“Can Our Light be Totally Eclipsed?”

A few weeks ago, Joyce and I got to experience the total eclipse high in the mountains of Idaho, in the exact center of the “zone of totality.” It was, for us, the experience of a lifetime. In our seventy-one years of living, there have been other major eclipses, but we have never been in their direct paths. And not since the year 1257 has there been a total eclipse that has passed across the whole of what is now the United States.

Would we have traveled a thousand miles just to see an eclipse? Probably not. So we bundled the eclipse with a favorite river trip, the Main Salmon River in Idaho, a magnificent 80-mile journey through one of the largest wilderness area in America. We were able to find a permit to start on the river trip three days after the eclipse, loaded up our camper with river gear, and began our adventure north from our home near Santa Cruz, CA, which, by the way, completely missed seeing anything of the eclipse due to heavy fog.

Joyce and I would have preferred to only experience the high moments of both the eclipse and the river trip. Part of life, however, is dealing with setbacks and challenges. And the real test of life is how we react to these difficult experiences. We do have a choice. We can get bummed out, angry and depressed; or choose the path of happiness, and accept what life offers us, even be grateful for the challenges.

So, heading up into the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho on Sunday, August 20, the day before the eclipse, we started to hear an engine noise that didn’t sound right. I looked under the hood, and it didn’t look good. There was a scraping sound coming from one of the pulleys, and the increased friction was burning the belt, spraying black rubber debris. We had two choices. Turn back toward Boise and civilization, and miss the full experience of the eclipse; or try to make it to our destination of the tiny mountain village of Stanley with a population of 63, and hope to find a repair shop. We took the risk to push on to a location about fifteen minutes south of Stanley that night to be in perfect position for the eclipse the following morning. That night, it was difficult to sleep because the ominous noise had gotten even louder.

In the morning, we hiked up a vast, open meadow along a small creek and found a cozy patch of grass to sit and wait. We were totally alone, away from the crowds gathered on the sides of the road, and the vendors selling eclipse T-shirts and other paraphernalia. Despite our concern about the truck, we were excited. We wanted to not only experience the eclipse, but also to use this very rare event, this perfect lining up of sun, moon and earth, to rededicate ourselves to our purpose here on this planet … to give and receive love, and remember the great source of that love.

It was late morning, and the sun was already heating up the land. Even at 6250 feet elevation, it was still warm, in the seventies.

Joyce asked, “How dark is it supposed to get?”

I didn’t have the right information, so I guessed, “I think the light of the sun will be completely blocked. We may not be able to even see each other.” I read somewhere that stars may even be visible. I turned out to be wrong.

We closed our eyes for a meditation. I alternated between peaceful quiet and anxious thoughts about what could be wrong with the truck, and getting it fixed in time for our river trip. There always seems to be something to worry about, something to compete with a peaceful meditation. Finally, we held hands and spoke prayers of gratitude and rededication, and a prayer for our truck. Nothing is too small for prayer.

I looked at my watch. We still had about twenty minutes of waiting. Curious, I took out my filter and looked at the sun. I gasped. It looked like something had taken a bite out of it. About a quarter of the sun was gone. I had no idea it had started. Every few minutes I checked. The sun was gradually being covered by the moon, and yet there was no change in the lighting.

Finally, things started to change. An eerie dimness, with amazingly sharp shadows. Some colors of sunset started forming in the sky and on the mountains. The birds stopped singing. Our two golden retrievers came close to us and sat there, seeming a bit confused, like the birds perhaps were. Then the sunset disappeared into dusk. I checked the sun. All that remained was a near perfect ring, or corona, of light. Joyce and I could still see each other in the dim light. And we couldn’t see any stars. The moon was precisely in the center of the sun, but could not block all the light.

Perhaps it’s the same with us. We think our light can be completely blocked out by dark thoughts, but the presence of the light can never be completely hidden. The light is so much more powerful than the dark, and can never be totally eclipsed.

We would have loved to just sit there entranced by this other-worldly phenomenon, but suddenly the temperature plummeted. We scrambled to put on more clothes to get warm. Yet again, another seeming distraction to take us out of our reverie. Or perhaps this is the natural pull of the earth to help us keep our feet on the ground, not unlike thoughts of our truck repair that also bring us back to earth.

Then, after a few minutes, a sunrise that lasted seconds, then a brightening light and warmth, birds singing, dogs relaxing, and two people taking off their extra clothes. If we can just be similarly patient with our minds, all eclipses will be short-lived, and the light will always return.

After the eclipse, we drove into Stanley, where we found out there were a total of two auto mechanics and one was away fishing. The other mechanic, with the appropriate Idaho name of “Spud” printed on his shirt, quickly confirmed that our vacuum pump was failing, and we should not drive our old truck more than just locally. Our river trip put-in was August 24, three days away and four hours’ drive north. If we didn’t start our river trip on that day, we would forfeit our permit. Dear Spud got on the phone, found a new pump in Denver and ordered it. He said it “should” arrive in two days. We could only pray it would. And pray we did.

The truck part came in on time. We made it to our river put-in, and had a mostly wonderful river adventure. The not-so-wonderful parts of the trip were just some more eclipses, temporarily blocking the good … and bringing us back down to earth, where our feet could be firmly planted like the roots of a healthy tree.

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