The Pokey Thing

After spending a few days in Austin visiting my daughter, her fiancé, and a small gaggle of extended family, and, by the way, to watch the eclipse, I am flying back now to Burbank on Southwest’s Boeing 737-700.     Austin is in the band of totality that swept across the U.S. from Mazatlán to Maine, which, weather cooperating, allowed for complete solar umbrage.  

After finding a large open pasture (an unused soccer field) close to the Air B and B, a small party of friends and family settled picnic-style on the field, lying on our backs, cheap eclipse-viewing glasses attached to our faces, waiting and watching.    The sky was overcast, thunderstorms approaching, so the likelihood of seeing much of anything was small.

But somehow, with the help of the eclipse-viewing glasses, enough ambient light was filtered so that we were able to see, from time to time, the moon encroaching and slowly scooting its way between our earth and sun.    It was a dramatic sight, one which I remembered having seen once before from some time in my childhood.   As the sun became increasingly covered, the sky eerily and beautifully darkened, as though a cosmic dimmer had been controlling the atmosphere.    At the moment of totality, the sky was too thick with clouds to see the moon’s aura, but the shifty clouds did manage to leave a few holes just before and afterward.   The image above was taken as the sun began to reappear from behind the moon.

The most dramatic moments occurred as the moon passed through the center of the sun, and the temperature dropped.   At 1 o’clock in the afternoon we were slowly plunged into near darkness as the southern heat dissipated.    It all lasted only a few minutes as the Great Controller waved her hand and then brought us all back to the ordinary.

Sadly, I find myself inured to much of this precious life lately, perhaps as I turn towards the last years of corporeal life and wrestle with the inevitable, knowing that the inevitable always wins the match.   Never one to grieve easily, it’s easier to shut down than to feel the pain and pleasure that surrounds this thin armor of skin.   These days, it’s the small things that manage to poke through and generate outsized emotional reactions.   

Or maybe the pokey thing must be so large that the self-inflicted anesthesia that makes life tolerable doesn’t stand a chance.   It was less the passing of the moon between earth and sun that made me remember what awe felt like than the shift into darkness in the cool air.   Sure, there are days when the clouds cover the sun and the earth becomes gray, but this felt different in a way I can’t quite describe.   It was somehow more like the “fade to black” we are accustomed to seeing in film.  I had read about what to expect, and so intellectually I suppose I anticipated the darkening and cooling, and expectation itself often robs an experience of its numen;  yet the visceral experience of it, in the middle of a soccer field, friends and family nearby, in an unfamiliar place somehow, however briefly, managed to wash away the din of expectation.