I followed the advice I heard in the podcast. During our six and a half hour trip from Richmond to Traveler’s Rest, S.C. we had plenty of time for podcasts. As soon as I heard the awe and reverence in the atheist speaker’s voice, I knew I could trust his advice. He is a scientist, but ever since his first sojourn into the darkness of day, he has become a solar eclipse chaser. Addicted to the experience of a warped two or three minutes when everything we know or think we know about existence is suddenly thrown into the backseat of consciousness. In the front seat – pure awe. Funny addiction for a scientist.
This possibly fence-sitting atheist said to not insert a camera into this rare and mysterious alignment of earth, Scott, moon and Sun. His advice was to maybe set up my camera to record the reactions of those around me, but in the brief and precious moments of totality, to be fully and sensually aware. To let the universe have its say with me. Funny words for a scientist.
And so it was my phone-camera that was sitting on the fence of a horse-riding ring in the foothills of the South Carolinian mountains as the prediction came true. At 2:38 on the 21st of August, 2017, in Travelers Rest, S.C., day did become night, and a burning eye appeared in the dark face of a universe white-freckled with stars and planets. And when day became night, and I made this strange and unnatural eye contact, my very first emotion was fear.
In the time-lapse video I get to see things I never would have remembered. I get to watch my daughter standing beside me right up to the instant of totality. And at that instant where totality clicks in, where the reality we have known and taught ourselves is temporarily suspended, I get to see her jump back 4 or 5 ft away from the burning eye. Astonished! I get to see my own arms thrown to the sky in astonishment. The instant of fear relaxes, and while maintaining eye contact I grope backwardly with my arm to find Brooke. We spend the rest of the 2 minute night together in reverential awe.
Ugh, just words. I know. I just re-read them myself. And I 100% know that if you enjoyed your eclipse in Richmond as an 87%er there is a gulf between me and you that a word bridge cannot cross. Just trust me when I say that all the rest of the event, everything, even up to 99.99%, when a paper thin crescent of light clings awkwardly to the left side of the moon, everything is more believable than the moment when totality clicks in, and the pupil of the moon burns at its edges with pure radiance, and that searching eye finds you in your disbelief. You may not jump back physically like Brooke did, but if you say your small, insignificant human heart doesn’t jump past a beat, I would doubt either your honesty or your humanity.
The Relatable – Tree Photographers!
So much for totality. But my second favorite moment of the event began to occur at about 87 or 90%, when the ground beneath a nearby pecan tree began to be littered with projections of the eclipse. Who knew that on every normal day trees are throwing small projections of the sun on us? It turns out that a tree canopy has many tiny holes in it that act as pinhole cameras and cast sun projections downward. And on every normal day, these projections are full circles. When many such circular projections overlap, all we see are globs of light.
But now I know that each of those globs is a random combination of sun projections. And during the solar eclipse, when the projections are mere crescents of light, they become distinct from one another and lay on the ground or on objects in interesting patterns.
So I hope in Richmond you atleast got to see the interesting projections of the eclipse made by trees. I was so excited that I didn’t get many pictures, so please share your pictures of eclipse shadows on our facebook page. All these years, and I never knew my beloved trees were such skilled photographers!
Pride and Humility
The solar eclipse certainly awed me, but when science tells me where to stand and what time(to the minute!) this dazzling display of universal billiards will occur, I am also in awe. We knew when this solar eclipse would occur, we know when every past one has occured, and when every future one will occur. Amazing! And I will always trust science when it comes to the motion of billiard balls or atoms. I am proud, as a human, of what we and I am able to know about energy and particles.
But the most important lesson or reminder from the 2017 solar eclipse, at least for this aging and sometimes over-scienced man, was that science can hold my hand and lead me with expectation and understanding right up to the instant. Right up to any instant. Science can even relate one instant to another instant, and draw all manner of connecting lines. But in this magical, mysterious universe, the most unpredictable, unscientific, and expansive place is this very instant. The instant in and of itself. Anything could happen in this instant. I could feel anything. I could fear anything. I could be anything. I could even Love!. . . Anything!. This instant is pregnant with uncertain possibility. And science has no idea at all what to make of it. In the instant, and especially in instances of awe, science sits quietly in the back seat of consciousness, where it belongs.
Time, physical motion, and the relatable will always be its domain.
The instant, e-motion, and the unrelatable will always answer to more powerful and creative forces.
Thanks Science. Thanks Mr. Eye..
See you in Texas!