The Day the Sun Turned Black

 

“The Path of Totality?” I commented incredulously. “Sounds like a fundamentalist teaching on homosexuality.”

Troy laughed indulgently and continued to drive undeterred.

I looked at the route Google was taking us, and back to him in disbelief. “This campground is ten hours east. You sure it’s gonna be worth it? We can see a partial eclipse from almost anywhere.”

“Trust me. It'll be worth it. Partial eclipses aren't the same.” He smiled, and the car sped on. “Plus, you’re gonna love this town.”

I wasn’t so sure—I had no concept of Idaho, excepting a vague idea that it was lousy with potatoes. Our campground lay in the middle of said state in a town on the edge of the Sawtooth Wilderness, called Stanley—population sixty-three.

Ten-plus hours later, we stepped back in time and entered a frontier-style town, with waving sunflowers, set amidst golden hills and heather-tinted mountains—not close formations, like those of the Carolinas, but ranges with space and breath-taking vistas. They were jagged and tooth-like, towering in magnificence above the tree line, crested here and there with snow, and at days end, they settled into a splendid purple.

Ground-level rivers tumbled alongside the highway—not deep but fast moving—full of crystal-clear glacial melt that fed the banks of thick green grasses, and grooves of birches that thrived near the river trails, regal and straight with tiny, paddle-shaped leaves that clapped lightly in the tempered breeze. Lincoln-log fences, grey and worn from the sun, zig-zagged along the river, dividing the vast prairies scattered with livestock grazing the luxurious expanse, and hearty trees sprinkled scantily across the hills. 

And not a potato in sight. I was in love.

The buildings in Stanley—the ice-creamery, the pizza parlor, the pubs, the post-office—were all built log-cabin-style with huge interlocking cedar beams; the largest of these was Redfish Lodge. It was a few miles from our campsite, settled on the edge of a huge glacier lake with green-blue waters, back-dropped by mountains, and served as the social gathering spot for miles around. 

The lakeside was full of people like us, who had gone great lengths to align themselves with the path of totality. The day before the eclipse was happy chaos at Redfish lake, with easily a thousand people on the shoreline. People paddle-boarded and sailed over the water, teenagers threw each other off the dock and took selfies with the pack-lamas, kids with ice cream cones dodged bees as chocolate dripped down their wrists, and groups gathered to watch bright red Chinook fish wriggle and dart through the offshoots of the lake. It was a glorious day, with contagious excitement flowing from group to group, as strangers became quick friends and each compared how far they'd come to see the sun darken.

The next morning, Troy woke me before the sun had even crested the ridge. It was below freezing outside of my double sleeping bag, even in the tent, yet he was as determined as a child on Christmas morning that I should rise, and now. I refused and burrowed deeper. He switched to bribery and promised me a lovely warm breakfast of biscuits and gravy at the Inn if I woke up. I relented. 

There was a rumor that as many as 100,000 people might be coming into the little town to view what the Stanley locals had been referring to as the "Apoc-eclipse." As we drove in, RV’s lined the main roads and streets, and cars were parked at every possible and impossible turn-off. We crept along cautiously as pedestrians crossed the clogged streets at random, still bleary-eyed with sleep, puffing their little clouds of breath before them.

By the time we joined the other eclipse-enthusiasts the day was warming. I had on leggings, jeans, two sweaters, a puffy vest, a knit cap and a long flannel scarf. At 10:15, it was 73 degrees and sunny, and I'd shed most of my outer layers. We were an eccentric collection of people that had gathered at this particular viewing green—families, retirees, stoners, and scientists spread out across the lawn, a few smiling Mormons standing stiffly by a huge sign that advertised the end of the world, a homeless man leading his part-wolf-part-collie dog calmly around the perimeter on a nylon string, and a taco truck on the corner peddling substandard Bubble Tea. 

The eclipse was an agonizingly slow reveal. At the back of the lawn, scientists buzzed around impressive looking telescopes, inviting those near them to take peeks at the golden sun that now boasted a black indent in its top corner. We could see flares on the surface of the sun through their massive lenses, putting our flimsy glasses to shame.

Some guys in the back of the green grew impatient and started a game of Frisbee. A little girl began to turn cartwheels and back-bends, excited by such a large audience. The sun was halfway gone now; the temperature was dropping. I re-assumed my discarded layers and wrapped in a flannel blanket. The skies were grey and hazy. It was a strange diminishing of light with surreal resulting hues as the rays of the sun wrapped around the moon...

11:20—the sun was a thumbnail.

11:28—it was the tiniest of slivers, and I marveled at how light it still was in the world with just the tiniest fragment imaginable visible—

11:29—the sun slipped behind the moon and darkness fell like a heavy curtain. People began to howl, and I found myself swearing inadvertently as the ebony moon was revealed, shining in silent splendor, backlit by a bright thin rim, with white rays extending from the black pupil into the dark, slate-grey skies tinged with blue. I spun in circles beneath the darkness and saw the reaching jagged mountains painted dark maroon. It was unlike dusk, unlike dawn, unlike night—unlike anything except itself. Chaos swelled as we gazed in disbelief at the luminous black silhouette—the black hole, a black portal—and cheers and applause climaxed and echoed over the hills.

I might have believed in God after that; I might have believed in anything.

The earth was cold—it was so cold.

Before the frost could gather, before the enormity of the turning planets could be grasped, before our eyes had adjusted to the darkness, the sun’s rays burst above the top of the black stone and we were forced to look away. The light spilled over the landscape and melted the haze from the mountains, dissipating our clouds of cold breath as we gasped and squinted and applauded wildly and our hearts pounded heavy in our ears, each of us filled with a strange buoyancy and connection, as if we had all witnessed a thing not for mortal eyes and lived.

The moon had held us captive with her silhouette for a hundred and thirty-five seconds, but it only felt like thirty, perhaps to her as well as she absorbed our adoration. All too soon, she slipped out of the spotlight and back into shadow, again just a
 

A black curve
edging past a
shining star

Our Jealous Moon.

 

 

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