Today it is a delightful late-summer’s day here in the Ohio River Valley. I have the windows thrown open for fresh air and the sun is shining brightly in an uncharacteristically blue sky. (usually August is Smogust.)
I’ve taken this day to attend to a final few veterinary well-visits for our menagerie (weeks in the doing of it), as well as to attempt a bit of wordsmithery here on the blog.
In the midst of all of this normalcy, I am finding it difficult to put into words a most liminal day earlier in the week. For on this past Monday, myself and a few fellow intrepid souls took to the backroads on a Quest for Totality.
We had heard that many folks would be traveling en masse to see the spectacle that was to be the Total Eclipse of the Sun 2017. As our plans came together rather late, we opted for One Big Day of travel to and fro and knew we were in for an adventure. I packed a picnic lunch and many jars of tea and set off in the wee hours of the morning to gather my friends for the day.
I’ll admit to experiencing some trepidation regarding the notion of standstill traffic….
We careened along carefully chosen backroads in Indiana and Kentucky, through national forest lands and in and out of mist-laden farm country. The phrase ‘over the river and through the woods’ comes to mind. And we found it beautiful. There was to be no traffic, thankfully, at least on the way down.
The journey was quiet and filled with interesting stories and conversation. We did not need the radio on, so satisfied with each others’ company were we.
The sun did rise eventually, and the miles did pass. Each seemingly unaware of what was to come on this momentous day.
We had our star charts, and an idea of where we might need to be to witness a total eclipse of the sun in our region. And so, we drove and drove, perhaps a bit farther than some as we opted for west, then south to avoid the crush of sun-seeking humanity.
Eventually, we arrived in a small town called Marion, Kentucky.
There were signs for a municipal park nearby and so we followed them and found ourselves in a delightful setting. Enough fellow sky-watchers to feel a sense of human-camaraderie for the Big Event, and yet enough private green space to feel centered in the scope of what was to come, just by ourselves. We had come prepared for reverence.
We ate our lunch together on some sporty bleachers and watched those with large telescopes prepare. We celebrated the tail end of our meal with the most delicious brownies ever.
- 1 (15.5 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 eggs
- 3 tbsp oil (I used coconut)
- Maybe around 1/4 c peanut butter (a nice blob in any case. This is optional though.)
- 1/2 c brown sugar
- 1/4 c plus 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- Semi-sweet chocolate chips for topping (optional- but…)
- Preheat oven to 350 f
- Add all ingredients into a blender (except for the chocolate chips). Blend it till all the beans are blasted apart. Batter will be a bit runny.
- Lightly grease an 8×8 baking dish and pour the batter inside.
- Top with chocolate chips or nuts
- Bake for 25 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean if you poke it
- Cool for 30 minutes before cutting and serving. This is so it doesn’t fall apart when you cut it.
But I digress.
After lunch, it was TIME. We heard it announced that It Was Starting. And sure enough, when we glanced up at the Sun with our special glasses, part of it appeared to be missing.
This was a relatively slow process actually and so we took turns monitoring the Sun being shadowed by the moon and spent the in between time tending to our sense of the Divinity in it all.
There were crystals to charge, prayers of thanks to offer, bundles to smudge, bless and wrap for sending along to the nature spirits and the Otherworld. We burned incense which had been given to Justin and Megan by our dear departed friend Cindy, and we shared stories of her generosity and her most artful life. (as for me, Cindy is who first lent me a flute to see if I might like to tackle this most difficult instrument. I am forever grateful.)
We struggled to get our normal camera gear to cooperate in these difficult and potentially harmful conditions while we attempted to document the undocumentable.
I was so tickled to be with friends who are at once practical and spiritual in their endeavors. I maintain that my Irish music friends are the deepest and smartest people I know in my lucky life.
Soon, it was clear that Totality was nigh.
And so it was.
I took a picture and then took my glasses off to merely witness.
