exploratorium eclipse dispatches
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click for live webcast June 21 2001  
Dream of G-RAF
We left San Francisco in the middle of the summer, near the longest day of the year. Here in Zambia, it is midwinter and the eclipse will happen on the shortest day of the year, on the solstice. Our bodies are confused by the sudden decrease in daylight.

The landscape is alive with things we don't recognize--- a blur out of the corner of your eye could be anything. "What was that?!" At night we lie in bed, listening to the sounds of the bush, a thousand creatures blending into a roar. For the locals, these sounds are as familiar as the noise of passing cars would be for us at home: what we think are dogs barking and snarling are actually baboons, fighting for dominance during the mating season. The eerie high pitched wails that rise in pitch are hyenas. The low bass line comes from hippos grunting. And, in the distance, lions roar.

Disorientation. Everything seems different here, and our bodies and minds reel, trying to adapt to the strangeness.

Here in Zambia it is winter. The sun crosses the north side of the sky, noonday shadows point south. The subtle natural cues to our location are completely reversed--a literal disorientation. We later learn that the local weaver birds build their hanging nests from the west side of the trees, to keep their chicks protected from the strong east winds. So we begin to pick up new cues to ground us here.

Kubu  Cabins

Each day we wake and get to work in this state of disorientation, planning the script for our show, shooting video, checking our gear. And out of the corner of our eyes, we watch the sky: for days now, low clouds have hunkered over us, blocking the sky. The locals look up and say, "It's never like this!" And we worry: will the day of the eclipse be overcast? Will we have come all this way only to point our telescopes at clouds? Like ancient astronomers, we have come far from home, carrying our elaborate equipment to study the sun, hoping to bring the images back to the rest of the world. And like them we run the risk of bad weather; no matter how detailed our preparations, the weather remains out of our control. There's still nearly a week until the eclipse, but our worry hums underneath our days like a low bass note.



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