Published in Cipher in October 2017
My name is Brendan Peterson and on August 21 2017, my life was changed forever when I saw the Total Solar Eclipse with my eight best friends.
I spent the summer of ’17 with my family in Brentwood, going to shows, hanging with my buddies and doing a little dog-sitting. While it’s amazing there, the suburban structures often serve to take man away from nature, where he originated and truly belongs. That’s why at the end of summer, I journeyed to Wyoming to see the Totality.
I made the trip with my four best friends from home: Cody, Will, Sam, and Kate. We met up at the rental cabin with Noah, Kat, Jack, and Nate, my other four best friends from college. We rented a small, rustic cabin from a retired high school teacher and poet known as Wise Old Lou. He spends his days writing sensory poetry about the great outdoors and publishing poetry collections at a small local letterpress. His wife died five years ago and he doesn’t have much attachment to his home anymore, so he likes to rent the place out while he backpacks around the country writing poetry. I really admire him, and I hope that I can be like him someday.
When my eight best friends and I got to the cabin, Wise Old Lou handed me the rustic brass keys. They were on a keyring made out of a piece of antler carved into a leaf shape. He and I actually talked for an hour about the wisdom that nature can bring while everyone else unpacked. Then Wise Old Lou took off up the hill with his 80-liter pack strapped to his back, preparing to embrace the eclipse in total nature.
My eight best friends and I loved the cabin and went absolutely wild with it. It had cozy couches, a river-rock fireplace, and a beautiful chandelier. There was also a deer head mounted on the wall, which I was conflicted about because while taxidermy is a very cool art form that takes a lot of skill, it’s also not vegan at all, and I’ve been considering going vegan.
My eight best friends made mixed drinks out of Crank Yanker and Jim Beam and got pretty smashed, but I actually found myself more at home nestling my nose into the bookshelf with just a small glass of moonshine made by Wise Old Lou himself. Wise Old Lou had a rich collection of philosophy and literature in leather-bound editions, including great thinkers like Thorro and Neichze. Later on I did loosen up with a few drinks, and my eight best friends and I all took turns soaking ourselves in the clawfoot bathtub. The next morning at 4 a.m. we went to the nearby river, and we all swam naked to continue the nudist vibe we had kindled in the bathtub. We were all very accepting and open and didn’t sexualize each other whatsoever. It was really cool, because I think that all humans should accept nudity as a non-sexual thing. We swam like liberated salmon and took polaroids and discussed the philosophy of life while watching the sunrise. An hour later we ate some avocado toast and handfuls of nuts, slid into our clothes and hiking boots, and hiked up the mountain to look for Lake Erasmus. Wise Old Lou told us it would be a great little place to see the eclipse. We admired all the trees and flowers around us as we hiked, passing around my best friend Sam’s Altoids tin, which was filled with tabs of LSD.
Wise Old Lou was quite right—at the top was one of the finest views I had ever seen. We were by a shimmering lake, surrounded by mighty mountains. We all laid on our blankets made by Native Americans, which we had purchased in Utah, and waited for 11:42 a.m., the projected time of Totality. We decided not to wear the special sunglasses because those are for the weak and we didn’t want capitalist merchandise to get in the way of our experience with nature.
And then we saw it. The moon passed over the sun and created a bright, shining ring, and we were awestruck. It was like there was a sunset, but it was 360 degrees around us. In that moment, I truly felt that nature was all there really was, and it dwarfed my existence as a human and made me realize that nothing really matters anyway. But then I also realized at the same time, due to the circular nature of both the sun and the moon, that I was a whole, complete, important person, even despite the eclipses that circle around in my chest every day, blocking out the knowledge and wisdom I forsake for foolish pursuits.
There it was, in front of me: a searing, glowing ring with our little celestial friend, the moon, boring through the middle like a donut hole, piercing infinitely into the infinite universe. The sun and the moon had been fighting like enemies, skirting each other for decades, until now, when they were headbutting, but also creating a harmonious wonder for us humans on earth. Were they sparring or making love? We cannot tell; their mystery is forever. I knew then that my life was completely changed and that I would never be the same.
I looked around for a little bit to see my friends experiencing the eclipse. My best friend Cody is a really good photographer, and he has over 12,000 followers on Instagram. He had brought his high-quality lens and tripod, and I could tell he was getting some amazing shots (I saw them later, and they were mind-blowing). My best friend Kat had her sketchbook out, quickly drawing what she was seeing with a pencil and some watercolors. And then I was inspired to write song lyrics, since I’m a musician and I play the acoustic guitar. The lyrics go like this (work in progress):
There is a decrepit pit inside of me
And you cut it open and pulled me out
All one million feet of me
I floated up to space as a gas
And contributed to the universe
We are nothing but the ether
Swimming cells in a petri dish
But instantly we can transform
The duality will never depart us
But there are days that we cannot see it
It is eclipsed
We hiked back down and packed up our stuff in the cabin afterward. The traffic was absolutely terrible, and as I was driving I kept seeing black spots in my eyes, which I thought must be the new spiritual visions I’d acquired, dancing through my line of sight. It made it really hard to concentrate, though, so my best friend Noah put on “The Dark Side of the Moon” by one of the greatest bands of all time, Pink Floyd. It was brilliant because on that day, the dark side of the moon was facing us, not the depths of space.
When I got back to school, the first thing I did was ask everybody where they saw Totality. To my surprise, a lot of people hadn’t seen the whole eclipse. Many had seen only 70 percent and had to wear glasses since the sun was shining so bright! They said it was nothing but the regular sun with part of it cut out, like a crescent moon. No 360 degree sunset, no nighttime chill, no transformative inner revolution. I couldn’t believe it. We all knew about the eclipse months or years in advance—how hard would it have been for these people to take a few days out of their lives and go get a cabin? Part of me is infuriated by their ignorance, but because I’ve seen Totality, I can really let go of my inner anger. I mostly just pity these people now. As Wise Old Lou later told me in a handwritten letter, they lead lives of quiet desperation.
All in all, I’d say that Totality transformed me from the inside out. I’ve become far more attuned to Mother Nature and how man relates to her. I’ve been reading a lot of literature about this topic by great authors like Ralph David Emerson, which is really adding to my philosophy degree. I’ve also been crafting more songs on my acoustic guitar, and I’ll be playing some of them at an open mic soon. Sometimes though, I just like to do nothing, embracing the meditative, empty universe before me. I stare out the window in class, gazing at Mr. Sun, knowing that I saw him making cosmic love to Ms. Moon. I mentally replay that electric moment when I saw them cross, and I praise all the deities, since that was truly when my life took a turn for the amazing and changed forever.