“Hope you’ll make it to Oregon for the total eclipse on August 21!” My older sister’s annual Christmas message invites us all. So consumed have I been with completing my last year before I retire with all the gusto I’ve got, and preparing to put our house up for sale (we are subsequently moving across the country), that this celestial event has escaped my notice. I quickly Google the map to verify what she claims. Newport, home to our beach house, will also be a site of totality, the first on its path across the country. For just shy of two minutes, the moon will obscure the sun as it rises in the east.
When I tell my husband that I’m planning on flying out for this event, my desire burns. I have gone from not-knowing to knowing, and I am adamant. He tries to add some perspective: “We don’t know where we’ll be in the moving process; it’s so often foggy in the summer morning on the Oregon Coast. You could travel all that way and not see a thing.” But I hear none of it and make my round-trip reservation in May, to arrive at PDX on Monday, August 14, to return to PHL Thursday, August 24.
I don’t yet know that there will be no return flight, that we will have sold our house in two weeks, that I will be coming home for good and that my husband will join me with various and sundry as we experience totality. Annie Dillard describes it this way: “Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.” That I do understand!
The morning of the 21st dawns clear with its characteristic bank of fog bunched up on the horizon. I watch it happening, darkness disappearing from over my shoulder; I’m still on east coast time, and I’ve got my fingers crossed. A small fishing boat bobs on the water within the curve of the headland, moving in front of the fog that teases, approaches in wisps, then retreats. By now, the house is awake, all eyes on the horizon, as if by vigilance and sheer will we can keep the fog at sea.
Our patio fills with a sleepwear-clad crowd, buzzing with coffee and anticipation, all regulation-covered viewing glasses and upturned faces turned to the east, the constant rumble of the Pacific at our back. The fog at bay.
Dillard was right. When totality occurs, the world holds its breath; birds cease flight; the temperature drops six degrees; bright morning becomes dusk; chills course my arms. Then there is the blaze of a diamond ring, cliche perhaps, but the perfect description nonetheless. This is real. No wonder ancient peoples quaked.
The gradual slide of the moon as it ends proves the point—even 6% of the sun’s light can overwhelm and enlighten. The day returns; neighbors abandon lawn chairs; tourists come up the path from the beach; my son grabs his surfboard for a post-eclipse surf session…a new normal.