The solar eclipse of March 20th left us standing in a hybrid light. As if Space had closed in, to become more of itself – vast, absolute, the only act on stage; a conjuror steadily veiling the comfort of the apparent, better to reveal an alternative reality.

Moving with a twilight gait, the morning’s pulse beat towards pause. But this was no soft, twilight promise of leave-taking. For a moment, the illusion was stark, leaving us dislocated from what held us firm. A chilly pall plummeted, suspended on a weight of absence, and we were left enclosed in a box of mirrors; at the magician’s mercy – the spotlight that defined our world removed.

There was a dimming; a clammy, intimate drapery of air against my neck, seeping to the roots of my hair. Greyness stood silent and close – and yet, the rising morning still held high its bold, blue sky. Even with almost ninety per cent coverage here in South West England, the sun cast a steadfast light. When only a sliver of sun escaped the moon’s shadow, the gleam of its sword-edge – still assertive – sliced the day, and fitted it into an empty compartment of distant display.

We strained the solar eclipse through a colander for safe viewing of this cosmic event....

We strained the solar eclipse through a colander for safe viewing of this cosmic event….

In that moment, the immense power of the sun – juxtaposed with the dead, cold shadow of its absence – made standing on this planet a sudden, deep-down awareness of utter dependence.

The birds – our solid allies during this dark turn of the cards – drained from the sky, seeking footholds. A pair of jackdaws, clattering on the tiles like a heave of surprise, landed on our roof. Shuffling comfort-near, they closed in on their own curiosity. Bills tilted skyward, they watched the eclipse, their eyes filled with perplexity.

Jackdaws watching solar eclipse

Earlier that morning, I had watched the jackdaws rise with the sun from a tree etched in sleep against the sky. Then, in pairs, they had spread around our street – roof by roof, chimney by chimney. They had been busy, vocal – prospecting old nest sites. We too had been busy; human and bird routines in motion, our hours prepared ahead of us to be filled and mapped by a compass of activity. And, above us, on a scale beyond full comprehension, a shadow was on its way; the moon travelling, unstoppable, into this moment of strange, drifting rootedness.

For me, the jackdaws’ reaction said it all. Their whole demeanour was like an astonished blink at a trick pulled out of the hat. They gazed skyward, watched each other, I watched them.

Jackdaws still puzzling as the moon's shadow slips away, and the sky lightens...

Jackdaws still puzzling as the moon’s shadow slips away, and the sky lightens…

And, together, we witnessed the unfathomable unpacked from a seemingly finite space. The familiar transformed into something more itself – and disturbingly revealed as utterly alterable.

And then, the moment passed. The waxing sun nudged most of the birds from their consternation – and they were flung skyward again; a whirl of beginning the day, once more.

But, for a while, the jackdaws remained – puzzling the sky’s strange riddle across the silver of their eye.

More than meets the eye:

Jackdaws never cease to fascinate me. Here are a couple of links to articles outlining research into how Jackdaws use their striking silver eyes, and their gaze, to communicate – and to entwine their understanding and behaviour with ours….

What the Jackdaw Saw – study shows birds communicate with their eyes (University of Exeter website).

Human Eyes Speak Volumes to Birds (Science Blogs).

14 thoughts on “Eclipsed

  1. I have been waiting for your next post, and this prose poem to the sun was worth the wait…
    The mystery of the birds was an added dimension to the experience you shared of the awe – full connection to the sun – the heart beat which allows us to live and breath on this exquisite blue dot floating in the darkness of space…more writing from you please, I love your poetic and unique take on life…

    Have you read Annie Dillard’s description of an eclipse in her book of short stories: ‘Teaching a stone to talk’. Eclipses have an eerie fascination for us all, don’t they?
    Love Valerie

    • Thank you Valerie, as always, for your lovely, generous and encouraging words. Please forgive me if this reply is rather garbled; it’s written in haste – I’ll be without internet access for a few days, but just wanted to squeeze in an answer to your insightful, uplifting and lyrical comment, before I lost the chance. I haven’t read Annie Dillard’s book yet – have long kept her work on my list of absolute must-reads; with your recommendation, I will definitely seek it out soon.

      Life has been such an end of term rush lately – and I kept getting called away after reading your latest blog posts, before I had a chance to leave a comment. So frustrating! Very much looking forward to catching up on your blog, when I’m back in on-line world!

      Love Melanie

  2. A breathtakingly lyrical post as always. I know of no one who writes as well as you. As a child I experienced a total eclipse (shocked by the arrival of the stars) and as the sun returned all the birds broke into a full dawn chorus. More recently I shared a 90% eclipse with a pair of lions who, like your jackdaws, sat staring at the sky in uneasy perplexity.

    • Lynda, thank you so, so much for your hugely kind and generous words… I was having a rather rushed and stressful day, and reading your comment has been a massive pick-me-up! Thank you!

      What an amazing experience to keep in the magical box of childhood memories – I’ve never experienced a total eclipse, and can only imagine the magical, startling effect of the reappearance of the stars – especially to a child. And, to share a 90% eclipse with a pair of lions – equally amazing and magical! So interesting to witness that uneasy, wondering perplexity the animals obviously experience – and to share in feeling it with them too, in our bones, despite our scientific knowledge of what’s going on…

      Sorry if this comment appears garbled – I’ll soon be without internet access for a few days, and didn’t want to delay replying to your wonderful comment; so, just quickly grabbing this chance. Looking forward to reading more of your fascinating blog as soon as I can…


  3. Lovely, Melanie. I needed some jackdaw eyes to see it fresh. Thank you. The subtle difference in the blue of the sky, and the slightly different turn of their heads, is wonderful.

