by | Nov 28, 2017 | Ground Work | 5 comments

Totality – it’s the word used to describe the one minute and fifty-four seconds during which I witnessed the moon completely covering the sun on August 21, 2017, as a total solar eclipse swept across North America.

I would also call it transcendence.

I hope those 114 seconds, and the many minutes before and after as the moon moved across the sun and then moved on, will live in my memory as long as I do.

Totality – a time like sunrise or sunset, but on the entire 360 degrees of horizon, not just in the east or west. A time when the birds went silent. A brief, hushed, stunning interval to behold the sun’s corona high in the sky. And then when those seconds ticked away, and the sun flashed its ‘diamond ring’ as the moon continued on its path, the birds burst into wild song, a chorus that went on and on as if they too were celebrating the transcendence of the moment.

I find most of my moments of transcendence in nature – the eclipse, for one. But so many more – like dark starry nights in the wide open west, finding 300 million year old marine fossils on a mountaintop while hiking, being awash in the icy rapids of the Colorado River deep in the Grand Canyon, thunder rumbling down the canyon while a distant storm puts on a light show like no other, placing the palms of my hands on each side of a slot canyon carved in tuff deposited by a volcanic eruption more than a million years ago, moving with the wind on the fair Kagán, watching bear cubs shake apples from a tree to their mama on a nearby shore, bioluminescence sparkling off my oars as I row the dinghy at night, and always when I see dolphins or porpoises or whales, or even hear their breathy blows in the distance.

I’ve been lucky to attend transcendent moments in nature both on my own and in the company of those I love. On my own, I savor the feeling of my smallness, both in space and time, in the passing scene of this magnificent planet. And with others, I delight in the shared experience, and the shared appreciation of that experience.totality collage

Those moments outside make me strong inside. And then I go inside….

These days, when I go back inside – I pick up my phone and call my congresswoman and senators, I sign petition after petition, and I volunteer time with and write checks to organizations that will help keep our wild places wild and accessible, not only to me, but to those who may not have had transcendent moments in nature yet. And in doing so, I hope I will help others have precious moments to carry in their hearts and memories.

In this season, when we pause to reflect on what we’re thankful for, I hope you will go outside – gaze upon the waxing moon as it rises, hold the splendor of an autumn-crimson maple leaf, or pick up a rock and feel the Earth’s long history in the palm of your hand – and embrace the transcendence, the totality.


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  1. Sharon Galkin

    Hi, Deb. All the talk about “The Path of Totality” this summer had me thinking… Here in Baltimore, we were not on “the path” for the eclipse. Only saw one fox come out of hiding into the somewhat eerily dimmed daylight. He looked around a bit and, obviously unimpressed, went back into his daytime den. But I’d like to think that each of us is on his/her own personal path of – or to – totality; searching for and finding our unique purpose in life and letting that make us complete.

  2. Terry

    Your description of the simple things in life, like how a rock I hold in my hand has a history that pre-dates man ever walking on our small blue planet, has renewed my awe of the nature around me. I will take more time to condsider not just what I see, but where it has come from, the forces and fates that have brought it to my sight. Life is good.

  3. Sharon

    What an evocative phrase in your final paragraph “…pick up a rock and feel the Earth’s long history in the palm of your hand…” I am typing this comment with much smiling and nodding.

  4. Sara Eisenberg

    Thank you, Deb, for sharing the richness and grandeur of natural wonders few of us will experience, at the same time reminding us of the ones right at hand – small and connected, indeed!

  5. Scott Burns

    Deb – I loved the piece on the eclipse! We too got a chance to witness it – first in the US (on the Oregon Coast) – truly spiritual! I love how you captured it and then applied it to other events and places – you and I have very similar views there! I loved the photos too – loved the one of you and Serin going through Lava Falls – I will never forget it when we did it! We just got back fro 18 days in Nepal – trekking and running an IAEG conference that was very successful! Cheers, Scott


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Geologists study the earth and the processes that shape it. Writers study the human heart and the processes that shape it. The GeologistWriter builds a bridge between the two. Come across it with me!

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