10:20 umbra (a first total eclipse)

Dawn over Big Prairie Summit, Oregon.

Some drew our first dust-free breath all weekend, beating out from the tent tract up the east side overlook to watch the main stage’s beaming pillars fade into the lightening plain. Standalone ponderosa pines dabbed the parched meadow ahead of the far forest line, fanning a narrow screen of shade on early risers until the orb of dawn transcended the treetops. North of the lake, balloons tipped by the weight of their ribs slowly righted themselves as their crowns filled in shape and lifted to join their siblings to survey the valley before the warming air caused wind to stir.

By mid-morning when we climbed the terrace of Sun Temple to stake out our sight in a century, eclipse glasses in hand, pocket or folded into a bandana—the first total eclipse to cross the contiguous/habitable North American continent from coast to coast in 99 years!—the rest of camp had turned up, slowly filing the narrow lip of the lake to the festival viewing area. The blinding, pervasive daytime heat took on the body of a dime nightlight behind our blackout lenses’ opaque, mylar film. An acro instructor tested balancing stretches on the overhead beam while an older gentleman below threw Holi powder paints of pink, orange, and yellow to neon-bathe any reveler who stepped up with outstretched arms.

Bug-eyed gawkers fanatically checking their shades for the two-hour onset were the first to shout, It’s happening! Every hand rose to secure their glasses at the temple. A bite had been taken out of the sun. A blackened arc edged inward. The small nip gained imperceptibly then began to devour the sun’s glowing disc, when a quarter in, the temperature of the air slated to reached 88 this August day suddenly dropped to a cooling breeze that hovered. With the darkening earth, the arid meadow of Ochoco National Forest at Big Prairie Summit, its distant bowl of trees and gathered throng of people became each remarkably distinguished in outline from the receded haze. Three-quarters in—no graduated forewarning—the air dropped again. Thick night coats came out to wrap imprudent bare thighs for those who had brought them. Nearing its terminal sliver, the crowd which had been recounting the week in sleepy, polyglot murmurs or holding its breath gave to chanting, whooping encouragement; as the last gap of the orange rim was vanquished, 30,000+ voices howled animilic up at our eclipsing star — like a sparkling drop of water reabsorbed into the tissues, a bright flash on the rim cupping the sun welled up a glistening tear that with its intake sealed the lid on totality.

A wave of screams, shouts, and prayers surged across the riffraff as we lifted our glasses to be engulfed in non-night. We had lost our bodies. Under the false twilight, space became a subdued rabble of flattened silhouettes on an overdeveloped photo plate, spectral shadows embossed onto a transgressive crepuscule still life. We stood on a suspended plate with the firmament held aloft, denied light that surrounded the field in an unmade halo. Cardinal points were moot. So too the horizon that I had thought of as responsive to advance or retreat with a rise/setting sun. Without sheen or cast, nothing differentiated any direction for movement forward. What was once animated became desiccated: shadow-bridled-to-shadow, conjoined to the memory of a past living-/moving in a dimensional world. We were rooted terrarium flora, bleeding out our life color at max saturation that only contributed further to darkness, holding up glowing hearts and dream catchers as the price for stealing a forbidden glimpse of the naked sun.

It was not a sight permitted the mortal eye. Ethereal gossamer flares billowed about a perfectly center-aligned black circle. The Sun, in dominant lore anthropomorphized as male Apollo/Helios/Ra, became to me a she — now, even contained behind a cosmic jar, steadfast, selflessly giving herself away. We had never paused to recognize it; she had been cloaked by supernatural brightness — so hidden, her celestial crown in the present softened under the gaze of Earth’s hooded children. The moon made a dumb companion, reflecting back the benevolent loneliness of the finite vitality that would consume itself entirely to give Life. A beholder fell into frenetic prostration, declaring his love for who knows and asking forgiveness; while the sun shone yet tending, silent and watchful, burning away in fluttering wisps. Though my mind could not comprehend it, the psyche had no question now when it was said our solar system was 4.6 billion years old, and halfway through its lifespan. One could point to two other gleaming planetoids holding vigil. Thus we held consecrating two minutes.

The surface crusted ever slightly, then ripped back the moonshadow to blinding exultation / Time restored two and twenty minutes past ten / our sol-bound descendants jubilant and somber witness to the gaseous guardian’s fleet days. All weekend 1Nation Earth Camp had held talks and workshops quietly across the lake, various tribes invited from across the globe. A ritual drum-song formed in full indigenous regalia around a dance circle, as organizers stayed spectators jumping to get into this sacrosanct tradition — it was one sympathetic gesture to the festival’s ambivalent shamanic journeys and single-foreign word mantras that assuaged some of my internalized conflict for the paradox of creative appropriation+regeneration.

The sun had not yet fully emerged when my skin began to bake. I may be remiss not to mention that walking to close the loop of the manmade lake, then, tears caught up with me. Thinking of the normal crew who didn’t make, or couldn’t make, even once in their lifetime; the sensitivity of the plants and microbes that sustained our ecosystem to slight fluxes in temperature or luminance; I saw their death ordained, and the ducks returned already to feeding, indifferent. All happened to impress the improbability of life, at least in this form, and to marvel at the objective wisdom of evolution favoring to pass certain lineages. It felt gravely, heartrendingly irresponsible to passively let human ravaging destroy our planet.

You did well, sun. Rest for tomorrow lies another day.