Our little moon, making a stand.
Saying, for a moment, “not today, Sun.”
We love our moon so much. It’s not that we don’t love the sun, but the sun is foreign, powerful, bright in ways we don’t understand. We can’t even look at her without special glasses. The moon, she’s one of us. The sun keeps us alive, but the moon is where magic lives. She was forcibly blasted from the earth 4.5 billion years ago, and like some poor orphan sister, she didn’t get all the stuff she needed. The things that make the earth so cozy for us: an atmosphere, water, air, gravity, plants that photosynthesize, IPA, coffee, the Internet, dogs – the moon doesn’t have any of that stuff.
But she follows us around like a puppy, endlessly circling, going nowhere. We ignore her during the day, and wonder whether it will be sunny or not. We don’t ask whether it will be a moony night. But when the tide is low, the babies are born, and the dogs howl, we remember that she’s out there, with her ghostly, invisible hand in our lives.
Earthlings visited her once and left a flag; I’m not sure why. Not that there’s anything wrong with the flag (at least… well, I won’t get into that here. Because this is about the moon, our faithful little sister. But jeez, what ever happened to 'take only pictures, leave only footprints'? Do we really think we can own the moon?)
And, truth: she’s moving away from us. With each orbit, imperceptibly farther away, like a child growing up. Eventually, we won’t experience total eclipses of the sun. Right now is the perfect time, when the distances work out so that the tiny moon can completely obscure the huge distant star. As our relationship with the moon grows more distant, that won’t work. (I know – you’re acting that out right now. I did too. Holding the penny, the orange, the soccer ball. Experimenting with distances between them so that the penny can blot out the soccer ball.)
So, my kids and I set out for a basic quick family trip. The kind where you learn little things about one another, like this: we all find strange comfort in staying at cheap motels on the outskirts of town, the part of town that isn’t particularly walkable.
On the morning of the eclipse, we drove a few miles from our campsite to get deeper into the path of totality, and parked by the side of the road. In Oregon, the high desert is so beautiful that every field involves gorgeous scenery. Our particular view revealed amber waves of grain, Mount Jefferson, and the high desert where the scarce water creates a precise, thrifty order. "The plants," my daughter said, "are so organized here." We sat, playing with our cardboard glasses, and waiting. It was fun – a science field trip that I was able to lure my kids on. The eclipse was the bonus, but time with my kids was the main event. Not much was apparent with the eclipse for quite a while. If you looked through the glasses, you could see the moon beginning her little march, but without the glasses, meh.
But weird, tiny things began to happen. This: a group of bicyclists rode by in spandex, and in the very short amount of time that they were passing us (30 seconds?), we overheard a man say, “Yes, I have a friend who’s blind, and he does tandem mountain biking.” I’m still thinking about that. And then, a little kid, whose family was parked across the street from us, wearing a shirt that said something like, “I’m from Oregon and I have a gun”, said “You won’t even be able to open that car door, it’s 3,000 times heavier than normal.” It seemed like, as the sun slowly disappeared behind the bold little moon, everyone became a little more interesting than normal.
And suddenly, when darkness fell, I started crying and couldn’t stop. I’ve been thinking about it for 10 days now, wondering why. I expected an amazing scientific event, not an emotional one. Maybe it’s because, with the sun disappearing, I felt vulnerable. We can’t rely on the things we need. It can get cold and dark in the middle of a bright morning. Maybe it was inherited fear, embedded in my cells, from ancestors who didn’t understand that the eclipse was temporary, that the sun would come back, that we would still have light and heat and fuel for plants to grow. Maybe, looking across the high desert landscape at the horses running into the barn, I could relate to their fear. Or maybe, as the sky turned hauntingly yellow, and then dark, it allowed my deeply repressed panic for our little earth to surface. Things are changing so rapidly that I don’t think we’ll be able to live here in the future. The apocalypse is upon us. And yet, in spite of it all, there was this moment, this beautiful, tender moment that I had the good fortune to spend with the people I love most in the world.