I sat in the grass, surrounded by thousands of people, eyes all pointed towards the sky. Despite the crowd, the air was reverently calm. Music wafted faintly from across the lake, but was winding down in preparation for the event.
It was an August morning in central Oregon, and I was attending a music festival where people came from all over the world to witness a two-minute long miracle: a total solar eclipse. I had driven 2,000 miles from my hometown in Texas, participating in one of the largest human migrations I’ve seen in my lifetime, and I had done it alone. After the festival I planned to drive up and down the coast to see the sites, do some camping and hiking, and volunteer at a handful of organic farms. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would end up staying on the road for three months. I had some art supplies, a notebook for journaling, a stack of maps, foam pads laid out in the back of my station wagon to sleep on, and a suitcase full of clothes that would prove to not be warm enough in the coming autumn months. I didn’t have a strict plan–I would let my wellspring of excitement guide me.
The moon was closing in on the upper-right corner of the sun, covering a small sliver of it, even though the sun still shone with its powerful luminosity. I wore my safe-for-sun-gazing glasses they handed out at the entrance–it would have been almost impossible to tell there was a partial eclipse without looking through the lenses. But as the minutes passed, the sky gradually grew darker and the air a bit chillier. Everyone was captivated. They didn’t want to miss a second of it. Some sat quietly, some danced in celebration, others had their camera gear set up. Families huddled together, children squealing in delight and wonder; couples held each other, enjoying a rare and intimate moment.
I already missed my boyfriend, but seeing all of the couples together made my heart ache for him even more. He was still in Texas, staying home to fulfill certain obligations. We shared many tearful exchanges before I left. Understandably, he was worried about my safety, worried that I’d never come back, struggling with his trust in me. The truth was that this journey was many years in the making. I dreamt of visiting the Pacific Northwest since high school, and now, as a twenty-six year old woman, everything was aligning to provide me with the opportunity to go. Some might say it was selfish to leave him behind. But I chose to put my foot down and fulfill this vision, and the ultimate conclusion we arrived at was that if we could survive this, we could survive anything. So he helped pack my car and sent me off. Our faith was sturdier than our fear the morning that I left.
During my first few days on the road, there were times that fear shook me. There were times I cried myself to sleep, yearning for him. But I found ways to fortify myself so that I could focus on the task at hand. There was always a task–a map to read, a campground to find, food to cook or water to boil on my propane-powered burner. There was the drive itself, the hours upon hours of mind-numbing highway.
I was excited to reach my final destination, but I also let myself meander a little. I stopped in Utah to explore the desert, and I took a detour into Wyoming to explore the mountains. In Wyoming, I did some light hiking in Grand Teton National Park, where I ran into a mama bear and her two cubs, lumbering towards me on the trail. It’s interesting how my small anxieties, those nagging little concerns, fell away completely in the face of a true fight-or-flight situation. I remembered not to run, though, or make any sudden movements. Instead I backed away slowly, making noise so that my presence was known. The bears eventually scaled the mountain, freeing up the pathway so that I could pass. It was only in hindsight that I realized how fluffy and adorable the cubs were. I almost had to laugh, to shake off the terror that gripped my heart only moments before.
With the emotional roller coaster I was experiencing, I made sure to write at the end of every day, to unload my thoughts into my trusty composition notebook.
During the eclipse, I had my notebook unfolded on my lap. While some people recorded the moment in images, in photos and videos, I let every sensation, every vibration from the environment flow through my pen so that it could be recorded on paper. I was breathless and shaking with excitement as the eclipse approached totality and the bright morning skies turned to dusk. My handwriting was barely legible as I struggled to steady my hand, but I continued to write about the things going on around me. I couldn’t explain it, but I felt an immense power in my words.
The energy picked up, and people were now hollering and howling. Some people sang songs of deep praise. We were all united under this spectacular event. The sun was now completely obscured by the moon. The two celestial bodies aligned perfectly overhead, appearing to be exactly the same size. I hadn’t anticipated for it to be this magical, this awe-inspiring. I stopped writing, just for a moment, to tilt my head back, take a deep breath, and soak it all in.
There were many more paths to be traversed, more deserts and mountains to be discovered, more wild animals to encounter. I continued to explore, holding the surreal vision of the eclipse safely in my memory. In mid-November, I returned home with more miles on the odometer and much less ink in my pen. My sense of duty to write was re-invigorated on my journey, and I vowed never to let my abilities as a writer go to waste. I was so excited to share my stories. I was even more excited to see my boyfriend–we could finally hold each other again.
We started talking about our trip to South America, where another total solar eclipse will occur in three years. It will be an honor and a blessing to be able to travel with my best friend and partner, but I’ll always cherish the adventures I had on my own.
Eclipse photo by Takeshi Kuboki