When my vision for this trip began to materialize I made plans to meet up with my friend, Kathy, to do some camping together. She was experienced in long term van camping and I imagined she would have some good advice to share with me. Plus I just love hanging out with her positive attitude and deep connection to nature. Our friendship began as devout mountain biking buddies for exercise each week, but soon that turned in to mountain biking to see how many bobcats we could find, and after a few years she had become a wildlife photographer and tracker who collected bobcat population data for Fort Ord Public Lands. Going out on a tracking venture with Kathy always brought peace and healing to my soul. She had already planned to meet her sister, Jude, in Wyoming to watch the solar eclipse on August 21, so I asked if I could join them. I was delighted she said yes! Knowing I would spend part of my first month with her gave me a sense of comfort and security.
Max and I arrived in Jackson, Wyoming on August 10, planning to be one of the first to claim a campsite on a bluff Kathy and Jude had previously camped at in the National Forest area north of town. It featured a majestic view of the Grand Tetons mountain range and free camping, plus dogs are allowed without all the restrictions so many parks enforce. We stocked up on supplies to last a week in the wilderness before heading to meet Kathy and Jude at the site. There was no water and no facilities. When we pulled onto the bluff and saw the Tetons, with snow draping down the higher valleys of the craggy granite peaks, and an expansive green valley sinuously sliced by the alluring Snake River, I had to take of moment of quiet to breath in the beauty and wonder my eyes witnessed. There were already several RVs lined up along the edge of the bluff, taking advantage of the best view, so we pulled in on the side to set up next to Kathy’s camper.
Riley leaped out of Wanda to greet Kathy’s dog, Viva, and they both did a happy dog celebration of being alive and seeing a buddy which involved rolling in the dirt, gently biting each other’s necks, and lots of long-legged embracing. I did something similar with Kathy.
Over the next 11 days we watched as the bluff became filled in with more RVs and tents each day and people congregated at the edge to absorb the gorgeous view. Friendships began as accents from all over the US and the world shared stories of how they came to be in this spot, where their lives were at the moment, and tips for photographing and viewing the eclipse. Wine and food and rides to do site seeing were shared and offers to pick up things in town for neighbors were made. Each evening a happy hour evolved as we watched the sunset colors illuminate the Teton silhouette before bleeding into the darkening sky. I loved hearing Bob’s (Massachusetts) booming laugh and seeing Michelle give Riley some enthusiastic loving each morning, and felt calmed by Earl’s (Oklahoma) soft whistling as he shuffled along with his old dog, Ginger for a morning walk along the bluff in his pajamas and robe. The community grew to be close and people looked out for each other- like when a father and daughter from England were told to move to a new spot by a group that thought they had permission to reserve sites
for 40 people to conduct a crystal skull ceremony. The ranger was called and soon the barricades were removed so the first come, first served policy remained in place. The British family was offered to snuggle their RV in close to Richard and Michelle’s so they had an even better site than before, and then room was made for the brother’s RV two days later. We were all left with three porta-potties to use that had been paid for by the organizer of the ceremony (which was held farther down the road- without porta-potties!). Everyone had one thing in common- an intention to see the total solar eclipse since our location was within the range of total blocking of the sun’s rays from the moon.
I had my opportunity to be of service to someone- soon after we arrived, Kathy came up from the forested hillside with an announcement that she had fallen and something was wrong with her wrist. I rubbed some arnica on it and she iced it with a frozen piece of meat Jude had, but the next day it was swollen and more painful. I drove her into town to the hospital where she had X-rays and discovered her wrist was broken. Laden with a cast and thanks to pain medication, Kathy proceeded to enjoy her camping trip and kept her inspiring positive attitude. Max and I took over washing her dishes and I helped out with some personal care that required two hands, like buttoning blouses, tying shoes, and rubbing oil on her hair. It was such a gift to care for my dear friend! We took long walks together each morning while Riley and Viva hunted for small moving critters they never caught. We delighted in watching them be dogs together, without leashes or restrictions, and we caught each other up with our lives, just as we did on our long weekly bike rides over a decade ago. Since I began teaching full time, I had less and less time to take long adventures with Kathy. Our weekly reunions had become once every 5 or 6 months reunions. That is one of the tragedies of living the busy life I had, and one of the main reasons I want to take this year away from distractions and responsibilities. I am slowing down time. I am present to be with someone to have a deep conversation and not feel compelled to rush off to the next appointment. That part has been heavenly!
The night before the eclipse I hiked away from camp to find a sacred spot for Kathy and I to have a ceremony of our own. We wanted to sit in quiet and contemplate the meaning of an eclipse: the obstruction of light from one astronomical body by the journey of another, resulting in the blockage of light from the observer’s perspective. Maybe it would involve appreciating the shadowy parts of ourselves and our lives, remembering that after passing through shadow, the light is more brilliant and appreciated. Or maybe it had something to do with letting go of habits that no longer serve us. We weren’t exactly sure, but both of us preferred something with some spiritual contemplation over the party-like atmosphere of our view-studded bluff.
