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Eyes on the Skies!!

I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve had today marked on my calendar for well over a year now!

More than 30 years ago, I read Annie Dillard’s fabulously beautiful essay Total Eclipse (which The Atlantic has made available online until tomorrow…seriously, check it out!!!). Dillard’s description of the otherwordly, mindblowing experience of viewing a total eclipse struck a chord with me way back then, and seeing one with my own eyes has been on my bucket list ever since.

The part I’ve been most excited to see? The scariest part. Not the dark disc of the moon slowly eating the sun. Not the sky going dark in mid-morning.

What I want to see is the shadow of the moon as it races along the earth. 

You only get to see it if you’re in the path of totality. Even a 99.9% eclipse won’t do this for you.

Here’s how Annie Dillard describes it:

“The deepest, and most terrifying part, was this: I have said that I heard screams. (I have since read that screaming, with hysteria, is a common reaction even to expected total eclipses.) People on all the hillsides, including, I think, myself, screamed when the black body of the moon detached from the sky and rolled over the sun. But something else was happening at that same instant, and it was this, I believe, which made us scream.

The second before the sun went out we saw a wall of dark shadow come speeding at us. We no sooner saw it than it was upon us, like thunder. It roared up the valley. It slammed our hill and knocked us out. It was the monstrous swift shadow cone of the moon. I have since read that this wave of shadow moves 1,800 miles an hour. Language can give no sense of this sort of speed—1,800 miles an hour. It was 195 miles wide. No end was in sight—you saw only the edge. It rolled at you across the land at 1,800 miles an hour, hauling darkness like plague behind it. Seeing it, and knowing it was coming straight for you, was like feeling a slug of anesthetic shoot up your arm. If you think very fast, you may have time to think, ‘Soon it will hit my brain.’ You can feel the deadness race up your arm; you can feel the appalling, inhuman speed of your own blood. We saw the wall of shadow coming, and screamed before it hit.”

Wow!! The very idea of something that “language can give no sense of”….that’s something a writer really ought to see!!

I always swore that I would, whenever I got the chance. Something like that, something that shakes us loose from the everyday certainty of our lives, speaks to an ancient and powerful part of the mind–the place where dreams and imagination and stories come from. Writers talk about needing to “fill the well,” and a cosmic moment like that will fill it wide and deep.

But….sadly….with this particular cosmic moment, I’m going to miss out, after all. I went as far as reserving a hotel room in Portland, Oregon, only an hour’s drive from totality. But as the eclipse grew nearer, traffic reports became ominous, saying that even a short drive like that might not be possible with all roads through the area at a standstill because of all the travellers pouring into the state. We could miss totality, and then spend days on the highway trying to make the nine hour drive home…which would make us miss our flight east to take our daughter for her freshman year in college. 

Sigh.

Sometimes a mom just has to be practical.

So we cancelled our plans.

I promised my girl we’d save our money and fly somewhere someday–maybe China, maybe Australia, maybe Switzerland–and experience totality. Total solar eclipses happen about once every eighteen months, and you can see them if you’re willing to travel. And we will. One day.

What about you? Are you in the path of totality? If the eclipse has already happened, what did you see????? What did it do for your Writer Brain?

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Coming Soon on the Blog

  • August 25, 2017
    by:
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  • January 10, 2018
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