August 25, 2017

Report from the 92% Zone

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Monday, August 21, the day of the eclipse brought a holiday atmosphere to my neighborhood. I was working on a watercolor sunflower and trying to not dip the paint brush in my cup of coffee when the light changed. Shadows got long like they do in the afternoon when the sun is low. Then as so many of us have remarked, it suddenly got chilly. A hollow coldness, not a cool summer breeze.

I was unprepared for this day. As it approached, when I thought about it at all, I mostly wondered if a person could go blind in an instant if she happened to half glance at the sun out of the corner of her eye by accident. Don’t laugh. I didn’t know—and hadn’t bothered to find out.

I don’t make a habit of looking at the sun. A difficulty arises when one is told not to do something. The forbidden is so tempting. I fluttered my fingers across my face and glanced at the sun. It was so extraordinarily bright that I didn’t care to look further. And when I didn’t go into total eclipse myself, well that was when I put a jacket on and took my cup of coffee across the street to see what the neighbors were doing.

“Gwen!” I called through her (8 foot solid) fence. I knew she’d be outside.

“Yeah, I’m here.”

“Do you have any of those eclipse glasses?”

“I’ve got something better!”

Leave it to Gwen, I thought. She’s probably got some welder’s eye wear or something.

Gwen was taking photos of a white sheet of paper pinned on her fence.

“What is it?”

“It’s the eclipse.”

“What is?”

“Can’t you see the shadows?”

“You mean all those little curls?”

I followed Gwen around the east facing side of her fence until I had seen enough of the curls of shadow. Then I went next door where Liz and her two kids were lying on a trampoline with eclipse glasses on. To the side were the remains of breakfast.  They’d been there all morning having a kind of party. They invited me up and shared their glasses so I could get a long, fascinated look.

I went home and sang an aria by Handel. It’s a tenor aria from the oratorio Samson called “Total Eclipse.”  Samson, whose eyes have been gouged out by the Philistines (how lovely,) sings of his blindness (while in extremis.) The text is taken loosely from Milton’s Samson Agonistes. I can still hear Dr. Tyson in 17th Century lit at Whitman College intoning, “Dark, dark, dark amid the blaze of noon.”  Here’s the text from the song:

Total eclipse!
No sun, no moon
All dark amidst the blaze of noon!
Oh, glorious light!
No cheering ray
To glad my eye to welcome day.
Why thus deprived thy prime decree?
Sun, moon, and stars are dark to me.

You can hear Jon Vickers, heldentenor, give a chilling interpretation of the aria. Ignore the formal presentation if that puts you off and just listen. It’s a sobering five minutes.


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