Michele was celebrating a birthday and invited us for mimosas, which was sweet and tempting, but that morning, after the clouds cleared up to reveal a perfectly blue sky, Kathy and I headed up a horse trail to settle into the spot I scouted out.
When we arrived we could already see a small nibbled-out dark chip on the upper side of the sun. We had to wear special filtered glasses we’d gotten at the rec center in town when we went in to shower several days earlier- Max and I got the last pair! We settled in to our grassy circle with water, snacks, dog treats, and chairs. The sun was so hot on my skin I thought about applying sunscreen, but I knew it soon would not be necessary. As we watched the growing shadow the dogs got busy chasing sounds and movement in the forest that piqued their canine instincts, but came back to connect and check in with us every five or ten minutes.
The world around us grew more brilliant, even though the moon’s shadow grew bigger. I think it was due to the deep, but short shadows that began to form on the leaves and grasses surrounding us. Everything was in high contrast! We laid down on the ground because our necks grew tired of looking up. The eclipse began at 10:30, but was total at 11:30, so there was a lot of looking up at the sky. I felt divinely supported by earth and gravity and didn’t even mind the little twigs and dried leaves that clung to my shirt and hair, drenching me with the sweet scent of sage, welcoming me into the world of Mother Nature. I kept switching from filtered glasses for sun gazing and sunglasses for watching the changing light of my surroundings. We popcorned meaningful thoughts about the impact of this time in our lives, awareness of things to let go of, and patterns to change.
I became aware of getting colder as there was just a sliver of sun left in the sky. It looked like a brilliant orange crescent moon that was unusually larger than usual. Then it was just a curved line, and then it was totally black! Now we could look without the protective lenses.
The corona danced out around the black disc- wispy tendrils of glowing light stretched into darkness, still lighting up the earth as if it was right around dusk, only different. More brilliant in some way. I could see a planet off to the side where the sky was otherwise dark, but it was 11:30 in the morning. I felt a deep peace flow through my body and was filled with joy. I kept repeating, “Amazing!!”, unable to express how I felt in any other way. As soon as totality hit we could hear the crowd below cheering and yelling, including Bob’s booming laugh. I felt a kinship with all, even though I isolated myself- or maybe because I isolated myself, I was able to feel my kinship. A reminder to take quiet time to replenish in nature on a regular basis!
The darkness lasted two minutes and ten seconds. All was totally quiet. I noticed that Riley and Viva were settled in at Kathy’s and my feet, each looking calmly alert to opposite sides, as if to guard us from intruders. We thought we might hear crickets and maybe even bears emerging from the forest, but we didn’t. My toes were cold so I bundled them up in my fleece pullover. I didn’t want to stop looking long enough to pull it over my chilled torso. The temperature must have dropped 20 degrees F in about an hour. I figured it would get light and warm again soon enough, but the warming took over more slowly than the cold had. Cold so fast and warm so slow…. hmmm. The landscape softly glowed as if it was lit by the moon, so my eyes kept wandering up to look in the sky for it- without my filtered glasses. Even though the light was a tiny crescent again, its brilliance forced me to look away. I thought about how that brilliance is always there, whether we see it or not. Kind of like that connection to Source or God. Or maybe love- at least our ability to choose love. Within a half hour I was hot enough to move to the shade to get comfortable. Everything was back to normal, yet I felt something inside me had shifted.
Returning to camp, we felt the enthusiasm of a group sharing such an extraordinary event together. Some people had been camped there, waiting two weeks for this, and had planned many months in advance. People were beaming with joy as they recounted the experience, showed photos, and arranged to exchange them. The partying continued into the evening, though I napped and wrote inside the protective shell and shade of Wanda, wanting to keep my experience within to let it fully develop. The next day most people packed up and left with lingering goodbyes, leaving a wide, gorgeous view of the Tetons once again. The few of us who remained appreciated the quiet they left behind, as well as the warm memories. I think the most delicious part of the whole experience, after watching that beautiful corona emerge, was being part of a coming together of people from a variety of backgrounds, religions, income levels, and cultures to enjoy and be fascinated by a natural event. As Earl left camp, heading back to Oklahoma, he announced he was, “going back to God’s country,” and I sensed it had been a bit of a stretch for him to camp next to an old VW van with what kind of looked like Hippies from California, but every morning we greeted each other with a warm smile and asked how things were. Our hearts connected sweetly with some of those interactions, and I knew either of us would have been there to help the other if it had been needed. I think that’s what the people of our country need most right now, and it’s another reason I’m blessed to have the time to make a trip like this.