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Solar Eclipse

Everything was as usual, then it wasn’t. The temperature lowered. The waves dimmed, the water’s surface turned silver. The city’s silhouette stood out in ivory shimmer. The grass blades, the leaves, the evergreen needles bristled under a metallic sheen. The undersides of shrubs darkened. A solitary heron which had been placidly swimming along the shore suddenly dove into the depths. I waited for it to reappear when a furious squawking distracted me. To my right a conference of ducks was in the midst of an argument. I watched as they paddled away from one another. One of them spun itself into a miniature whirlpool, flapping its wings in crazed turbulence. I gazed up: the thinnest of clouds hung below a fist-wide pearl which was being devoured by a black disk.

My mind grasped that I was witnessing a solar eclipse. My faculties, however, were horrified. The moon, a pale docile orb, had transformed into a ravenous rogue guzzling the bright star. The sun, a blinding ball of gas, now hung like a ghostly plate. As the obliteration continued I perceived my surroundings mutating. The ground, the horizon, the rocks took on cadmium hues. Shadows vanished. A pall settled. Nature was silent. No birds chirped, no squirrels chattered, no dogs barked. Even the trees were mute. An airplane’s whine pierced the eerie quiet. I glanced up again. The sun was a bleached crescent. The clouds drifted underneath, wooly curtains parting and closing upon the spectacle. My world flipped upside down. My senses warped. Time receded, rushing past me while I remained motionless on a conveyor belt.

“Where is it? D’you see it?” The couple asked jogging towards me. I pointed. They craned their necks.

“Wish it was a bit less cloudy so we could really get the effect,” they remarked.

“This is still incredible though. It’s my first eclipse,” I told them.

“Ours too!” they said. “You’re lucky you came with your camera setup for photos. All we have is our phone.”

I shrugged. “At least we’re here for the real thing.” The three of us grinned sheepishly before stretching our heads back. A few minutes later the conditions became so overcast I could discern neither sun nor moon through the layers. I slipped away. A few yards further three friends gaped up at the grey mass.

“Where’s the sun? Can’t find it,” one of them complained.

“I told you we should’ve gone north. We don’t even get the full effect,” argued the second.

“Check Twitter, maybe it already happened.”

“C’mon, let’s go home. I’m freezing.”

“No I wanna see the eclipse.”

“Hey, check out this video….”

“That’s lit! Damn, that’s what I was hoping to catch. Why’s it gotta be so cloudy?”

“Let’s go home. I’m freezing.”

“But I wanted to post a pic!”

“You’re outta luck,” he said, laughing, “there’s way better photos online than you’ll get. Check this one out.” I smiled to myself, elated I had beheld a partial eclipse in spite of the weather. There may be stunning recounts of it online, but observing it was magical. At the same time I was crestfallen. The eclipse phenomenon rekindled that tingle across my palms. Where do I go from this extravaganza? A branch snagged my arm. I halted. The bough glowed in soft, golden tones. I studied the luster, captivated. Had it always displayed such surreal effulgence? My perceptions heightened by the event I was detecting unusual colors in everything: a fading purple flower, a glistening blue mallard head, the red lichen cluster on a boulder. It occurred to me how many details I ignored in my walk before. Even that concealed dwarf star which served as my natural bulb was an afterthought for me most of the time. It emitted such variegated, unfathomable illumination. It created color, warmth, energy. Its luminosity changed as I drifted from task to task unaware. Because of it my shadow lengthened, then shortened, then lengthened. I failed to notice.

Despite being a traveler, I am anesthetized to environments. I think about how many vistas I no longer find impressive. Incredible locations have become invisible after repetitive roaming. How few sceneries surprise me. How rare it is for me to delight in the strangeness of a topography. With every new scene I keep raising my expectations for extraordinary. Tracking the solar eclipse granted me that amazement, but also demonstrated to me how adventure can be an addiction: the urge to seek thrills becomes ungovernable, the pleasure of the new a potent drug requiring increasing dosages. I experience the same emotions when it comes to digesting scientific innovation. A decade ago I marveled that a computer powered mobile telephones. At present, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and virtual projections have overstimulated me to exhaustion. The miracle is dead.

This is not the fault of travel or technology. It is my inability to maintain perspective, my unwillingness to curate my exposure which dooms me to ennui. I cannot exist in a state of perpetual astonishment. However, somewhere along the airports, byways, and lodges, somewhere between the voiced navigation systems, crowd-sourced reviews, and digital maps I developed an unhealthy appetite for the spectacular. I need to recalibrate my standards. I must fall back in love with much trampled trails. It will require effort, but I will endeavor to bring wonder to my every day. I will gaze attentively at the stars each night, sketch the view from my window in different seasons, heed the shifting silhouettes along my commute. I will destroy my apathy with practice. In my wanderings I pledge not to take natural beauties or modern novelties for granted any more so that I do not sleepwalk through the richness of my life. Discerning the extraordinary in the mundane will make for unforgettable moments which empower my inner self and fuel my imagination.


