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A Momentary Marriage

There is a nostalgic air among the eclipse watchers. I and some co-workers are in a city plaza, stretching a lunch hour to meet this 1:39 p.m. astronomical deadline.

The talk has turned to memorable eclipses of our youth. Some arcane events that excite stargazers -- planets in conjunction, or the rotation of Jupiter's moons -- are rather acquired tastes, but a solar eclipse is the most massive celestial event that most of us ever witness. The sky darkens, the air cools, humanity pauses, and nature seems to fall silent. And while the light around us dims almost imperceptibly, this moment in time seems more connected to all previous eclipses than to the rest of today and this week.

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It is near the eclipse's peak, and the sun is no longer a circular, consistent point of light, but is instead a short-lived crescent, so cast shadows take on a curious double-edged halo.

Memories from 1963 come to thought: a summer cabin, many children my age, all in an excited hush, juggling various lenses, pinhole cameras, index cards, and cardboard boxes. We were lucky! At that exact moment, there was something grand, distant, and coolly magical to watch.

How rare for a photo to capture all these nuances! Photographer Marianne Le Pelley chronicled this event in all the expected ways: She took pictures of the odd shadows on the pavement under the trees; she got the eclipse in all its phases; she even captured us viewers, a row of people oddly posed with arms outstretched. But in this one shot, it's as if she spirited her camera into that alter-dimension of all eclipses in our memories; this cloud roils with ominous grace, interceding like a veil over that strange momentary marriage between sun and moon.

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