton: "Yes, I tutor them, and while the Delaware people want to maintain their traditions, many of them also want to learn. What they don't want is to have their families pulled apart like what happens when the government ships their children off somewhere that they'll be forced into at least the appearance of rejecting their traditions. You see, many of their traditions can coexist with education. It is just that some back east seem to think that Indian traditions are a threat to their agendas."
Richard: "That's a mighty differ'nt kinda view."
Cy: (Interrupting) "I wouldn't sell them Injuns too short. You know that e-clipse I was tellin' you about? Nearly six months ago, some of them Injuns said there was a gonna be an eclipse today, but no one 'cept Benton here paid 'em no mind. No white folk ever said nothin' 'bout it till last week."
Benton: "That's right. Before then, we never heard anything about it from any other white folk, but for several days now, a whole passel of scientists from the east have been travelin' through town. Some of 'em mentioned today's eclipse. They say it'll be total somewhere around these parts, but other than sayin' it's goin' to get dark, they won't say much 'bout what to expect from it. They also don't seem to agree about where the eclipse will be total. Some say north of town, some say right in town, but none of 'em will be specific. Not a very friendly sort, either. When we try to find out more, they act we're all a bunch of idiots."
Cy: "You mean today's eclipse really will be differ'nt than the tothers?"
Benton: "Oh yes. During most eclipses, the sun is only partly covered by the moon. Sometimes you can't even tell that there is an eclipse because such a small amount if the sun is covered. Today, if you are in the right area, the moon will cover the entire sun, and it'll get dark right smack in the middle of the day!"
Cy: "How long will it last?"
Benton: "A little after noon today, the eclipse will start like all the others. It should get total an hour or so after that. It will only be total for a few minutes. That's when it will get dark."
Richard: "That could really surprise a lot of people, 'specially the Injuns!"
Benton: "Yes, it prob'ly will. Unfortunately, there's no way to inform everybody 'bout it in time. As for the Indians, they did not know today's eclipse would be total until I told them, but some of their traditional stories do tell about what ta 'spect during what I assume is the dark part of an eclipse. That is where I learned most of what I know. Many underestimate the knowledge of the Indian people; why, did you know that some well known foreign explorer once tried to use his knowledge of a lunar eclipse to scare a tribe of people into obeying him, and when he approached the chief to tell him that the moon would "turn to blood", the chief calmly replied: "Oh, you mean the eclipse?""
Cy: "So what do these Injun stories say 'bout today's eclipse?"
Benton: "Traditional stories say that animals behave as though the sun is setting. They also tell about a glow that is visible around the moon during the eclipse. Some say that the eclipsed sun looks like the eye of a great spirit."
Cy: "What does that mean?"
Benton: "Translated to our viewpoint, it means it looks like the eye of God."
Cy: "Sounds inter'stin'. You mean to say that the Indians looked at the eclipse? It hurts to look at the sun, and I hear it ain't safe to look at it!"
Benton: "Since it gets dark during a total eclipse, it must not hurt to look at the sun when it is completely eclipsed; however, some traditional Indian stories do tell of people going blind after eclipses. I guess that this may be from people looking at the sun when it is partially eclipsed, since I have heard of people around these parts having problems with their sight after a partial eclipse. Some traditional stories also say that a pregnant woman can miscarry her baby if she is outside during an eclipse."
Richard: (Joking) "Could be from all the excitement if the sun gets so dark you can look at it!"
Benton: "The eclipse should be something worth seeing, and there may be more to see than just the darkening of the sun. Some traditional stories tell of a growing dark storm and strange colors that surround everyone, but I don't know what these mean. Shore should be interestin', though. I'm lookin' forward to seein' it!"
Cy: "Got me all inter'sted! I'll have ta take time ta see it today!"
Richard: "Got me all fired up too!"
Benton: "Be careful that you only look toward the sun when it is totally eclipsed."
Richard: "How will we know just when that is?"
Benton: "Not sure how to tell exactly when it starts bein' total, but I 'spect you'll prob'ly just know. It makes sense that it should be 'bout when it looks dark on the ground around you."
Cy: "Well, I better git to why I'm here. I wanted to know if you had any property damage recently, or if you or any folk you know gitted any threats."
Benton: "No, I haven't, but then, my property is not near the proposed rail line. I have head that there may be some trouble brewin' 'twixt some folk and the railroad."