TRAVEL NOTE:

If you missed the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 or want to view it again head to NASA’s live video feed here. There is also a gallery of photos from the day taken with various telescopes along the totality’s path.


What incident has amazed you? What place has filled you with wonder? If you have seen a solar eclipse, how was the experience? Let me know in the comments below.

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65 replies »

  1. It’s a compelling article with a very thoughtful conclusion. You are right. It’s so easy to get addicted to spectacular things while travelling, craving for more, and forget about the beauty in simplicity of everyday living that surrounds us when we are at home. Thank you for sharing.

    • It was a very special and memorable event to witness. Tourism agencies are predicting that even more people will travel to South America in 2019 to witness the next Western Hemisphere solar eclipse over land.

  2. During the sun eclipse we also haven’t seen a full eclipse here in Belgium and the weather also reduced the effect! All things on Earth and beside Earth are there to observe and absorb life in all its facets. Nothing is for granted. Life is short, be aware of it, enjoy life! Beautiful pictures you taken of that day!
    Best regards, Heidi

  3. Great comments! We were (probably for the first time for us ever) right in the path of the full eclipse. Less than halfway through, HUGE clouds rolled in and covered the whole thing. We got the temp drop, etc., but I admit I was so very disappointed. But, as you say, we were here for the event! 😀

  4. It was raining where I live in Central Virginia. If the street lights had not dimmed, I would never have realized the eclipse was happening when it did. We were supposed to be in the 80% eclipse range, but with the clouds, I couldn’t tell locally.

  5. We experienced the change in temperature where we were, too. It was noticeably colder, which I hadn’t expected.

    I hope you rediscover your joy in the everyday things. I hope you experience miracles again. 🙂

  6. Spectacular? Every morning, especially in warmer seasons, bird chorus at dawn, in spring it’s deafening, in winter sparse yet much appreciated by hungry ears (although there is something holy about winter white silence), in summer I hear individual voices as they flit up to my bedroom windows and look in. Cheeky things.

    • How lovely to be where the sound of birds can be deafening in spring! The sound of a busy city overtakes bird chatter where I am, but I’m determined to keep an ear out for their conversations.

  7. Love your description of the couple’s focus on getting a good photo. It was completely cloudy in Las Vegas for the eclipse – unusual weather so I didn’t even get a glimpse. A natural occurrence that I’ve found pretty amazing is the aurora borealis. I lived in Fairbanks, Alaska for a couple of years and I’d look at the university’s northern lights forecast every day to see my chance of seeing it. Should I step outside at 1 or 2 am? Of course, driving outside town gave a much better possibility, but you can’t do that on a daily basis. Easier to put on a heavy coat over your pajamas, slip into a good pair of boots and try to catch something in the front yard. The undulating lights are quite otherworldly.

  8. I just enjoy walking around wherever I am be it Glasgow, Edinburgh, Chester, Manchester, London wherever life takes me there are wonderful things to see. I even like looking at the buildings in the streets some of them are so pretty, the bricks and patterns used to be so much nicer years ago than the plain box houses they build for people now with less character in them.

    • Yes, I am always fascinated by ancient European architecture as well. So many centuries worth of different designs. It’s wonderful that even though you’ve grown up with that architecture, you still enjoy it. Take care!

  9. Brilliant commentary about experiencing an unusual event. Your opening line sets a wonderful tone for your observations and I agree about the extraordinary ordinary.

  10. I truly need to savor this post and read it often. The quest to find ‘the wonder’ in the every day is good for anyone whether they’ve become addicted to adventure (#me) or fail to see the light of day because they are addicted to work (#usedtobeme). I found myself having word envy as I dreamily made my way through your vivid post, but when I arrived at its conclusion, I welcomed your reminder to just thank God that I have a chance to experience the wonders of life each and every day.

  11. “…how many vistas I no longer find impressive. Incredible locations have become invisible after repetitive roaming. How few sceneries surprise me.” I have been dealing with this for a while. So many of us are addicted to astonishment. This is why I’m taking a break from major travels. It’s time to rediscover the magic of “home”.

    The eclipse…we had only a little here in France, but I felt the shift. I can imagine how powerful it was in your region, even with the clouds.

    • “So many of us are addicted to astonishment.” I’ve gotten to the point where even when I notice a simple detail to write about or photograph, I chicken out, thinking it’s not spectacular enough.

      “It’s time to rediscover the magic of “home”.” This is my hope and goal for the next while. You always have the courage to share your own doubts and failures all the while encouraging me through mine. Thank you.

      • So many are addicted to bravado these days, too. The meticulous curation of totally epic lives. Having doubts and accepting loss is so not cool.😉

  12. Great post and how true it is to become so ‘familiar’ with the spectacular that at some point those similar sights and sounds cease to move the needle. It is something I have noticed as well, and your thought of getting back to the basics, the trails and grasses ~ the details we have long since taken for granted.

    As for the solar eclipse, your opening line is perfect: “Everything was as usual, then it wasn’t. The temperature lowered. The waves dimmed, the water’s surface turned silver.” We had 98% totality back home in Eastern Oregon, and while we only experienced a great dimming ~ it was something else. Eerieness with this sudden shift in everything: light, temperature, the quietness, and feeling electricity. I loved it.

