I was in a fever yesterday. For weeks, I’d been learning about the eclipse that was to come speeding over South Carolina on the afternoon of August 17 and was all set to feel at one with the universe.
Two friends posted links to Annie Dillard’s marvelous essay about a solar eclipse she witnessed in Washington in 1979. Here’s one of the sensations I wanted to experience: “Abruptly it was dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. There was no sound. In the black sky was a ring of light. It was a thin ring, an old, thin silver wedding band, an old, worn ring. It was an old wedding band in the sky, or a morsel of bone. There were stars.”
I also listened (twice) to an NPR TED talk by David Baron. Found in TED TALKS DAILY, the podcast is entitled “You owe it to yourself to experience a total solar eclipse.” Baron describes himself as an umbraphile, an eclipse chaser, and after listening to the podcast, I thought If I had time and money and more years to live……At the very least, his words convinced me that I’d soon see Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus.
Yesterday I was excited, jumpy, too worked up to think straight. “How can you play golf this morning when the eclipse will be over Camden this afternoon?” I asked my husband.
“I’ll be back in plenty of time.”
“The partial starts early, you know.”
He glanced up from putting his clubs in the truck and said, “See you this afternoon.’
Clearly, he did not understand the meaning of cosmic bliss.
We decided to view the event from Old McCaskill’s Farm with friends and dozens and dozens (I’m not good with numbers—could have been hundreds) of other people, including some from out-of-state. Before we even parked the car, I felt the energizing effect of the place and time, and as we walked towards the buildings, animals, and people, my excitement grew.
Was I really going to see a solar corona, planets, and stars in the middle of the afternoon?
I slapped my glasses across my eyes and swallowed hard. A chunk of the sun was already missing. “I can’t handle this,” I said. “It’s too much.”
Accustomed to my occasional drama, he said, “Come on. Let’s find Billy and Lynn.”
After finding our friends, we spent the next hour or so walking around, talking, looking at pigs and goats, taking pictures, and drinking a lot of water. We ate Oreos too, the closest thing I could find to Moon Pies. I felt a breeze, gentle but definite. I saw a flock of birds high in the blue sky.
It was hot, so hot that when I guzzled water from my bottle, it drizzled down my chin, and I didn’t even care. We were in high spirits, gathered with others beneath a blue sky to experience something akin to Nirvana.
Throughout this time, we checked out the sun with our NASA approved glasses every minute or so. “It’s getting smaller,” was a phrase repeated all around us. “The sun’s almost gone,” came next.
And it was true. The sun was an orange sliver, and I held my breath. The cicadas went wild with their chirping, and the sky began to change. Was the darkening because of some beautiful white fluffy clouds that were now obscuring the sun, or was it because of the eclipse?
Those clouds. Surely they’d clear up in a couple of minutes. At least that’s what I overheard from all sides. And yes, I thought. Surely, they will. I’ve seen them come and go like that on the beach more times than I can remember.
I saw lights on what appeared to be an RV on the periphery of the parking lot, and when I turned back to the scene of the action, it was dusk. DH pointed out a star shining high above us towards the right. I whipped out my glasses again and turned back to the clouds overhead. I could see nothing-nada-zilch. And yet, there was a reverent hush across the field.
The sky beyond the fence was purple and crepuscular. Everything and everyone quiet, even the baby who had been so angrily intent on getting out of her stroller moments earlier. I pulled away from my group and swiftly walked to the fence to take a picture of the horizon beyond.
By the time I turned and walked the few steps back to them, the sky was regaining its vivid blueness. Clouds were still blocking the sun, and with dawning awareness, everyone realized we had missed the main event, the reason we had all gathered, the moment of complete totality, because of those clouds. Alas, we would see no solar corona this year.
Everything and everyone seemed to come alive again, to snap to full attention and awareness. I glimpsed a darling toddler with curly black hair running down the hill, her father doing his best to keep up with her. The goats were moving around, and the cicadas were quiet. So were the birds.
Reluctant to leave, we made small talk and trudged back up the hill, eventually making our way to the parking lot. Had it really been twilight twenty minutes earlier? My thinking was muddled.
I was disappointed not to have felt that promised connection to the universe. But it had been a fine adventure, a mighty fine adventure, completed by the sights of a happy tot running gleefully down a hill and a bright star high in the sky.