Totality – it’s the word used to describe the one minute and fifty-four seconds during which I witnessed the moon completely covering the sun on August 21, 2017, as a total solar eclipse swept across North America.
I would also call it transcendence.
I hope those 114 seconds, and the many minutes before and after as the moon moved across the sun and then moved on, will live in my memory as long as I do.
Totality – a time like sunrise or sunset, but on the entire 360 degrees of horizon, not just in the east or west. A time when the birds went silent. A brief, hushed, stunning interval to behold the sun’s corona high in the sky. And then when those seconds ticked away, and the sun flashed its ‘diamond ring’ as the moon continued on its path, the birds burst into wild song, a chorus that went on and on as if they too were celebrating the transcendence of the moment.
I find most of my moments of transcendence in nature – the eclipse, for one. But so many more – like dark starry nights in the wide open west, finding 300 million year old marine fossils on a mountaintop while hiking, being awash in the icy rapids of the Colorado River deep in the Grand Canyon, thunder rumbling down the canyon while a distant storm puts on a light show like no other, placing the palms of my hands on each side of a slot canyon carved in tuff deposited by a volcanic eruption more than a million years ago, moving with the wind on the fair Kagán, watching bear cubs shake apples from a tree to their mama on a nearby shore, bioluminescence sparkling off my oars as I row the dinghy at night, and always when I see dolphins or porpoises or whales, or even hear their breathy blows in the distance.
I’ve been lucky to attend transcendent moments in nature both on my own and in the company of those I love. On my own, I savor the feeling of my smallness, both in space and time, in the passing scene of this magnificent planet. And with others, I delight in the shared experience, and the shared appreciation of that experience.
Those moments outside make me strong inside. And then I go inside….
These days, when I go back inside – I pick up my phone and call my congresswoman and senators, I sign petition after petition, and I volunteer time with and write checks to organizations that will help keep our wild places wild and accessible, not only to me, but to those who may not have had transcendent moments in nature yet. And in doing so, I hope I will help others have precious moments to carry in their hearts and memories.
In this season, when we pause to reflect on what we’re thankful for, I hope you will go outside – gaze upon the waxing moon as it rises, hold the splendor of an autumn-crimson maple leaf, or pick up a rock and feel the Earth’s long history in the palm of your hand – and embrace the transcendence, the totality.