the path of totality
(originally published on august 23rd, 2017)
my brother and i rolled the dice, packed up a few of our kids and drove 13 hours straight through the night to a range of tennessee mountains. we noted more than a dozen different things that could’ve gone wrong to prevent us from our one objective, but every detail went exactly right and there we ended up: in the path of totality on top of old smoky, all covered in the things we were covered in—exhaustion, sweat, smiles, sun, partial sun. we shared a rocky-top vantage point with about 30 strangers and together we waited by the bedside of something about to get born from above.
5 minutes before the main event an atmosphere full of fat clouds rolled back to create a complete clear sky. you could cut the expectancy with a knife and eat the bites. it was almost time. our complexions started turning colors we’d never seen before, the bees went from buzzing to bed, venus federated the parade, my heart flew from it’s chest. and the world stopped being the same. brother sun got masked by sister moon. night mixed with the shades of day in 360 degrees of direction. i was turning in circles to see everything, then stopped spinning and could *feel* myself changing on the spot. i could *feel* molecules shifting around inside me to make room for more reality. more truth. more awe. myself didn’t know what to do with myself: laugh, cry, kneel, pray or yell. so i did everything at once; hollered a giant “OH MY GOD!!!” at the wild open yonder while my eyes wept and my body bubbled and my whole soul went south. i was in the presence of overcome. overwhelmed. over over over. more and over what a human can absorb and hold inside a bag of skin.
once you’ve seen an eclipse, you can’t unsee it. and you can’t be what you were before. or change what it did to you from the guts out. which is to say: i still can’t shake the sense that there are two me-s. two erikas. before eclipse erika. and after eclipse erika.
at the end we packed up our gear, turned our legs toward latitude and hiked 6.5 miles back down the mountain, but we still couldn’t stop being high. couldn’t stop our tongues from talking or our minds from imagining that we had just participated in a mystery we will never understand; a mystery we can only just remain in the aura of.
annie dillard says that seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of one. i feel the same about photos of totality versus being in totality. there is barely kinship between the two, but anyway: here's an image so lovingly captured by my brother, Tyler David.