Cy: "I cain't imagine the railroad bein' behind it in this day and age, even if they do want the land. The Half Mound spur's a pretty low priority for em now, but I'm a gittin' concerned 'bout all this 'cause a what happened at Housen Lots' place an' acause Richard here just got a threat sayin' his place 'll git wiped out today. My guess is the Hoskins boys may be a plannin' to burn him out, so Im goin' ta town an' round up some folk ta hep try an' stop 'em. I reckon they'd usually try an burn crops in the heat of the day, but bein' as there won't be as much sun as usual today, its hard tellin' what'll happen."
Benton: "They would start a fire in this drought? No fire could be confined to one farm."
Cy: "No one ever accused outlaws of bein' smart or thinkin' ahead."
Benton: "And they warned you 'bout causin' this trouble ahead of time?"
Benton: "Hmm... Sounds like those Hoskins boys really aren't too bright."
Cy: "Yep, I'd say that."
Benton: "Think they know about today's eclipse?"
Cy: "You know, I'd say not. Even if they'd been told 'bout it, they probably wouldn't believe it. Ezra tends to believe what he wants, whether it's right or not. Don't confuse eem with the facts, his mind is made up."
Benton(after a pause): "Sounds like they're a goin' to act in the afternoon, maybe about the same time as the eclipse... Perhaps we could use the eclipse to thwart their plans, maybe even catch 'em."
Benton: "Oh, I was just thinkin' out loud, but maybe it is worth considering." (Benton pauses and thinks for a few seconds.) "We know that it is going to get dark at the eclipse, and they probably don't. If we can find 'em with things they'd use to start a fire, we could move on 'em during eclipse if there's still enough light to see 'em."
Cy: "Sounds like it may be worth trying. Whata you have in mind?"
Benton: "(Benton looks contemplative) Well, I'll have to think about it."
Cy: "It shore would be nice if I could git them Hoskins boys throwed in jail."
Benton: "What if... we tell the folks you bring out to Richard's farm ta look for anyone they don't know who is carrying torches or lanterns. If you deputize everyone, then anyone who sees folk a messin' around with fire 'round Richard's farm could arrest 'em, and we could ask 'em questions. If we find 'em during the eclipse, we could wait till when the sunlight comes back after the eclipse ta talk to 'em. We can tell your folk it'll get dark during the eclipse, so they'll know what to expect. Even if the Hoskins boys don't show, we can all git a nice view of the eclipse."
Cy: "Sounds like a good idea to me. Well, I better be a gittin' ta town.
Everyone gets up and walks outside.
Cy: I should be back out to Richard's farm with the posse in an hour or so. Nice seein' ya again, Benton."
Benton: "Likewise, Sheriff."
Richard says to Benton: "Ya kin come own by me farm today if ya like. Ilene's been a wantin' to have some folks by for quite a spell."
Benton: "Be glad to."
Richard says to Cy: "Sheriff, if ya don't mind, I think I'll ride with Benton out to my place."
Cy: "That's fine. That way, Benton won't have to ride out there alone. I kin git some fence wire fer ye whilst I's in town."
Richard: "Why thank ya Sheriff!"
Richard gives Cy a few coins, then Cy mounts his horse and rides off to town while Richard and Benton prepare to ride out to Richard's farm. Benton goes inside, grabs a small extendible telescope, a canteen, and his saddle, then he saddles and mounts his horse and both he and Richard ride out toward the farm.
Meanwhile, Ezra Hoskins, his son Edward, and several of his gang are preparing to ride out and cause more trouble. Ezra gives orders and rallies his gang by blaming their problems on various people in the area. After this, the last few of his boys mount up and the gang rides out at a fast gallop.
Richard and Benton soon arrive at the farm, go in the house and greet Ilene. Then they tell her about the eclipse.
Ilene (somewhat excitedly) "Oh Lordy! First the fence an' now the sun! It's a shapin up ta be a right inter'stin' day aint it?"
Cy: "Yep, shore is."
Richard brings a few chairs outside in preparation for the people Cy will be bringing from town. Several minutes after this, the partial phase of the eclipse begins, but no one notices. A little over half an hour later, Cy arrives with ten men from town. Most of them dismount their horses and greet Richard, Ilene, and Benton. After some conversation, some of the men position themselves around the farm buildings. By now, some folks notice the dimming ambient light, and many make comments to each other about it.
Cy says to Richard: "I reckon them ornery varmints 'll prob'ly come from the east er the west an foller a line 'twixt east a here an Housen Lots' place."
