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Eclipsing Time

Totality of solar eclipse

Totality slipping away

Time seemed short. Friends along the path of totality kept telling us how they expected solid traffic jams leading up to the eclipse on August 21. Angst ridden as we hit traffic going to JFK airport in NY, we got to Charlotte, NC by plane an hour late. Dark now, we wisely guessed what might come in the next 24 hours and upgraded our usual economy rental car to a SUV with foldaway seats, figuring we’d have to sleep in it. Heading to Knoxville in the dark, we passed over the Smokies, unable to see the beauty with our noses to the road.

Sleepiness overcame us at last as the clock turned over into a new day, and we had to call it quits near the Tennessee border. Curling into our SUV seats I buzzed with thoughts of what Annie Dillard said of the eclipse, “The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch in the brain slammed.” I hoped I was not too hyped by what Annie wrote in her famous essay, “Total Eclipse,” and prayed as the rumble of diesel engines in the rest stop slipped away that I could still the thoughts and really take in the many worlds of which earth is only one.

When we woke up at 2:30 a.m., we did what most of North America does at this hour – we went in search of a Waffle House. Finding one on just the other side of Knoxville, which we considered a major hurtle to get through, we slurped coffee until a reasonable hour when we could show up at my friend’s farm in Englewood, TN. She met us in her PJs on her gravel driveway, swinging a flashlight to guide us in, for it was still dark at 6 a.m. in these parts.

Watching solar eclipse

The eclipse gathering in Eastern Tennessee

We had made it to the totality path with plenty of time to spare. Now shifting to decaf coffee, we chatted until the time came to fall asleep once more. Refreshed, we woke to picnic basket packing and were soon off to a community gathering atop a grassy knoll with mountains and farms all around us.

Watching solar eclipse

Praying hands casting moon shadows

We still had two hours to totality, but the time went so quickly. There was so much to do! Every one of the 20-some cars that perched on that hill came with people who had different stories about how they ended up there. They each brought their own expectations, desires, and toys to engage the eclipse. Out came the colanders, cork boards, special eclipse glasses, cereal boxes with pin holes, double mirror reflectors, planet and star charts, cameras, binoculars, and telescopes. My favorite, though, was folding our hands as if in prayer to see how the sun cast moon shadows on the ground. The trees too gave into sun worship, their leaves casting hundreds of moons on the grass all around us.

Watching solar eclipse

Leaves casting crescent moon shadows on the ground

On that hill, we turned to the west to see from whence would come the wall of dark, the shadow that would take us over and turn day into night. It took some doing, and some astronomy review to figure out how it would be that the shadow would come from that direction, and why. By then we had finally gotten tired of correcting one another – the sun does not move and the moon does not rotate on its axis, and we no longer needed pads of paper, pencils, flashlights and oranges, and google searches to explain the movement of objects in the sky. We became still, as did everything around us, as temperature and humidity dropped, and midday evening came on. Selves disappeared as we were drawn out, we the many from Wisconsin, Indiana, Georgia, and several from New York, including a van full of young Hasidic Jewish men. Right before totality they went skipping down the country road, in search of cows who might communicate to them what they felt when day turned to night. We humans certainly didn’t have words for it at this time.

All kinds watching solar eclipse

Sharing the eclipse with Hasidim young men

It never did turn to night, and in that I was disappointed. Instead, I was in thrall of what did happen: a sunset that glowed off mountains in every direction. It’s as if the sun couldn’t decide which landscapes to adorn and so chose them all. We twirled, like an ancient dance, to take it all in, and then wham, the stars and planets came out. First appeared Venus to the west, then Jupiter and Mercury to the east, aligned with the sun and the moon. Off to the south, Sirius hung bright. Eyes freed from glasses we took it all in, and then it was over.

It was as if someone died. The time had been too short, and our hearts were like so much laundry hung out in the sky, our tears to dry. It is a cruel thing to have learned to love so deeply this existence, only to have the object of our longing snapped away. They say it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but I couldn’t testify to the truth of that. I longed for the totality of love and life eternal in the company of the tribe that had swayed together on that precipice overlooking all that is beautiful.

Lake on the Little Tennessee

On the way out of the Smokies along the Little Tennessee, beauty was everywhere once the dark had passed

Here is something else that came to me unbidden. The following day I was weepy and the images of the planets, sun, moon, and a sunset bigger than any IMAX screen were constantly in my mind’s eye. I also noticed that I was much more observant than usual over the next several days – I saw details and colors that normally I overlook in pursuit of ego’s claims. All that looking up and out had rewired my brain, quieted some of those cognitive loops and invited a mental integration that knew what beauty was, which is everything.

Scientists study the phenomenon of looking up, for it causes different mental flows and can bring on feelings of wonder, awe, oneness, and compassion. Indeed, that is the aftermath of experiencing totality, which if we humans could wake up enough, we would know that it is happening all the time. Nothing, no one, is outside of the beautiful whole of everything.

This awakening is the goal of our Nurture Nature Program, so that we can meet out in that field beyond wrongdoing and "rightdoing," where the Sufi poet Rumi says, “The world is too full to talk about.” We offer the Nurture Nature Academy, workshops, retreats, Wild Walks, and a newly-planned eclipse retreat in 2024 when all our senses can experience totality once again in North America. Please join us to “let the beauty you are be what you do.” (Rumi again!)

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