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Eclipse Fever Gripped the South Fork, Too

Thu, 04/11/2024 - 10:28
The look of wonder on Mitchell Brownstein’s face says it all, as he watched the early stages of Monday’s solar eclipse in the field behind the South Fork Natural History Museum in Bridgehampton.
Durell Godfrey

During the solar eclipse on Monday, when approximately 89 percent of the sun was blocked out by the moon here, a woman in the field behind the South Fork Natural History Museum in Bridgehampton said the Navajo go inside during an eclipse to give the sun and moon their privacy. Apparently that message hadn’t been widely circulated. Vineyard Field was dotted with 100-plus voyeurs, in small groupings on lawn chairs and blankets, staring with solar-safe spectacles, taking in every second of the hot action.

It was both a communal and a solitary experience.

“It’s rewarding to be part of an event like this,” said Frank Quevedo, the executive director of the museum. “It’s nice to see people enjoy the field. It’s there every day.” As he spoke, a museum employee told him a single sea star in the basement tanks had started to spawn.

Other than the one horny sea star, the focus was upward. A worrying sheet of clouds inched eastward while two turkey vultures circled below the tree line. Tree swallows, recently returned, were a less foreboding presence.

The mood was light, like a snow day but sunnier, a sun day. A hunk of moon was already blocking a portion of a sun, and people were urging each other to pay attention. Everyone was alert to any slight change.

“Why are you here all by yourself?” one woman asked another.

“Seeing the eclipse, like everyone else,” came the answer.

“I’m concerned about the animals and birds,” said Jane Gill, a volunteer for the Quoque Wildlife Refuge. “My birds [two cockatoos] were shaking this morning, and it wasn’t as if it was cold.” She showed pictures of a fox that had wandered into her yard that morning. Weird. Rare.

Tom Oleszczuk, who published a book of poetry during Covid titled “In This Time of Mass Distress,” said the eclipse was a “special time where the universe and the sky, in particular, are presenting to humanity something different that causes one to reflect upon what may be special in our lives. It, of course, represents a rebirth when the sun re-emerges. It causes us to think about how we can restart our lives.”

“The light is getting faded,” said Caroline Cutaia, from a nearby blanket. “In my life I look up. I think it’s important for people to keep looking up because it gives you a more universal perspective on life.”

Some observers were tucked into the pine woods and were best left alone. Others were parked along the main thoroughfares of the field, which are mowed by the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt (a co-sponsor of the event) monthly, to coincide with their full moon hikes. Railroad tracks border the southern edge of the field, and a train passed, heading west.

Kathleen McLaughlin referenced a line from the Annie Dillard essay, “Total Eclipse”: “ ‘Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.’ So, I guess we may not get the full impact,” she said dryly.

As the sky uniquely darkened, it became suddenly cold. Jackets emerged. An unidentified bird began having fits, confirming what everyone had read: The animals would act strange. “I think it’s a great thing that everyone came out to do,” said Elaine McKay. “My daughter is in Utopia, Texas, seeing it there. She’s trying to send me a signal but it’s not coming through.” Separated by over 1,000 miles but linked by the same sun and cellular network, sort of neat. “It’s the thing that myth is made of.”

At spots all over the South Fork, people gathered together for viewing parties large, small, and impromptu to take in the eclipse. They flocked to beaches for view promised by an open sky. They filled the gardens of the LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, the rooftop outside bar area at the Sag Harbor Cinema, and the lawn behind the East Hampton Library, where the line to get free eclipse glasses was hundreds long before library employees began handing them out at 2 p.m. and the line of cars trying to get into the parking lot had backed up traffic all the way down Main Street. 

“No corona with lime,” said Ms. McLaughlin back at the South Fork Natural History Museum, playing with words as the clouds obscured the view seconds after totality was almost reached. People immediately started to pack up. “You can tell that people are not too excited about the rest of this.”

A blissed-out woman walked by wearing a foil thermal blanket, “That was at least 95 percent,” she said, making a beeline for the parking lot.

For those who continued to observe, a surprise: The moon didn’t pass over the sun and continue on its way. Instead, it turned around and went back the way it came.

Margarette Doyle of Springs had configured her birding scope with eclipse glasses so she could take photos. “We pulled the kids out of school and made it a family event,” she said, looking at her son, Adrie Quinn, an eighth grader. “I thought it was amazing,” he said. “Better than 2017. Anything is worth missing school. I got out of Spanish, social studies, gym, and music. That’s two and a half hours of school I’m so happy I won’t get back.”

While most people were heading for the exits as in the late innings of a ballgame when the outcome is obvious, a few hung on until the very end. “We’re always in such a rush,” said Helene Obey. “Besides, it’s not going to happen again for another 20 years. Why not seize the moment and enjoy it?”

An eastbound train passed.

A leaf blower droned, further impacting the celestial vibe, the transcendent moment, and reminded everyone that, after all, it was spring, we were in the Hamptons, and yeah, the moon had passed in front of the sun, but there were properties that needed preening before the real spectacle of summer began.

By 4:07, the moon lingered, largely unnoticed, in front of the sun while people were chitchatting around a speaker that played disco, not Sun Ra. The field was again empty.

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