    • Thank you, Liz! So glad you liked this – and enjoyed the shifts and changes in the photos, and in the jackdaws’ eyes. It was wonderful, and so intriguing, to watch their reaction, and their uneasy, wondering focus on that wandering shadow across the sun. So sorry for the delay in replying – I’ve been away in deepest Cornwall, and without internet access for a while… So good to visit your blog on my return, and to find positive developments unfolding for you and Dylan… x

      • Thank you Melanie! Two things I’ve been wanting to mention to you. One, I bought the Eivor (sp?) CD for myself after listening to Green Garden on your blog – Dylan loves it as well (as I thought he might). Thank you! Secondly, have you read (or did you hear on R4 perhaps) James Rebanks’ ‘A Shepherd’s Life’, about fell farming in the Lake district? I’ve just finished it – enjoyed it very much. Just after reading about your eclipse jackdaws, I read a passage about them in his book. They live in the blue john caves in and around Castleton in Derbyshire near where I live – very eerie birds I think… Hope you had some sparkly days in Cornwall – the weather seems to have turned already! Liz

        • My apologies Liz for yet another delay in replying… Yesterday, I was just about to write comments on both your blog and here, but my son was in need of a cuddle and some music – and then tea-time and a busy day today intervened. Having just read your comment when my son plonked himself beside me seeking some music-time, I played some of our favourite Eivor videos for him on YouTube. He loves her music too! So pleased to hear how much you and Dylan are enjoying her music – and that you discovered it here! I think she’s wonderful. So many special and beautiful songs to discover. One of my son’s favourites (and mine) is Trollabundin (Spellbound) – a very shamanic piece (with drumming), of which there are several versions – I love one of the comments on YouTube that says “it must be different each time, for each time is different…” There’s even a version where Eivor performs the song on the seashore, and the sound of the sea becomes woven into the rhythm of the music. So elemental and magical!

          I haven’t read ‘A Shepherd’s Life’ yet. I became aware of it when I saw it was on Radio 4 – but never got the chance to listen to it when it was broadcast. Thanks for the recommendation; I shall seek it out. Really interesting about the serendipity of the jackdaw passages! A spooky moment of chance that kind of adds to their aura! I visited Castleton many times when I was at university in Sheffield. I used to escape to the Peak District most weekends, and absolutely fell in love with the area. So beautiful! Entering the atmospheric blue john caves, and then experiencing their intense inner darkness when the guide switched off the lights, is such a vivid memory from that time…

          We were very lucky and did indeed have some beautiful days in Cornwall, thanks Liz (sparkly is definitely the word!) We were staying on the Lizard, and one of the places we visited was stunning Kynance Cove – I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sea so luminous nor such an intense shade of turquoise before. With all this rain and wind since, the memory of all that sparkling light seems almost like a dream! Talking of which, I’ll stop my rambling – must get some sleep – but will be back to your blog as soon as I can. I’ve so enjoyed your recent posts about Dylan and art – and am so rooting for you both as you step forward into this new phase of your lives… Melanie

          • Ah – you were at Univ of Sheffield! So you know my beloved peak district. Dylan loves those caves and often asks to go there. In that moment of complete darkness when they turn off the lights, I always feel his body relax next to me. A poet I know has written beautifully about the caves (and their jackdaws). The elements are very important to Dylan which is why, I think, he responds to caves. I’d say Eivor is elemental too. And as for water – Dylan’s favourite element – there can be no better place for this than Kynance Cove! The way you describe it is just as I remember it – what a very special place with, yes, turquoise water! We are off to the Yorkshire coast next week – the north sea tends to be brown not sparkly but Dylan will still enjoy it 🙂 Thank you for your good wishes, Melanie. I look forward to your next post, whenever it comes…

            • Thanks Liz! That’s so fascinating about Dylan loving the caves and their darkness. So interested to hear that there’s beautiful poetry capturing those wonderful Derbyshire caves – and that it even encompasses their jackdaws! I loved living in Sheffield for the three years I was there. I had such a brilliant, happy time there (fond memories of ‘The Fat Cat’ and ‘Frog and Parrot’ pubs, and The Crucible Theatre etc.) Such an alive, friendly city. It was a big wrench to leave it. I so hope the weather turns back towards sunshine and warmth for you next week – and that you both have a wonderful time. The Yorkshire coast is so beautiful (going on a school field trip to Whitby, and reading the Brontes were both responsible for me choosing to go to a Yorkshire university all those years ago!). So lovely that Dylan feels such a strong connection with the sea – in all its moods. The North sea was glowing a beautiful blue on a very warm Easter Sunday (after a week of hail and gales) when we were in Northumberland visiting my parents-in-law – so fingers crossed for next week!

    • Thank you for your kind words, Andrea. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. So sorry for the delay in replying – I’ve been away for a while and without internet access. Lovely to find your comment on my return. Thanks for reading!

  4. “intimate drapery of air” – what an evocative description of that wrap of cooling atmosphere that cools and comforts the blood; the evening’s gift!

    And this: “the sky’s strange riddle” – anyone who looks into the sky and finds nothing to confuse or amaze is only fooling themselves.

    I find this post so comforting: as if a drapery of air had braved my overly heated apartment to make things breathable and bearable once more.

    • Aubrey – I’m so, so sorry that your lovely comment has gone unanswered for so long! I’ve only just come back to the blog, after a very busy period away – and am feeling very bad about neglecting this space. My poor headspace has been in such a whirl, with so much churning around inside it. The clouds in that confusing sky of thoughts are only just clearing! Lovely to come back to the encouraging sunlight of your comment. I’m so pleased you found the post comforting. I’m really looking forward to enjoying the magic of your blog again, and to generally getting back to roaming around Blogland, to catch up with all the treats I’ve been missing there. Hope the coming of autumn has restored some balm and breathability to your world…

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