Richard: "I don't like the thought a seein' them varmints, 'tall, but I'd shore feel better 'bout 'em comin' while the posse's here than at some other time."
Meanwhile, Ezra Hoskins and his boys ride past a farm which is a few miles northwest of Richard's farm. His boys are getting nervous about the changing light because they don't know what is causing it. The air is slightly cooler, and some say they want to leave because a storm must be brewing. Though he does not know what is causing the dimming light, Ezra reacts by pointing out that there are no significant clouds in the sky, then begins verbally brow beating them for their failure to notice this. As Ezra starts his tirade, one of his boys says under his breath: "Here he goes again; o'l fire mouth". As Ezra gets more abusive, he says "Y'all chicken livers may as well just go on an' git if ye cain't take it." At this, the group separates from Ezra and Edward and rides away.
At Richard's farm, the posse continues to keep a look out. Ilene brings water to some of the men. One man quickly glances at the sun. It is too bright to look at directly, but he can tell that it has become a wide crescent shape. The sunlight has now been growing steadily dimmer for over an hour. Birds have begun to fly back to their nests and it appears as though it is near evening, but the sun is still high in the blue sky overhead. Under the leafy trees, crescent shapes of light can be seen projected on the ground. Some gather around one of the trees to look at the crescents, which appear to dance on the ground whenever the tree is moved by a mild gust of wind. A gentle and sustained breeze soon begins to blow from the south. The sky near the west-northwestern horizon is gradually beginning to darken, but only the few people watching the west side of the farm notice it. They are not concerned about it but they do look puzzled and ask each other if they know what it is. No one does.
Ezra and Edward, are now riding slightly less than a mile west-northwest of Richard's farm. Ezra is in front and carrying a torch, still muttering to himself under his breath about the boys that left. Edward follows with a lantern. They stop near the southeast corner of a field and look around, then they dismount their horses, cut the fence wire, and splash kerosene over a small part of the field. Ezra suddenly looks surprised and disappointed as he watches Edward take his lantern and throw it into the field, starting a fire. The fire rapidly spreads over the area doused with kerosene, but from there, it spreads very slowly and makes relatively little smoke. Fields usually do not burn easily in northeastern Kansas, but the drought has changed this situation.
Ezra slowly shakes his head from side to side, then he whacks Edward on the head with his hat and verbally brow beats him for throwing away his lantern. They mount their horses and ride toward Richard's farm, staying hidden behind the left side of a low rolling hill to their east. Ezra is upset about the slow progress of the fire and brow beats Edward for supposedly not dousing the field properly. As they get closer to the hill, they turn south and move along side it.
Back at the farm, the darkening in the west-northwestern sky still is not particularly obvious, but it is enough to make the smoke from the distant fire almost invisible; however, the contrast between the western sky and the foreground do make it easier to pick out bright or moving objects near the horizon. One of the men spots a point of light moving unevenly along horizon. He suspects it could be Ezra Hoskins or possibly one of his boys, and tells the others near him about it. The men pass the word and keep an eye on the light. It soon disappears behind the right side of the nearby low hill. Two of the men casually mount their horses but do not ride out.
Ezra and Edward are riding south just beyond the low rolling hill west of Richard's farm. Edward has begun feeling uneasy about the dimming sunlight. He happens to look to the west and sees the deepening darkness. The west-northwestern sky is substantially darker than it had been only a few minutes before, with the darkest area extending almost all the way from the west to the northwest. This causes him even more uneasiness.
Edward: (in a quivering voice) "P-Pa..."
Ezra does not respond, so after a pause, Edward speaks again: "Pa, I really think ya oughta..."
Ezra (interrupting) "Oh, shuddup Edward!"
Edward: "But ya gotta see this, Pa. It's somethin'... I'm ascared."
Ezra: (while turning toward the west to talk to Edward, who is behind him) "Oh, what!..."
Ezra is stopped in mid sentence by the sight of the growing darkness in the west-northwest. His eyes get wide, he stops his horse, and his mouth drops open in amazement and fear. After a short pause, he yells "gityup" while turning his horse to the east and dropping his torch. The torch falls on a barren patch of ground but does not start a fire. Edward yells: "Wait fer me Pa." and also turns his horse to the east. In near panic, they ride fast, not suspecting that they are riding straight toward the waiting posse at Richard's farm.
