There are some experiences that are so deeply myself that I don’t want to share them. Not even with myself in a private journal. Some experiences are so in the body that to abstract them into language and symbols just isn’t possible. I almost feel that way about the total eclipse. So many people asked me if my life changed after seeing it. No. Just like my life didn’t change after I was assaulted. My life didn’t change after I had a baby. The trajectory continues. I am still me and this happened and I have to fit it into the space that I have allotted for it in my life.
That sounds so meager, and it is. Very small-souled. But maybe the part of my life now is that I am no longer shifted along faultlines when life changing things happen. Rather they happen, flow over me like water, and I am unmoved. The proverbial rock and island.
But it isn’t exactly that. Because I want to be moved. I want to see another eclipse because in that moment there was only the eclipse. But it was so fast. And then so done. I didn’t attend as much as I wanted to. It was like the moment I first met my son and it was his first time breathing solid air. And you never experience anything like that again. But then my son was no longer a stranger, and he sucked in the gulps he needed to cry, and life went on.
Sure some things changed. I bought a car seat. I think more about where I live because of the nice schools for my son. After the eclipse I may buy a James Baroud tent. I definitely want to camp on BLM land again.
And all this to circle around those 101 seconds of totality. The thing about eclipses is that you wouldn’t really know an eclipse was happening before until it happens, and then when it is happening you are trying to make sense of what is happening (that’s a lot of happenings). There’s the logical part that is “ooh shadow cone coming and going.” “Can take my glasses off now.” “It’s really cold.” Then there’s the part of you that is looking at the sky for a sun that isn’t there but you’re okay with that because you know it’s coming back.
But what if you didn’t know?
I kept thinking about all those people in the past who wouldn’t have known what an eclipse exactly was. Every time the sun tucked into a pocket of sky was the last moment you would see it. What if this time there wasn’t a hole in the corner of the pocket. What if this time the sun stayed neatly stashed out of sight and out of mind.
There’s the purple dark with the dusk 360 degrees around us like we were in the eye of a hurricane of forest fire (to mix a lot of metaphors). I didn’t realize it was a 360 degree dusk event. In the corner of my mind, I thought Idaho was burning and we could see the glow because of the artificial night.
And there was something alive in the sky. The photos don’t do it justice. Annie Dillard’s “Total Eclipse” doesn’t do it justice. The sun is replaced by a jelly fish. And you are looking up its inky skirts, and phosphoflourescent tendrils are writhing across the sky trying to sting the stars into submission. They pulse and loop and wriggle. The are so much longer than you’d think and maybe they’ll even reach down to you. But before you can feel anything really, there’s a flare and back into the glasses we go.
It is hot again. So hot. It will suck to break down the campsite in this heat. But we all have work and appointments to make in our real lives, so we need to get going so that we can beat traffic home.