Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eyes On The Sky

May twentieth. A solar eclipse was on the schedule, the like of which hadn't been seen in nearly twenty years and wouldn't be again for another fifty-nine.
Sort of a landmark moment, then.
We decided on a whim to be witnesses to the event, and set off for Pyramid Lake, some distance outside Reno, Nevada.
At one point as we motored along past little clusters of people preoccupied with telescopes and cameras and specially filtered glasses or machinery, it became clear that we wouldn't make the precise minute: we were miles from the lake site yet and the peak of the eclipse was due over us within five minutes.
We decided to stop, right there and then, anywhere possible, at the side of the road. In a plume of red desert dust the car came to a halt, at a spot in which only one other car was parked- we suspected for much the same purpose.
Out we got and tried to project the shadow of the eclipse onto a bit of paper with a pair of old military binoculars.
It worked out well enough, except that the luminous crescent kept flickering and disappearing off the page; and what with trying to keep the hands steady and take a photograph of the page at the same time while the seconds rushed by and the moon hurried with them and skimmed over the sun- it was a precarious balancing act.
The light around us became distinctly eerie: it dwindled noticeably and rapidly, as I'd never known it to do; then one of the occupants of the other car was walking towards us. 
This was her question: "Do you have glasses to see the eclipse with?" 
We, utter strangers to her, were quite honestly flummoxed for a single brief moment before we laughingly said that no, we didn't have filtered glasses, we were happily getting by with casting the image onto paper, and it was all we had.
"You can use mine to see it. I'll share with my husband."
We said no. Thanks, we said, but really, truly, no thanks.
Of course we did. We weren't going to take her own eclipse moment away when she'd likely been planning and plotting it for years.
Still, she insisted, thrusting them towards us determinedly as if there were no other discussion possible or necessary, before hurrying back to her own vantage point to share the sight half-and-half with her husband.
We used the glasses for the shortest of times, just long enough to look up and glimpse the sky while the sun flamed fiercely behind the moon.
We looked up long enough to be awed by the spectacle, but with a new quiet awe for something else, too, something that had wholly taken us by surprise in a brittle, remote corner of the world.
With that, the Nevada landscape, that sea of ancient dust and yes, even the very rocks, seemed somehow a little less harsh and unforgiving.
Thereafter we returned the glasses to their owner, having seen more than we'd ever expected to see of the evening sky, and having found out more about humble, ordinary strangers than we could have dreamed.
"Well," Spouse said when we were on the road once more, "who would have thought it? That kind gesture certainly eclipsed the eclipse for us, didn't it?"
Didn't it just.

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