If a total solar eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime experience (as some say it is) David Buchla has had more lives than the proverbial cat.
Buchla, an author and retired teacher who lives in Grass Valley, has seen 14 over the past 45 years, traveling to exotic places like Papua New Guinea, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, the South Pacific and the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard.
In all, he’s spent a bit over 46 minutes ‘in the shadow of the moon,’ he said in a telephone interview.
His fascination with the celestial events began in 1972, when he and his wife Lorraine boarded the Olympia, a Greek Line cruise ship, to view a total eclipse July 10 in the Atlantic Ocean, off the Nova Scotia coastline.
That experience, which he found enthralling, was something he wanted to share with his children, who had been left with their grandparents on that occasion. Since there was another total eclipse the next year, he decided to take the whole family – that it involved a cruise on the opposite side of the Atlantic was of no consequence.
On July 30, 1973, his family were on board a ship with such luminaries as Neil Armstrong, Isaac Asimov and Scott Carpenter, a touch that added an extra bit of star quality to the already ‘spectacular’ event.
A tradition was born. Over the years, he and his family traveled the world, seeing many places and meeting many people they likely wouldn’t have met – all in the pursuit of totality.
The Great Wall of China, an erupting volcano, Indonesian nutmeg harvest dancers, Russian ballet were just a few of the many experiences that attached themselves to his eclipse chasing travels.
When asked about his favorites, Buchla said it was kind of like one’s children – all of them are different and special. However, when pressed, he said the Norwegian experience, with the dramatic backdrop of ice and snow and brilliantly clear, cold (-10 Fahrenheit) conditions stood out among the others.
“It was a fascinating trip – we enjoyed it,” he said. “We wouldn’t have thought of it as a place to go.”
Although the phenomenon obviously made an impression on him, and he’s had more opportunity than most to experience it, Buchla still finds it difficult to put in words just why it is so compelling.
He spoke of the strange quality of the light and the many small details leading up to the moment of totality, before conceding that the technical writing he employs in his work doesn’t lend itself to the transcendent experience of totality.
Instead, he referred to another writer, David Barron, who wrote of it:
“A total eclipse is a primal, transcendent experience. The shutting off of the sun does not bring utter darkness; it is more like falling through a trapdoor into a dimly lit, unrecognizable reality. The sky is not the sky of earth--neither the star-filed dome of night nor the immersive blue of daylight, but an ashen ceiling of slate. A few bright stars and planets shine familiarly, like memories from a distant childhood, but the most prominent object is thoroughly foreign. You may know, intellectually, that it is both the sun and moon, yet it looks like neither. It is an ebony pupil surrounded by a pearly iris. It is the eye of the cosmos.”