On the true importance of 2017's Great Eclipse
A crush will make you do some crazy things.
Waking up at 3 AM to see two minutes of an event no closer than six hours of driving distance away counts in that crazy. But when a space nerd trembles with excitement and proclaims, “I’m seeing the eclipse, with or without you,” you jump in that car and you cruise.
There’s something special about that odd hour on country highways, when the rest of the world ceases to exist. There’s none of the hubbub and concerns of drunks you encounter in the cities. It’s only in these hours that I’m most comfortable with the music turned off, the hum of the road my soundtrack, the dotted lines my visual cue. It’s only me and the car.
And the snoring woman in the passenger seat. Let’s not forget about her.
As the miles of the Alabama backroads morphed into the blasé interstate, I was able to think about what the heck I was getting myself into.
I plead ignorance on the scientific importance of the entire deal, but it’s always fascinating to me to watch an event seemingly reserved for the glorious geeks of the world morph into a cultural juggernaut, complete with big brands attempting to capitalize on natural events. All sorts of companies were clamoring for their space, from eyeglass stores (duh) to cereal companies (huh). There was a special recognition of the absurdity when I realized I had spent twenty minutes of my existence the previous week reloading a Pizza Hut-sponsored Instagram tutorial on how to make eclipse glasses out of a used pizza box. They’d won.
Another peek into the madness was the price of everyday accommodations within the path of totality. The bland Holiday Inns of the world were experiencing sell-outs they’d without a doubt ever seen. Luxury mountain homes reached the quadruple digit mark, and single rooms of Airbnb stays were hovering into the $400 range. I refuse pay that much for that potential of awkwardness.
Yet for a night of lunar madness, one knows to expect the unexpected. That presented itself in the most hospitable of Airbnb hosts, the man, the myth, the legend – Keith. More on him later.
After dodging Monday rush hour traffic and only minutes of eclipse traffic delays, we traveled on the sorts of two-lane shoulder-less mountain climbing roads that either thrill you or make you shudder. Wifi-less and free, it was a welcome flashback to my East Tennessee teenage days, when danger was a daily itch to scratch. The winding roads took us down the other side of the mountain and to our destination, Hiawassee, Georgia.
Nestled in the mountains of North Georgia only miles from the North Carolina border, the town seems entirely content in being just what it is, an escape where simplicity reigns supreme. Creeks pour into lakes, strangers say hello, and the only wine in town is a six-foot wall of Barefoot merlot. It’s the sort of place you either love or love to mock. Be the former.
This leads me back to Keith. The only interaction we’d had thus far was a block of text that read like backwoods hieroglyphics warning of impending apocalypse. “Make sure have you plenty of food. And water. And gas. Facilities WILL BE LIMITED.”
I wasn’t on this two-day jaunt with stratospheric expectations. I simply wanted to be on the road to places and people unknown. A $40 mountainside camping spot and Keith provided just that.
The nerves ratcheted up a notch when the directions provided contradicted the spotty Google Maps service, but we knew we had arrived when a row of cars were haphazardly parked at a fork in the road proudly painted “Pooh’s Corner”. As soon as we put the car in park, a Jeep whipped around in a partial donut.
“Well, hey there, you must be Brett. Y’all want it secluded, right? Real secluded or just kind of secluded?”
A red flag to some, angels singing to others, this simple question gave me hope for what was ahead. Whatever you think is best, Keith.
“Follow me. Y’all gonna have fun,” he proclaimed.
He floored it and as we scrambled to catch up, we realized where he was taking us – back down to the lake we’d passed on the way up the holler.
Just off the winding road – Bear Meat Road to be exact – was an inlet of land Keith was proud to call his own. You could tell immediately that the property is used regularly for all sorts of shenanigans, with a beat up tent in place and leftover beer cans overflowing from the trash.
For the most part, the land gave off a homeless camp vibe, but we could see a spot in the distance that was more cleaned up than the rest. We had found our little lunar island home.
We pitched the tent, busted open the Sunchips and Moonpies, and let the wait begin.
The changes came quickly. With no clouds above, the air became cooler and the sky darker. Confused crickets chirped and the world seemed to pause
And then it happened. The sun and the moon aligned in a way we won’t soon see again.
This moment was what I’d driven hours to see, not just the sun and moon above, but how much it meant to the one I was with. She’d had this on her radar for lord knows how long, and after two minutes of jaw-dropping beauty, she looked at me speechless.
Tears fell down her face.
It wasn’t just about the two minutes there. For her, it was much more.
It was about how the magnitude of the world around us can (and should) dwarf our sense of importance. It was about embracing the now. It was about appreciation of beauty for its own damn sake.
And in the whispers that flowed as the night fell, I found that I had fallen further into a world that made me feel alive.
For some, the eclipse of 2017 is but a blip on the corporate and cosmic calendars. Even if the magnificent moments are just that- fleeting instants of wonder- they still exist and are vital to the collective psyche. If only for a couple minutes, a large swath of America stopped pointing fingers and calling each other names. Instead, we looked up to the heavens and uttered a single word: whoa.