It was August 21, the day of the Great Eclipse. People were going crazy, as if they were about to witness an Elvis sighting. That is, everyone except me.
What was I not getting about the eclipse? What was I missing?
I decided to take my problem to the ancient Indian fish glyph I had met several weeks ago. Glyph (as I call him) mostly gazes out in stony silence. If he says anything it’s usually small talk. But maybe with eclipses it would be different. After all, he was once a spirit, and celestial events must have been one of his areas of expertise. It would be worth a try.
I hiked along the trail and then lowered my way down the rocky cliffside. I followed the shoreline, crossed a little brook, and took my seat in the rock depression beside Glyph.
“Hi Glyph,” I said. “You know, this is a special day. You can’t see from where you are, but up on the cliffs across the river crowds of people are looking into the sky through eclipse glasses.”
I paused for some kind of reaction, then continued:
“It’s the first solar eclipse to cross the entire North American continent in 100 years. People out in places like Nebraska are saying it’s incredible, even life-changing. The pundits are predicting that the eclipse will bring the country together.”
Glyph remained silent, but I felt he was listening.
“Eclipse glasses are completely sold out. All over the country people are poking little holes in cereal boxes. Scientists are saying that the eclipse will inspire America’s youth to pursue careers in science, or at least engineering.”
The spirit speaks. It was now a little after 2 pm, just before the eclipse would reach its zenith. A vulture alternately soared and flapped through the rocky canyon, followed by five or six others. A Park Service helicopter swept in low over Mather Gorge, circled over the falls, and returned downriver, mission evidently accomplished.
But wait! What was that sound? It could be just the water tumbling over the rocks. Or. . .
“Listen to me,” came Glyph’s words in a gravely murmur. “These people should calm down. Eclipses today are nothing like in the old days, when I was a practicing spirit. An eclipse back then was serious stuff.
“We spirits told the people that eclipses portend calamities. And we had no end of calamities to portend. Susquehannock raiding parties, fearful epidemics, the white man. All these were because of eclipses. This is what we said, and the people believed us. People want to think there’s a cause for everything.
“Today you have different calamities, but people still want to know the cause. Think of how much better you would have felt on Nov. 9 if Nate Silver had shown up on Good Morning America wearing eclipse glasses.
Sensitive subject. Glyph was was really getting into it. He certainly did know about eclipses. But I was hoping for something more, some show of excitement, an expression of awe and bewonderment.
“OK, I get it about eclipses and calamities,” I said. “Granted, there’s no connection. But don’t you think an eclipse is a remarkable event, just on its own, all by itself?”
“Celestial candy,” Glyph snorted in reply. “That’s all it is. Basically an eclipse is one thing blocking out another thing. It’s not strange or profound or mysterious. In fact, an eclipse is totally predictable, just like day turning into night, but without the sunset.”
This wasn’t why I had come here. I made one last try.
“You mentioned beauty,” I replied. “But isn’t an eclipse beautiful? People in Missouri are saying that it’s the most breathtakingly beautiful thing they’ve ever seen.”
Glyph paused, gazing stonily past where I was sitting.
“You want beautiful?” he said at last. “Then look behind you at that flower.”
I kneeled next to the flower. It was a rose mallow, a little tattered around the edges. Glyph had a point. Even in the partially eclipsed sun its petals glowed in shades of luminescent pink.
Just then the blossom began to whip back and forth. A breeze had come out of nowhere. I felt the temperature drop. Off to the east a great black cloud had formed, its ragged edge now advancing toward the sun and the blue sky above me. Fat rain drops were leaving dark blotches on the rocks before they evaporated.
The maximum eclipse had passed. I glanced at Glyph. After a pause he spoke again.
“I’m sorry,” he said. I guess I’ve gotten a little grumpy. Maybe that’s what happens when you once were a respected spirit and now you’re just a fish carved in a rock.”
He paused again, then added:
“Come back April 8, 2024. We’ll try this again.”