A Stinking Eclipse



At a little past ten in the morning today Pacific Standard Time the moon’s shadow will enter America just below Portland, likely obscured by clouds. From this point, travelling initially at over 2,000 miles an hour, the ‘path of totality’, as it is known, will arc over the Cascades, into the Columbia River basin, through Idaho across the Grand Teton National Park, on into Wyoming’s high desert and across the rolling grasslands of Nebraska, where it will hook up with I-80 East toward Omaha before veering south by Lincoln, after which it will nip Kansas then cut a swathe of Missouri between Kansas City and St Louis, across the Mississippi River and through the foot of the great state of Illinois before entering Kentucky and Tennessee, where it will darken Nashville, the largest city in the path of totality, before making its exit through Georgia and the Carolinas, with Charleston, South Carolina bidding the final goodbye.

Eclipses aren’t that rare a thing. But this time it will be seen only in America, something that hasn’t happened since November 1776, four months into the American Revolution. This of course is nothing but a celestial accident, and no historical importance should be placed on such a coincidence, nor should any parallels be drawn between that historical moment and our own. Equally, little thought should be spent on the fact that a bird-silencing darkness will touch upon fourteen states of which twelve went red in 2016. One glance at that map is shows that it could not have been otherwise.

Those looking west just before totality will see a wall of darkness racing toward them at incomprehensible speed. Even those with the benefit of a scientific knowledge of the circumstances may weep at the sheer otherness of the thing. It’s said that witnesses to a total solar eclipse often scream or weep or fall to their knees at the horrible beauty, the great black vacancy in the sky, with its corona of twisting, hellishly hot gases. Back before we were civilized (which of course we are now) total eclipses might trigger a glut of human sacrifice or other forms of savagery and mayhem. It was also frequently assumed that an eclipse presaged a terrible event – or, conversely, it signalled that the greater forces were displeased with a people for their actions. Something precious was to be taken away from them.

Last week in Baltimore city officials removed a confederate statue in the cover of darkness. In Durham, North Carolina a statue was toppled in a matter of seconds. The average duration of total eclipse in any one location is two minutes. One wonders what might happen in this span of time in Paducah, Kentucky, or Nashville, or Charleston. Probably nothing. Not when you could otherwise be gawking at an impossible hole in the sky, contemplating the inconceivable. Besides, these things are just symbols. And symbols travel only so far as we carry them.

In summary, a bizarre darkness is sweeping across America’s ample midsection and leaving a degree of madness, irrationality and violence in its totalitarian path, and where once there was nourishing light there will instead for a certain period of time be an utter vacuousness surrounded by wispy orange hair. Happy Great American Eclipse Day everyone!


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