[Has it been a week since my last post? Damn it! I just left it sitting there, in the eerie twilight of mid-day, when all that is normal is not and the air is pregnant with the magic of an eminent eclipse? An accidental celestial cliffhanger? What an asshole!
I’ve been busy with a schedule that’s redlining and the blog took it in the shorts. In the meantime, my ponderings become obsolete… like me. The eclipse has been forgotten and there have been two hurricanes. At least the kids are in school and PAWIRNEATT (Project About Which I’d Rather Not Elaborate At This Time) progresses to my satisfaction.
As I remember an eclipse that’s the definition of “yesterday’s news”. I’d like to send a special thanks to Dorthy Grant who encouraged me to take as long as I need to write the story. “Thank you!” Also a note to Dr. Mingo who said I should shut the hell up and get back to the squirrels. “Patience, friend. Winter is coming.”
So, where was I…]
I deliberately did no “homework” about the eclipse, preferring to just experience it. Even so, thousands of photos have led me to expect a reddish ring in the sky. A halo, a ring, a circle. Nothing could be further from the truth. At the precise moment and totally to my surprise, my goggled view dimmed to almost nothing. Removing them with some uncertainty (I wasn’t sure what you can and cannot look at) I glanced skyward. The heavens had lit up with a cold white burst of… glory.
I’ve thought a lot about how to describe what I saw. I know millions of others saw it too. As far as I can tell they’ve never come close to describing the thing I witnessed. Maybe I’m a romantic dipshit? The kind of guy who’s read too much, thought too deeply, and is prone to looking at an odd sky and declaring it Dulcinea before firing up my Dodge to tilt at windmills? Soft headed and more affected by beauty? Or is everyone else too busy fucking around with cameras and cell phones to actually see what they are looking at? I don’t know. All I can say is the bubbleheads on TV make the sublime sound like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and that’s missing the point.
Everyone was silent. Then there was the involuntary “Ooooohhhh” we’ve all heard at a fireworks display. But not a loud raucous cheer, more like a hushed intake of breath.
With goggles on it was hardly visible, but with the eye alone it was astounding. I had no idea of the risk to my eyes. I finally decided that if the eclipse was the last thing I saw, it was probably worth it. Have you heard anybody ever say that? No? That’s because they’re talking heads reading a text written by some otherwise unemployable English major or because they haven’t seen the real thing. The eclipse on an LCD screen in your living room is not the real thing.
I saw veil of the universe pulled back. I saw eternity. For something like two and a half minutes, I peered past our atmosphere and beyond the ubiquitous yellow haze of normalcy and reached out into the firmament. I saw infinity.
The human senses are not equipped to process this thing. Our vocabulary is inadequate to describe it. There are things you cannot witness second hand.
Then, it was over. Perhaps that’s for the best. Possibly such achingly strong beauty is best perceived in glimpses. A few minutes per lifetime being the maximum dose primates like us can endure. As if by design, it was too fleeting for us, the most cynical of creatures, to grow cold and cast it aside as just another pretty thing.
When the first sliver of the sun returned, the goggles went on, and the real magic blinked away. The foreplay remained; it was still eerie, it was still a land of strange crescent shaped shadows and David Lynch foreboding, but the sky had closed and it’s secrets were behind the glare.
Nobody was unaffected. In the first few minutes, people in the little mixed group started extolling to each other the virtues of what they just saw. Ever the loner, I let it sink in and enjoyed the shadows. The effect didn’t last long. On the empty road two big rigs drove by; the timing such that I’m sure they were in motion during the event. They had their headlights on. I can think of nothing sadder than driving straight through the zone of totality and stubbornly refusing to come to a full stop for even the three minutes it would take to see… everything. How much can a shipment matter? Is arriving 5 minutes sooner on the one day among thousands in the one place on earth where this moment had just passed worth it? Could they really know what they missed? Those two drivers may be among the most tragic creatures living.
After perhaps a quarter of an hour Mrs. Curmudgeon approached me, still staring at the 3/4 missing Pac Man shape though goggles, “Ready to go?”
Car were being started. The lot was half empty. In my mind I imagined Flo fretting over a ketchup bottle. Americans, for better or worse, can see heaven and almost immediately switch to their earlier issues. The road was already packed. Fifteen minutes after totality, when the skies were still dim, the road was packed! Somewhere ahead the two truckers were probably stuck in the same traffic… maybe a half dozen miles from here.
“After that?” I leered. “Shouldn’t we cuddle or something?”
“Perv!” She laughed, “Get in the car.”
And so we piled in the car, with Mrs. Curmudgeon at the wheel, and headed out. The road was totally blocked heading away from the zone and utterly empty in the other direction. I do not follow herds so I navigated us in the contrary direction, deeper into the place we wished to leave. It took me 30 seconds to formulate a plan of escape. If a thousand idiots block a road it’s time to change course… duh.
Now it was the battle of the traffic, which I would win. Continuing gradual fading of the dim skies or not, the celestial moment was over as a practical matter and the consensus was clear. We were back to acting like lemmings on pavement.
Regardless, the trip was worth it. If you have not seen an eclipse, do so before you die.