I watched the eclipse.
In Portland, Oregon and thereabouts, everyone did. On August 21, 2017, every local soul was outside with their eclipse glasses on, staring at the sun. It was cool, amazing, wonderful, surprising, and phenomenal, all rolled into one. We gathered in fields and parks, in small or huge groups. There were viewing parties and rock fests. There were traffic jams trying to get to the perfect spot. There was nothing else on the news for long enough to make us sick of hearing. But then it came and we stopped what we were doing. We watched, wrote poems, took pictures, talked to strangers and friends. When it was over, we went back about our business, but a little changed from the magnitude of the experience.
Everyone did that, right?
I forget that my scope of friends is far wider than my town or state. Now, partially thanks to social media, I have friends from all over the world. They have asked me what it was like? How did I feel? The eclipse!
I chose to remain in my Portland home, about thirty miles from the path of totality. I figured staying put in my personal serenity was worth getting only 99% of the view, that the slight variance wouldn’t be that great, and I was mostly right.
I am blessed with a fenced private jungle of a back yard, so that was my basecamp. Early that morning, I arranged a lawn chair on the old deck, put my eclipse glasses and camera on the plastic table beside it, set my alarm and was ready to roll. I’d read about several occurrences that accompany an eclipse such as the eerie quality of the light, the flicker of shadow bands, the drop in temperature, so I was prepared to see— and feel— it all.
The spectacle began about two hours before totality. I donned my eclipse glasses and sure enough, swimming in the darkest black I’d ever seen was the orange ball of the sun, a tiny bite out of one side. Incredible, and it was only the start.
Over the next hour, I looked several times more. The eating of the sun progressed, bringing to mind ancient stories, symbolism, and religions. It was quiet, hushed, as if the city were waiting with me. As if the world was on pause. When the time got close, I quit my inside work, put my cat, Little, in her harness, and we came out for the duration. I was excited, yet at peace. I didn’t mind that, aside from Little, I was alone.
I took a few pictures of the changing light, an odd almost-ominous shading, unlike anything I’d imagined. I tried to capture the shadow bands, striations, and the way the rays moved in stripes across the deck and grass. I caught a bit of the crescent-shaped refractions on the walls, but I didn’t spend too much time at it, having been forewarned not to waste these short important moments staring at a camera. Professional photographers would be doing that, much better than I ever could, so I sat back to let it unfold.
The temperature plumetted. My summer dress was suddenly not enough, but I wasn’t going back into the house for a sweater. It was happening. It was happening now!
The birds chirped weird half-songs and then were quiet. The bees in my husband’s hives quit busying and settled as if it were night. Little didn’t seem to notice, or maybe she just didn’t care. The neighbors lit off firecrackers (the human response to anything celebratory) Then it was over; the sun grew stronger, the light normalized, the summer heat returned.
Since I was off the path of totality, I never got to see the sun haloing the moon. For that I was sorry. By staying home, I had missed the heart of the display. (I will know better next time.) Still I was content; after all, the last time there was an eclipse in my area, it was overcast.
I didn’t write a poem or draw a picture but found great value in the experience. The human mental process of trying to grasp such a grand phenomenon was a revelation in itself.
Watching the eclipse made me feel small, yet not unimportant.
Is that why some people chase eclipses all over the world? To remind themselves of their place in the universe?
The news media has gone off to other things; the eclipse glasses are thrown in a drawer, but those few moments of cold, powerful beauty with stay with me for the rest of my life.
In memory of my father, who would have loved this.