Exiting Totality: An Artist’s Ponderings on Approaching the 2017 Solar Eclipse

As August 21 approaches, a tangible surging energy has been building around the arrival of the 2017 solar eclipse, slated to begin its journey in the U.S. at the Oregon coast at 10:15am and arc its way southeasterly across the country, departing South Carolina at 2:49pm. Being a resident of the U.S. state where it is all set to begin, there has been a steady buzz of the staggering one million eclipse chasers expected to trek hundreds, even thousands of miles to Oregon for the sole purpose of witnessing this cosmic spectacle whose pinnacle moment will last a mere 1-3 minutes.

Though solar eclipses occur roughly every 18 months, most take place over water or uninhabited parts of the Earth and a solar eclipse typically only returns to the same location once every 400 years. Additionally, in order to observe the path of totality, where the moon’s shadow completely eclipses the sun, a person must be stationed under clear skies and within a very specific, narrow ribbon on the globe, roughly 70 miles wide. The last time a solar eclipse like the one we are about to experience was observable from the contiguous United States was in 1979. Most viewers will watch a partial eclipse, where a sliver of sun is still viewable but totality is not reached. So what makes totality so special? It is said that, at the moment totality is achieved, something psychological, spiritual, even physical occurs, which is very difficult to explain. Animals and birds go silent, the whole sky darkens, eerie shadows move across the landscape like snakes and a diamond-like corona of swirling gas bursts forth from behind the dark circle of the moon creating a vision in the heavens that appears, to some, like the eye of God looking down upon us.

It is hard to imagine how such a dramatic celestial performance would be received by previous generations, which had no access to explanations from modern science. To some, it must have seemed a miracle. To others, a terrifying warning of impending doom. The internet is rife with ancient symbolism associated with solar eclipses that speak of a dragon swallowing the sun, ice kings conquering it or sky wolves chasing it. According to E.C. Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California, “If you do a worldwide survey of eclipse lore, the theme that constantly appears, with few exceptions, is it’s always a disruption of the established order.” While that notion may be unsettling or destabilizing to some, the darkness granted by the eclipse offers a brief period for us to collectively quiet ourselves and look inward while simultaneously recognizing our relationship to the universe and the space we hold within it. In considering the world stage at present, I like to imagine that as lights go down on a troubling Act I of the play in which we are all players, the stage is being re-set for a brighter, more hopeful Act II.

On a personal level, I have also been experiencing an eclipse within myself. In reviewing the last few years of my life, I am aware of how my own solar brightness has often been eclipsed by choices that didn’t serve me well. I allowed ego, regret, anger, and frustration to cast a shadow over me until I was immersed in my own eerie totality. With time and the aid of a few, beloved friends, I have been emerging from the darkness and now behold a crescent of brilliant light beginning to emanate. I see it in my communications with others. I see it in my relationship with myself. I even see it in the new forms of artwork I am beginning to create. Where my work was formerly solitary, a host of interesting and talented collaborators have entered into my life, and through those interactions, inspiration has unveiled itself to me in seeming endless abundance, which I am eager to share with the world. The light has been made more meaningful by the dark, and in this new beginning, the creatures of the earth are stirring and the melody of birdsong is in the air once more.