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.
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.