  13. I didn’t even get to feel the full force (I wasn’t in an area where it could be fully experienced), yet it still felt like a religious experience. Surprisingly tears came to my eyes.

  14. You’re incredibly lucky! I’ve been waiting for such an opportunity. As a kid, I remember the hype around a particular eclipse and the eventual disappointment. It’s interesting how you transferred your observations to the environment below. Lighting changes everything and you got some fantastic shots! 🙂

    • Thank you. I was very privileged to witness the partial eclipse despite the cloudy conditions. What was going on with the landscape was a lot more subtle than what was happening in the sky. I loved the subdued transformation and I’m pleased you enjoyed those photos. 🙂 As for hype, it is the death knell of anything, so I am resolved to stay away from it as much as possible.

  15. Beautiful language once again, and in combination with a lot of insights and personal realizations! That photo of the partial eclipse is stunning. Such a rare phenomenon that every creature in nature was affected by it. Your description of the moment taught me a lot – about nature, about your writing and about reflecting life. I recognize the feeling of taking beautiful places for granted. You live in a visually striking state and I can imagine hiking in the Marin Headlands and having all the beauty and the sighs go by you unnoticed, because you are used to it.

    As for me, I never stay long enough in the same place to get “bored” with it, or take it for granted. It is one of the beauties and attractions about this full-time house sitting lifestyle. That being said, I can relate to traveling a lot and seeing many spectacular places all over the world, which leads to higher expectations and thinking of many areas as “blah” compared to what else we have seen and experienced. In Dutch we have the expression loosely translated as “putting the ruler higher and higher for ourselves”. It happens when it comes to personal achievements and perfectionism, but it also happens when wanting to discover the world and everything it has to offer.

    Then, there is the adage that “beauty and happiness can be found in the small things”. With your new outlook, I am sure you will (re-)discover many of those details in your own, daily and “mundane” surroundings, when you allow your wondering and wandering spirit to lay eyes on them. 🙂

  16. Here in Southern California it was only partial but I was determined to see what I could. I marvelled more at how the hills stood quiet and still – birds stopped singing, all wildlife either hiding or stopped in its tracks – than at the obscuring of the sun. You are right – paying more attention to the natural wonders rather than the technological ones is a balm for the soul.

    • So happy you were able to experience the partial eclipse. The absolute natural quiet was eerie, wasn’t it? One of the few things everyone agreed they felt at the time as well. Thanks for the beautiful account.

  17. whew! if you can even begin to live as deliberately as you have spoken and wished for…Tell me how.
    It is hard to do when the world is so full of wonder and beauty. i have two approaches; sketching and drawing from observation and practicing yoga. Sadly i have precious little discipline in applying these.
    But i know they work.
    Holly

    • I think you hit on the answer: practicing and having that discipline. I love your methods and, having recently started sketching, see how it focuses me to observe details I otherwise missed. Also, writing and photography to a certain extent help.

  18. Maybe there’s something to be said for staying in the same place a while and falling back in love with the ‘ordinary’. 🙂 🙂 Your descriptive powers are astonishing and I had goosebumps with you. It was far too cloudy here to see anything but I too felt the awe. My best travel moment? In recent years probably seeing the Duomo in Florence for the first time ever, at night and floodlit. I was suffused with joy. 🙂

    • 😀 Always pleased when my writing can give you goosebumps.

      The Duomo at night sounds thrilling, like a scene from a travel adventure book. Unfortunately, after awhile of staying in the same place I tend to stop noticing things. Looking to change that and as you said, fall “back in love with the ordinary.”

    • Thank you so much! It was cloudy where I observed the phenomenon as well, but thankfully there were some slight clearings. I know I’m so fortunate, because it could have gone the other way as it did for you. Hope you get to catch one, because I would love to see what your story-telling eye does with the photos you would get. For the UK, future ones are predicted in 2021, 2026, and 2090…so a bit of a wait there.

  19. I’m trying to imagine where you could see that much sun coverage near water …? I managed to get a view of the sun 85% eclipsed, but next time I will try harder to travel to the zone of totality.

    I’ve never thought about a state of perpetual astonishment, but now that you mention it, I think I do somehow maintain that! I admit the surprises are a bit dimmed after one has seen a lot of the world, but they’ll always cause some amount of mouth-opening, eye-widening, heart-filling feeling, I think!

    • I too would love to see a total solar eclipse. This one I watched in California. We are lucky as travelers that we get to see such amazing sights, both natural and man-made. I love that after all your experiences you’ve still managed to maintain that “eye-widening, heart-filling feeling.” Here’s hoping we never lose it!

  20. ‘Everything was usual and then it wasn’t’ – I loved that first line. Your descriptions are always beautifully drawn, but I like your message too. The ‘ordinary’ is extraordinary when we pay it due attention.

    • Thank you. It is sad when I think about how many extraordinary things I’ve come to consider “ordinary” because I have gotten used to them. One of the reasons I love traveling outside my comfort zone because it reminds me to cherish what I have.

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