As totality had approached, all of the things that were supposed to happen did so. The light changed, the birds rested and dogs howled. As the darkness took hold, a cheer went up from our fellow sky-watchers. The tree-frogs and crickets began to sing. Street lamps turned on. And, possibly because we were in Kentucky, gun-shots were heard off in the distance as well. I suppose we all celebrate things in our own way.
There are times in our lives when the universe seems to hold its breath for a few moments. If we are fortunate, and if perhaps we have taken the time and care to be paying proper attention, we can catch a little whiff of the Otherworld in these auspicious times.
Still points in life are found in the usual, expected places – the moment a baby is born and draws it’s first breath, or at the bedside of a loved one in the process of a peaceful passing on. I’ve witnessed a fair number of both of these scenarios and for a time immediately following these life changing moments, the world doesn’t seem quite it’s usual self. There is a palpable divinity in everything somehow. It is as if a veil is lifted for a time and we are Reminded. In a more reverent and perfect world, perhaps we could feel this in the day-to-day, yes?
I find it difficult to express the Otherworldliness that this eclipse provided our merry band of sky-watchers. The mere shift of the light was the very same I’d heard described (but never quite witnessed) in all the stories of Faerie-land. Time stood still. We marveled and wept at the cosmic beauty we had the great fortune to behold in this very moment. Life itself is a miracle really and moments such as this remind us in a way that is nearly heart-breaking.
I could go on and on. But it is difficult to convey. Perhaps Annie Dillard says it best in this quote from her article from 1982:
“Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.”
I have seen partial eclipses in my lifetime. But this was an altogether different animal indeed. I will go so far as to say there was before, and now there is after. There is a sense of feeling one’s place in the cosmos. My friends and I are already plotting the best situation for April 8, 2024.
When totality had passed, and we once again had to don our viewing goggles, there was an indescribable sense of glee in all of us. We danced and cartwheeled and made music and laughed.
As if we were under some faerie-land intoxication.
Perhaps we were.
We continued to watch the sky for awhile after totality as the chunking out of the sun is truly miraculous to watch.
And after a while we settled in for a bit of a nap. All of us feeling we were under some sort of spell.
This is where it came to me that we had witnessed one of those liminal moments. Like a birth or a death, or the moment you know you’ve met your beloved – there had been a shift, a change, and none of us would ever be the same.
Eventually, the heat and the ants let us know it might be time to pack up our things and begin the journey toward home, which suddenly felt so very far away. But we still had each-other, and this amazing shared experience. And thankfully, a well-timed cup of coffee on route through Kentucky.
We did face some traffic on route home, which alas, gave me some comfort. In this day and age of cynicism and sarcasm, reality tv and ‘fake news’, the path of red tail lights on the highway informed me that much of humanity still holds wonder for the Great Beyond. We still wonder at that which we cannot altogether explain. The astronomers give us the timing and the maps for witnessing, but our souls show us the way into the cosmos.
In the beginning was the dream…
In the eternal night where no dawn broke, the dream deepened.
Before anything ever was, it had to be dreamed…If we take Nature as the great artist, then all presences in the
world have emerged from her mind and imagination. We are
children of the earth’s dreaming. It’s almost as if Nature is in
dream and we are her children who have broken through the
dawn into time and place. Fashioned in the dreaming of the
clay, we are always somehow haunted by that; we are unable
ever finally to decide what is dream and what is reality. Each
day we live in what we call reality, yet life seems to resemble
a dream. We rush through our days in such stress and intensity,
as if we were here to stay and the serious project of the world
depended on us. We worry and grow anxious – we magnify
trivia until they become important enough to control our lives.
Yet all the time, we have forgotten that we are but temporary
sojourners on the surface of a strange planet spinning slowly
in the infinite night of the cosmos…
There is no definitive dividing line between reality and dream.
What we consider real is often precariously dream-like.
Our grip on reality is tenuous…Excerpt from Eternal Echoesby John O’Donohue