Saturday, June 2, 2012
Another Occasional Other Matter from the Sky – Eclipse 2012
I am in yoga class and what began as a barely perceptible pull on my consciousness this morning is fast becoming as urgent as the need for air. I am inexplicably swept away by the naive idea that somehow, witnessing the sun slowly being extinguished by the moon’s shadow will somehow shed light on those things that might be best extinguished from my own life. But this magic spell, in which I have total confidence, won’t work unless I can view the eclipse in solitude. The fact that this is a near logistical impossibility sends me into a panic as I lie, outwardly quiet, with mind whirling ever further from Nirvana, in shavasana, at the end of class. All the obvious viewing places are just that. Obvious. Gates Pass, Tumamoc Hill, Saguaro National Park West and the eclipse party at the Food Truck Roundup will be filled with the celebratory oohing and ahhing of the masses. Reality forces me to relinquish the romantic ideas of riding my motorcycle out to the edge of the earth or hiking to the top a mountain, since I have no idea exactly what sort of darkness the setting of an eclipsed sun will bring.
The idea of it all ferments in my brain for much of the afternoon, as I consider and discard option after option. What I need is a topographic map and a chart indicating the position of the setting sun, along with a bit of luck. Captain Google provides the first two items, and I make Brown Mountain my target. I hope it’s enough off the beaten path, and hot enough out that most sane souls will not want make the physical effort of even this small climb, yet I know the trail to be short enough that impending dusk of any sort probably won’t endanger my descent.
By the time I have a plan, there is barely enough time to enact it. With great purpose I fly, acquiring the necessary solar viewing glasses, and tossing items in my Camelbak: sunscreen (oh, the irony!), water, hat, granola bar (my snack of last resort), head lamp (just in case) and, as an afterthought, my camera and tripod, although I have no idea how to use the former in this unique situation, and the latter self-destructed into a number of tiny pieces in my top box on a ride a couple of months ago. I’m off, dodging trains and putting the Corolla through its paces up and over Gates pass, wincing as I am reminded it’s no Ducati.
Remarkably, I beat the traffic over the pass, and find myself at my vantage point utterly alone. I can’t believe no one else thought of this. I’m pleased to be ahead of schedule, because it allows me time to sort through the puzzle of the tripod pieces, figure out that I can hold the solar viewing glasses in front of my camera lens, and take a stab at a few camera settings before the cosmic event sets forth.
I wait. The sun hovers in the sky, searingly unrepentant. The hot breeze does not refresh. I fidget. Two bees orbit each other like noisy sub-atomic particles. I look at my watch. In the distance I hear a motorcycle accelerating through the turns of McCain Loop Road, and in a mix of fellowship and covetous desire, I sigh.
My mind knows it’s simply a specific arrangement of planetary bodies, and, according to sock drawer statistics, probably no more unlikely than any other. Nevertheless, I can not seem to let go of my pagan expectations.
I want to reflect on life, but I’m struggling with my camera instead. It’s difficult to make the necessary fine adjustments with the tripod with one hand, while holding the solar glasses in front of the lens with the other. The manual focus won’t hold my selection, so my photos keep coming out blurry, and I’m fighting with the malfunctioning jog dial, which I can not bring myself to pay to have repaired again, since the hate side of my camera love-hate relationship is quickly, well, eclipsing the love side. The thin film of plastic that is the solar viewing glasses creates an unwelcome sense of remove, as if I was watching the entire event on television. Curiosity is a powerful phenomenon, and as if to prove the point, I steal an unprotected glimpse. My light sensitive eyes can only bear the blaze for a fraction of a second, not even long enough to register what is happening. Instead, the crescent sun is recorded only as a ghost image burned upon my retina. Surprisingly, without the filter, and without foolish furtive glances directly at the fireball itself, the only clue of the unusual event at all is the subtle coolness of a cloud passing over the sun. Except, of course, there are no clouds.
As my camera battery runs down, I feel wholly unenlightened. I trudge down the hill and miss my chance at perhaps the best shot of all – the eclipsed sun against the backdrop of the mountainous horizon. I try to find a lesson, an allegory, in the moment. There are so many to choose from. Light follows darkness. Perhaps change needn’t be so scary. But my heart will have none of it. There are no answers, there is no clarity, and I feel robbed of my epiphany. I try to block out the reality I’ve known all along: life is not altered by the path of the moon, the power for change lies solely within myself.
And if I step on it, I can get to the Food Truck Roundup before it disbands.