I reached for the familiar, and just kept falling

Yesterday was the 1 year anniversary of the first Great American Eclipse. The next is in 2024, just a few more times around the sun. Did you see it? I did. My thoughts below:

We stood in the shade at the park, having gotten up early to make the thirty mile trek to totality. Two days of driving lay behind us–two days, and a year of anticipation, of solar glasses for Christmas, of plans and contingency plans depending upon where the skies would be the clearest, of clearing schedules, and maintaining a firm hold on flexibility–because I am a lover of the skies, my childhood rooted in the awe of the cosmos.

We lingered in the shade because it was hot, the RV behind us, the dogs safe in their play yard. Twelve families consisting of three generations had rented the park shelter beside us and had gathered from three states. The couple parked behind us drove in from just thirty miles away. Dogs played and fretted at being left out. Kids practiced with their parents on how to use the glasses. People staked their claim on prime viewing with chairs and blankets. The internet vanished, and no one cared.

We waited, all there for a singular reason, our stories as varied as the license plates. People ventured from the shade to peer up at the sun for a few seconds with their glasses, then retreated. Pinhole viewers and special filters on binoculars were tried out and set aside. Kids got bored. The star geeks and casual viewers mingled and chatted. “Where did you come in from?” “We drove two hours.” We drove two days.” “Do you know where the bathrooms are?” “Do you have any connection at all?”

Finally a call went up. “There! The top right!”

We all looked up, every single one of us, and the word was “Wow.” A chunk of the sun was gone. Absolute black. Kids cried, wanting to see and having to wait. Tantrums, fussing, and then they got bored again, and retreated into the shade–because it was hot.

It grew quiet. More conversation. “I’ve never seen a total eclipse.” “Do you think it’s darker yet?” Late comers drove through, desperate for a place to park, making the rest of us smug. A quarter mile down, the ball field sprouted tents where organized viewing and experts kept kids busy. A quarter mile up, free-spirits gathered in an open, wild field to commune on a deeper level. But it was quiet in our little turn-around site in “the middle” where three generations of family, a local couple, and two dreamers with their dogs sat with their feet edging the light because the sun was too intense.

The orange crescent of the sun through the filtered glasses grew smaller, more pointy. The round shadow of the moon atop it grew larger. Kids whined about being hungry, dogs got underfoot and barked. Quick forays were made into the sun for a glimpse at progression. “This is what they’ll get in Detroit.” “This is how much I saw last time.” “How often are you taking a picture?”

But then . . . the ground began to look odd, as if seeing the world through a filter. The air took on a dark, almost transparent hue as the wavelengths reaching us shifted. A call went up. “Look at the hood of that car! You can see the crescent in the shadows of the leaves!” But in all honesty it took some imagination. Slowly, people filtered out of the shade, and with a shock, I realized that quite suddenly, it wasn’t hot anymore. After years of shunning the sun, I could stand under it and not feel its heat.

The crickets began to sing and the dogs lay down, bellies up to the sky to soak in what heat remained. The shadows of the leaves showed thousands of crescents, no imagination needed. Necks craned, we waited poised as the sliver of orange amber narrowed down, and down, and down . . . until it was almost gone . . .

Just before the light left, voice exploded from every throat, an unstoppable sound of exhilaration. It rose from our chests, joining those at the tents at the ball field, then gathered the shouts from the distant field before continuing to spill on across the nation as the sun . . . was suddenly gone.

Every glass and filter dropped. As one, we shouted as we stared up at a color of white we had never seen, wispy and etherial. A black nothing hung where the sun had been. My awareness expanded, and I reached, grasping for something I might know, falling, and falling, and falling, as if taking a breath that never stopped as I looked for common ground with every last past moment of my life . . . and failing.

For two minutes, we stood as one in a new state of existence, most quickly gaining a foothold, and yet I still fell within my mind, trying to absorb the cascading of otherness that suffused and filled me. The sound, the feel of the air, the lack of sensation on my skin.

And then . . . a tiny pinprick of the most pure light that ever existed, of ultimate clarity and definition, was suddenly there.

For an instant it hung at the edge of the black, and still I fell, trying to grasp it.

In another breath the glimpse into infinity was gone, washed out by the yellow wavelengths as the diamond ring took precedence and no longer could we stare as one at the sky.

 

It was done. My long fall ended as the comfortable existence of warm yellow light expanded amid the exuberant shouts and cheers that flowed from west to east, an unstoppable declaration of experience.

But I remember the instant of light of undefined purity and unexplainable clarity. And I wait. For what? I don’t know, but I wait.

Kim Harrison
August 21, 2017

 

 

 

19 Comments

Filed under Drama Box

19 responses to “I reached for the familiar, and just kept falling

  1. In the UK back in 1999 my wife, my son and I went to Land’s End in Cornwall, the southernmost part of Britain, together with my wife’s sister’s family, to try to glimpse the total eclipse that was predicted for that location.

    The sky was overcast as the time approached, but by some quirky mechanism resulting from the moon reducing the heat of the sun as the onset of the eclipse began, the region of cloud obscuring the event cleared as the moon covered the sun, allowing us to observe the eclipse in its entirety.

    I remember it as an almost mystical, magical experience that was only enhanced by the way the birds stopped their twittering until the sun shone clear just before the hole in the clouds repaired itself leaving the sky overcast again.

  2. The next eclipse, on April 8th 2024, assuming my situation does not change, I will live within 1 mile of the center line of the path of totality, on a day that falls on one of my normal days off. I’m set. I know what I am doing 6 years in advance.

  3. Thank you for having written such a heartfelt and delicious telling of how the full eclipse felt to you. It is an eerie light isn’t it and I only was able to get the feeling in a cloudy sky. You realise why it had massive impacts in olden times as it is freaky to us and we know what happens to cause it.

  4. That’s beautiful, Kim.

  5. Trina

    I live in Nashville so we were right in the path. We all got to leave work before it started so I went over to my dad’s and we chilled on his back porch and watched it. It was incredible, and weird.

  6. Renee

    Beautiful. I did not get to see it myself, but you put me in your shoes. I got chills. You are a gifted writer.

  7. I always delight in how you pull me in and make me feel like I am there I could hear the dogs bark and the children whine I wish I could weave a story like you do thanks for sharing this.

  8. Tine

    It looks as if the next one can be view from the top of My. Katahdin at Baxter State Park in Maine. Not for the faint of heart.

  9. wiggiemomsi

    Beautifully written. I could imagine myself there!

  10. James Garpetti

    We drove two and a half hours and just almost missed it! It was definitely one of the coolest things I have ever seen.

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