Eclipse

Two days before, I ran into my roomie's bedroom and said "We have to drive 6.5 hours north. I'll split the gas with you." We went to the Guidestones of Georgia and talked to some folks (a lot of conspiracy theories center on the Guidestones). There were a few signs and one satellite dish painted with the angular and vivid folk-art captions promising vague things connected with religion, but in this instance I couldn't really tell which religion they were connected to. Eventually a man walked toward the stones themselves and got everybody's attention so he could say, "All you people with your Bible prophecies goin' up to other peoples' tents and sayin' it's the end of the world, if that's what you think, then I guess you shouldn't have voted for Donald Trump," and a cheer rose. In Georgia, I would have expected more people to object--but nobody did. One sign said, "Until the great release: 2024" perhaps predicting, among other things, an end to a presidency almost guaranteed to take eight years.  

My stuffed animal--a sloth--proved a big hit with several children. One girl calmly explained the science of the eclipse to him. He asked her if the sun was moving. She said no. He asked her if she knew that there were giant sloths who lived with dinosaurs, many years ago (for so there were.) She said yes, but that they ate the sloths. My sloth was sore afraid. She did not comfort him, except to say that she as in the advanced science group of her second grade class. There had been a princess of Georgia once, she said, as if this fact were somehow linked with the others. The Princess of Georgia had been bossy, so she disappeared. There will never be another princess of Georgia ever again, nor a Prince, nor a King nor a Queen. 

I told Paul we'd have to head deeper into the totality zone. We did so--though it was very hot. When we could no longer drive, we ran through the heat and when we couldn't run some elderly black ladies in lawn chairs invited us to to watch with them on their lawn. 

A neighbor came over. Said her kids wouldn't watch the eclipse in the yard with her, they wanted to stay in the house. I asked her if her kids knew people had driven here from New Jersey or even further because this was a great spot for it. She said she tried everything--explaining how strongly the odds were stacked against it--reminding them God wanted them to see it==

Minutes before totality, I took my glasses off I looked around and noticed that the world around us looked really weird. One of the women, looking around, said, "I don't think I've ever seen anything that was this particular color before..." in the most casual tone you can think of ... and then it started happening. And then the 2.4 minutes of totality went by sooooo fast. I was in shock and just agape. 

The comments from the ladies ranged from "God is good" to "I'm terrified! Why the hell is it red!?" And "Are those stars?"

I managed to say the word "planets" but it came out as a gasp. I felt bad saying anything at all, but our hosts exclaimed, "Those are planets, those right there, they're planets" and it could not be said too often or too emphatically, because it's very startling to see new colors and new configurations of the heavenly bodies that just aren't there most of the time. 

Weirdest thing: we thanked them and left while the eclipse was still partial... and on our way back a small child in the parade of souls heading back into their cars, looked curiously at the cloth who rode in my shoulder bag. He spoke to Sloth, pointed at the sky and said,   "That's a crescent sun."

I made the stuffed animal's head turn up at the sky, _and the child quickly tried to hand his eclipse safety glasses to my stuffed animal_.

(I did put them on the plush sloth so he could enjoy the crescent sun for a moment.)

From some places, I'm told, it looks like a shadow the size of the world is rushing at you at 1,800, and that this turns out to be literally true. We were in a field in Georgia, and it was much more like being a frog in a frying pan--instead of boiling water, it was darkness, but the word "darkness" isn't quite weird enough. It was something maybe just a little weirder, because everything around us was a color I don't think I've ever seen before. It reminded me of the optical experiments I'd done tying to perceive a certain color held to be outside the frequency-range at which humans can perceive color at all. This experiment is done by staring at backlit patches of red and green right next to each other, and blue and yellow right next to each other, until something of Another Color Entirely flickers and strobes against your eyes. For a few instants, I believe and others affirm, you can see what normally a human eye can never see. And right now everything around us seemed to be that color. I wouldn't have noticed except that I looked down from the bitten-cookie-shaped sun and took my glasses of, just for a moment... I grabbed Paul and said, "Paul?" and couldn't say much more, but he looked around and said "Oh, weird..." -- one of the nice ladies whose lawn we were standing on said "I don't think if I've ever seen anything this particular color before" which confirmed the strangeness, and her tone was so matter of fact and every day, it made what happened next even more bizarre. 

I've wanted to see a total eclipse, I guess always, but particularly after reading Annie Dillard's Total Eclipse, which is a great way piece on its own. She says a lot of cool things, like "A partial eclipse bears the same relation to a total eclipse as riding in an airplane does to falling out of one," and she also that it doesn't look like a dragon is eating the sun, but nowadays most people are aware that the moon has something to do with an eclipse, and the phenomenon looks more like a dragon than it does the moon. She describes the intense and strange visual character of the surrounding world during a total eclipse. What's really interesting to me is that while our eclipse viewing experience was breathtaking and beyond "spectacular" it was also completely different than the things she was describing. I believe she was telling the truth, nor do I think she much exaggerated. I think it's different every time from every place for every one, and that the only common feature is, it's almost indescribable. Almost. 

We observed two minutes and forty three seconds of totality. In films, it happens faster. The speed of an eclipse in films is wrong but not misleading. In movies, it happens in a few seconds. In the deep south in 2017, it took two-minutes-and-forty seconds, but it felt like it was only as fast as a gasp. On the other hand, it's not two days later, and I feel like I'm till standing there, in shock.