The posse hears the sound of running horses, so the other men on the west side of the farm begin to mount their horses. A few seconds later, Ezra and Edward crest the hill, still riding straight for the posse. The Some of the posse quickly ride toward them, meeting and calming them, after which they arrest them.
Edward asks: "What is... th-tha-at?" while pointing to the west.
"Must have somethin' to do with that e-clipse I guess" said one of the posse.
Edward: "What 'clipse?"
The posse seats the Hoskins boys on some chairs and ties them up, telling them they will only be tied to the chairs until the eclipse is over. Benton Marfold had overhears Edward's question and looks toward the west, where he sees the deepening darkness. To Benton, the growing darkness is obvious but not particularly ominous. He looks contemplative and thinks to himself: "So this is the dark storm."
The sun is now more than 90 percent covered and appears to be a bright crescent shape. After the brief excitement of capturing Ezra Hoskins and his boy, everyone has grown quiet from amazement at the changing character of the surroundings. They have all gradually realized that the sunlight is becoming dimmer, and everything around them appears to be grayish, as though it was a dreary winter day. By contrast, there is an unusual harshness to the edge of shadows. The sky is still getting darker in a large area on the west to northwestern horizon, but the change is gradual, so few people notice. Soon, a train whistle is heard from a train approaching from the east. It is over an hour behind schedule, which is unusual.
The train is running slightly faster than usual because it had started out late from Atchison, having been chartered earlier that morning to take a group of scientists to an eclipse site west of town. The few passengers on the train have noticed the unusual lighting outside, and some of them begin to get agitated. The engineer has also noticed the dimming and changing light, but realizes that it is still brighter than it normally would be at sunset. He looks out the north side window to see more of the unusual lighting, then he leans out and looks toward the front, and is astonished at the sight. On the horizon in front of him and slightly toward his right, the sky has taken on a dark blue pall. He has seen this deep blue color before. It is like the darkness under a severe late afternoon storm, but a closer look reveals that there are only a few thin clouds in the sky. He continues looking at it until a minor noise inside the cab of the engine catches his attention.
The train continues westward toward the now ominously darkening sky. After tending to the engine, the engineer again looks out the north window. He is even more astonished than before. To the north, the few clouds near the horizon have become a pale yellow color, much like the color it can be just before sunset. He looks in amazement, then again looks toward the west. His eyes get large at the sight of the approaching and growing darkness, which is becoming quite large. He begins to become frightened, so he starts to slow the train. It comes to a stop just short of Richard's farm.
The engineer gets out of the engine while looking at the shadowed western sky, his mouth agape in astonishment. Passengers begin emerging from both sides of the train, and when they see the darkness in the sky, some of them slowly walk toward it, partly so they can see the area obstructed by the engine. As they go, most look at the sky in wide eyed amazement. The darkness now extends almost all the way from the southwest to the north, with the highest point being about 25 degrees above the western horizon. A few people glance toward the sun, but it is still a little too harsh to look at.
Some of the people at Richard's farm look at the low rolling hill to the west and notice that wheat growing on it seems to be a more intense golden yellow color than usual against the deep blue western sky. The field even seems to be shimmering, almost like it is on fire. Others look across the railroad tracks to the south and notice the same effect, but without as much of the apparent yellow color. In amazement, some of them walk toward the southern field to have a closer look. Two even run. Most of the fence is still down, so it does not interfere. Some people also notice that the ground around them appears to be covered with aimlessly wandering bands of shadows. Benton stops about 75 feet short of the tracks to take it all in. In a few seconds, the shimmering becomes far less distinguishable and soon stops.
The increasing darkness is no longer confined to the western horizon. It is growing; wider and wider, higher and higher into the western sky. Overhead, there is only a tiny sliver of bright light where the sun used to be, and it is accompanied by a ghostly curved line that extends from its cusps far enough to barely form a complete ring. The outside of the ring is feathered, but the inside is sharply defined, revealing the complete outline of the moon. The ambient light is now nearly 100 times dimmer than normal. Toward the west, the rapidly growing darkness now covers almost one quarter of the sky! Yellow color begins to be more pronounced on the horizon toward the north and south, near either side of the growing darkness. The light level begins to fall rapidly, getting dimmer and dimmer as the approaching darkness seems to completely cover the sky. They are being engulfed! Suddenly, all of the direct sunlight disappears! Some people begin to scream, and someone yells: "Look at the Sun!"
