Stories from a Wanderer – Mr. Emerson Helps Me Prepare for the Eclipse

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

I read this passage from “Self-Reliance” in college many years ago, but I recall the experience vividly. Immediately I pictured a tiny cartoon demon-creature hopping through cartoon brains, stomping down cartoon thought-bubbles. I was (and remain) delighted by the imagery; and I became an instant believer in Emerson’s wisdom.

While I suspect that Mr. Emerson was referring to philosophy in its many forms, I am going to apply the concept to my next short trip – a drive of an hour (or three) to see the eclipse somewhere north (or south) of Dallas.

It all depends on elements beyond my control – how long a morning doctor’s appointment will last (who ever knows?), how much traffic there is (some counties have already declared emergencies), what the weather might be (current prediction: partly sunny, possible storms) and whether I feel like I want to be around people or whether I want to be alone (I can’t decide).

To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least, they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

Monday, April 8, 2024, for those of us able to see the eclipse, is a chance to look at nature deeply and boldly! Indeed, we will have the chance to look directly at the sun and examine its corona (its “crown”), usually elusive to us when not eclipsed.

In the days leading up to the event, I am making a conscious effort to practice a “spirit of infancy” by taking time each day to let the sun shine into my heart as much as my eye, as Emerson suggests. Even if it is cloudy or stormy on Monday, I am going to seek out the area of totality, and once I am there, take Nature as she presents herself to me that day. Perhaps I will see a rainbow.

These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. here is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

I think everyone has trouble living in the present, especially when nostalgia interrupts with pictures of some better past that probably never existed, or when dreams convince us of more perfect days ahead.

We human beings are blessed with this big consciousness that stretches backward into memory and forward into anticipation. How does one find the transcendent moment “above time?” With respect to philosophy, politics, theology and so forth, I have few guesses. But I have been doing some eclipse thinking and reading that may help on Monday.

We often rely on our eyes, at the expense of other senses. Animals, which live in the moment, use their available senses without prejudice. So, even if it is cloudy, I will use every sense. I am going to listen. Does an eerie silence fall? Do people stop talking or speak in whispers? Do the birds stop sing more, less or differently? Do the ever-present Texas wasps and bees stop buzzing and find a place to nap? I am going to feel. Does the temperature drop and do I feel it on my skin? Does the breeze pick up or die? Can I smell the earth more in the diminished heat and light?

I am going to leave myself open to experiences other than just the fall of darkness. For example, there is the reported phenomenon of “eclipse winds,” created when the temperature changes for the few minutes of totality. Can I feel the winds change direction or die down and speed up again? In a related phenomenon, will the atmosphere be more likely to form rain or thunderstorms upon the sun’s return? I will pay attention to the animals, the traffic on earth and in the sky.

If some unforeseen circumstance keeps me in a place where the eclipse is very brief or partial, I will appreciate where I am. I know, for example, that you can see an eclipse in shadows. I will seek out a leafy tree and watch a thousand random partial eclipses dancing on the ground.

Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Journals,” 1822-1855

Emerson was not opposed to planning. One can’t experiment without a hypothesis and a method of observation: in other words, a plan. As much as I have planned, as much as I think I know what I am going to do and expect on April 8, ask me tomorrow (when I’m feeling more social, or when the weather forecast has changed) and I will tell you something different, and something different again on the day after. I’ll be sure to share my results. Sometimes you have to build some wiggle room into your plans. It’s in the wiggle that the wandering takes place!

 

 

Here are some sources for your own eclipse information and planning:

An interactive google map with the path of totality:

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1Hnwl6iLY8XveFnBixXx9IkY8mys&hl=en_US&ll=40.82255465217526%2C-86.37682283904172&z=4

NASA’s guide to the April 8 solar eclipse:

https://science.nasa.gov/eclipses/future-eclipses/eclipse-2024/where-when/

Griffith Observatory (Los Angeles) – an excellent explanation of eclipses with graphics: https://griffithobservatory.org/explore/observing-the-sky/whats-in-the-sky/eclipses/

Information on where, when and how to view the partial eclipse (over most of the United States!):

https://nationaleclipse.com/cities_partial.html

greta ode
Greta Ode is currently enjoying “tiny house” living in Weatherford, Texas. She has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine and is an editor and contributor to Tandeta Journal. Her work can be found on Substack at “Ramble, Bramble.”

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