Craig Childs - House of Rain
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Field Notebook

August 24, 2017
Why Am I Not There?

Eclipse Chalk, Blackboard 423 x 703 2009 Adam David Brown
Eclipse Chalk, Blackboard 423 x 703 2009 Adam David Brown

I'm not at the totality today, and its been gnawing at me. Between 1 and 7 million people are estimated to witness this swath of darkness across the middle of North America from coast to coast. I live about an eight-hour drive away, and Ive heard totality is a mystical experience, once in a lifetime. Your inner picture of the earth, possibly the entire cosmos can change. I've driven eight hours for far less.

I did see a minor solar eclipse once. I was in the bare boned desert of southern Utah, and at first I thought my eyesight was failing. As half-light settled, I realized it wasnt me. It was summer -- or at least a warm month -- and I remember lifting a hand to block the sun. There was not a cloud, not a visible reason for this shift, buttes and palisades losing their sharpness around me. It had to have been an eclipse. The light was almost silvery. Even though I knew the basic science, how the moon casts its own shadow onto Earth, I still thought a little bit of the world was ending.

After several minutes, the white light of the sun was back to its blinding self. My sublime sense of dread had faded, replaced by a magnificent sense of motion on a scale far beyond my body on the ground.

With that experience behind me, I'd drop anything to experience totality eight hours away. I was born for this event, every cell of me made to feel the path of spheres through the sky, practically dizzy from the revolutions of my planet underfoot on a daily basis. When the moon rises, do you gasp, too?

So, why am I not there?

Today is my oldest kids first day of high school as his younger brother steps into 5th grade. I'd drop almost anything.

A friend emailed me, "If you cant pull your kid out of school for this, then our country has really gone off course."

But first day of school, smell of a new classroom, unfamiliar faces, and those known for years. Girls, boys, basketball court, cafeteria. Teachers youve heard about, and those you havent. Bigger hallways in high school. Lockers banging differently.

This part of Colorado where we live will experience about 85% of the full eclipse, which should be impressive, but I'm told nothing like being in the heart of it. That is what theyll miss.

First days at school were passages for me. I was changing, becoming. Especially in 9th grade weaving through a crowd and looking up for room numbers, or listening acutely to the silence between the bell ringing and the teacher beginning to speak for First Hour. No homerooms, no fuzzy games or parachutes that we whipped up and down squealing. The spheres of my societies, my people, lifted off the ground and wove through each other, and I was not just this small person.

If it were up to me, I'd haul my kids to Wyoming, get them up in the Wind Rivers where wed watch the darkness fall as if to an orchestral score. If this were the world I made, our lives would be nothing but this: transformation after transformation, eyes so bugged out from the epic tapestry of the universe you feel like alternately weeping and screaming.

I did not make this world. Thankfully. Walking into the first day of high school is not less needed than totality. Who we are may have more to do with the smell of a cafeteria, lockers opening and closing, than the path of the moon and sun.

I'm just hoping they let the kids outside to stand in this strange light, maybe a little silver in the air for their first day of school.


Art with permission, Adam David Brown,

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