Everyone looks up toward the sun. Some gasp, others scream, and still others silently stare in amazement. Overhead, where the sun used to be, they see a dark disk surrounded by a softly glowing ring of pearly white light, which is the solar corona. There is still a very short arc of bright light remaining on the left side of the dark disk, and this arc quickly shortens and randomly breaks into small points, then the remaining points of bright light go out. A dimmer pink arc of light remains, but it too shortens and all of it except a few dimmer spots of it disappear. Though the people do not know it, the pink arc is the solar chromosphere and the remaining spots of pink light are prominences, some of which are larger than the earth!
As everyone's eyes adjust to the dimmer light, the glowing ring of light around the dark gray disk of the moon appears to be wider and brighter than it had only a few seconds before. It is unlike anything they have ever seen before: It is about as broad as the diameter of the dark disc, but there are many delicate bright lines and fan like streamers extending from it. Wider and longer streamers are visible on each side of the disk, with one on either side extending to at least an additional disk diameter beyond the outside of the ring of light. Small areas of bright pink light are visible around the edge of the dark disc. A few stars are also visible overhead. A really bright starlike object is visible about 25 degrees to the upper left of the eclipsed sun. A dimmer one only 5 degrees to the right. All is quiet, and everyone stands in awe. One person notes that the eclipse has an appearance reminiscent of an eye.
It is bright enough to barely see the foreground and the entire horizon is ablaze with the yellow and orange colors of a sunset! Some motion above the eastern horizon catches the eye of a few people, and they look to see the moderate brightness remaining in the eastern sky steadily retreating toward the horizon, as though being covered up by a great shadow. The upper sky and the dark disk are both a dark grayish blue. Nothing is completely black.
Mariana Doyle had been on her way to visit people in the area, including her sister in Grasshopper Falls. She had exited the north side of the train and rushed to near the font of the locomotive, but now, she was slowly walking backwards as she beheld the eclipsed sun in amazement. She was overwhelmed. As she continued moving backward, she bumped into Benton Marfold. She turned to see whom she had bumped into, then she and Benton's eyes met under the dim, eerie light of the eclipse. At that moment, she and Benton felt as though they had known each other for a very long time. Neither of them ever looked back at the eclipse.
Syzygy, Part 2: "A Modern Day Moonshadow Encounter"
The view point again shifts to the eclipsed sun, then zooms out to show a wide view of the eclipse with the horizon about 20 degrees below it. The date is now February 26, 1979. The place is just south of Grassrange, Montana. Three members of the Charles family, distant descendants of Benton Marfold, have traveled from Colorado to Montana to see the eclipse. Their site is one of the few off road areas which has been plowed free of the half meter of remaining Montana snow pack, so there are dozens of other people, including two bus loads of school kids, at the site with them.
Everyone is silent and in awe. John and his brother Dan are taking pictures of the eclipse with separate cameras. As John is operating his cameras, he looks toward the east and northeast, where he sees the boundary of the dark gray lunar shadow, or umbra, rapidly and smoothly moving over the sky toward the east, appearing to eat up the brighter blue sky below it as it goes. He stops shooting pictures and looks with interest. The boundary of the umbra is about 15 degrees above the horizon at its highest point, and the shrinking bright area below it gradually changes to a yellow color, with some orange and red appearing down toward the east-southeast.
The sky soon begins getting brighter in the west. The solar corona is still visible around the moon, but the right side of the dark disc has become ablaze with a bright arc of pink light, far brighter than the pearly white corona. The pink arc quickly lengthens until it wraps around about 60 degrees of the dark disk. Suddenly, an incredibly bright white light pierces the middle of the pink arc. It quickly grows so bright that no one can see the corona any more. High cirrus clouds scatter the bright light of the emerging sun, shortening the duration of the diamond ring effect
Many people at the site begin to applaud as though they had just seen a good play at a football game. The clouds had obscured most of the outer corona, but the eclipse had still been a magnificent experience.
John walks over to his a camera with a fisheye lens and takes a couple of shots toward the east. The whole sky quickly brightens except for a large dark area near the northeastern horizon and the light intensity on the ground begins to increase rapidly. John photographs the darkness remaining in the east, which quickly disappears. Soon, the ambient light level seems normal again.
All marvel at this strange and exciting experience, then many wonder: When and where will this happen again? They have witnessed the greatest celestial light show on earth; a total eclipse of the sun. The darkness covering the sky was the shadow of the moon, and the ring of light was the corona, the sun's atmosphere. The moon covered the sun, yet everyone saw the sun in a way they had never seen it before!
Dan says to his father Roy and his brother John: "Wow! If Benton Marfold could only see this!"
John: "Yea, being as he met our great, great, grandmother during the only total eclipse he had a shot at."
Roy: "Under the circumstances, I'm sure he didn't mind missing part of the eclipse."
John: "She must a distracted 'im from the eclipse. Girls must have a way of eclipsing even eclipses! Hard to imagine now though. This is sock knocking off stuff!"
Roy: "And Benton also helped catch Ezra Hoskins and his boys the same day."
Dan: "Amazin' ain't it."
Roy, John, and Dan observe the ever widening crescent sun through filters, then John begins to pack most of his equipment and put it in the car. John comments about how the high clouds may have acted as a rear projection screen for the lunar umbra, adding that the umbra and the color above the eastern horizon were more impressive than he could have imagined. Dan mentions that he had not seen the shadow during totality, but that he had seen it just before totality. He also said that the extent of the corona had not been as much as he expected, adding that the clouds must have obscured some of it. John comments that it would be nice to see another eclipse but that he thought most future eclipses would occur far from the U.S. and that the next affordable one would not be until 1991, adding that it would be nice to see an eclipse under completely clear skies.
After a while, the partial phase of the eclipse is almost over. A strong, cold, wind suddenly comes down from the north. Dan takes a final picture of the sun and everyone battles the wind to finish loading the car. After a last look around, all three get in the car and drive off. On the way back to Colorado, John begins drawing what he remembered of his encounter with the lunar umbra. A few hours later, he looks through some of his astronomy literature as a Gordon Lightfoot tape is playing. He comments that Mazatlan may be a good site for the 1991 eclipse because the clear western horizon would offer a good view of the approaching lunar shadow. Everyone had been impressed by the experience. It was clear that the eclipse bug had bitten again.
The rest of part 2 is under construction.
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Outline of Jeffrey R. Charles' 1994 Experiences in Bolivia.
After seeing the total solar eclipse of Feb. 26, 1979 in Grassrange, Montana, Jeff Charles and his father and brother return to Colorado, where Jeff resumed his job in photogrammetrics. In 1983, a few members of the family move to Arizona, and from there, Jeff takes a trip to Puerto Penasco, Mexico. He later visits Mazatlan, Mexico for the total solar eclipse of July 11, 1991. The experience of meeting Mexican people in their homeland leaves him favorably impressed with their character, and he begins to have increased interaction with Latino culture in the U.S., even attending a Latino church on a more or less regular basis.
In 1992, Jeff moves to Pasadena, California in order to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. While there, he attends a Latino church and meets a pastor and his family from Bolivia, who later become his friends. This in turn influences the places in South America that Jeff is interested in visiting, when he goes to see the total solar eclipse in 1994. Among other things, he wants to see the his friends' family and some Bolivian mission churches their church was involved with. Finally, planning begins for the expedition to the total solar eclipse of November 3, 1994 in Bolivia. It will be his first solo expedition to another country. The sister of one of Jeff's Bolivian friends is the director of a public school in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He decides ask if this director would like him to present eclipse material at her school, and the response is an enthusiastic yes. Planning goes well and Jeff works out a somewhat leisurely schedule that will allow him plenty of time to get over jet lag and acclimate to the high altitude in that part of Bolivia before the eclipse. All seems innocent enough.
In the rest of this account, the names and relationships of some people will be changed in order to protect their identity:
Only a few days before Jeff's departure for Bolivia, a person associated with the embassy in Bolivia (who is also related to a Bolivian family that offered to have Jeff stay with them) informs Jeff by phone that he will be handling his schedule, then he tries to get Jeff to agree to making a few additional presentations. Jeff only agrees to a single additional appearance due to the short notice. The person seems satisfied, but says they will see about additional presentations after he arrives. Jeff again says that no additional appearances will be possible, especially before the eclipse. Understandably, Jeff begins to be concerned.
Here is some of what actually did happen on Jeff Charles' two week trip to Bolivia. The occurrences are grouped by category.
Bad Experiences: (Murphy's law at work)
Bad circumstances experienced by people Jeff had met or known of in Bolivia.
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Parts 1 and 2 of Syzygy originated on: 4 September, 1997
Bolivian experience section originated on: 12 December, 1996
This document converted to HTML on: 4 September, 1997
Content of this document last modified on: 20 April, 1998
This document last modified (to correct typos and location): 2 June, 2018