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Some Phases of Annie Dillard’s “Total Eclipse”

My reading of Dillard’s classic essay, published by Essay Daily on August 19, 2017, just in time for the Great American Eclipse. (The featured photo is my view of totality in Idaho.)
1. To preface: I am not a trained physicist or astronomer. I am an amateur who began this fleeting study with too limited a telescope and maybe the wrong lens. I think I may have burned my eyes by reading it several times, but I trust the damage isn’t forever. Wear your welding glasses—that’s my best advice—and log your own observations below.
2.  The essay begins with mournful descent and dislocation: “It had been like dying, that sliding down the mountain pass. It had been like the death of someone, irrational, that sliding down the mountain pass and into the region of dread. It was like slipping into fever, or falling down that hole in sleep from which you wake yourself whimpering.” We’re immediately thrown into the valley of the shadow, a place that is, and is not, the Yakima Valley in Washington State. It sounds, justly, like a coming panic attack. At the hotel, Dillard begins to introduce all sorts of, to borrow her phrase, “complex interior junk,” most of which are head-scratchers at first. She mentions the drunk men in the lobby, a fish in its aquarium, a canary in its cage, a child’s bucket and shovel—none of it seems especially relevant, but it’s just the kind of random stuff that’s good for atmosphere when cast in a certain light. She remembers reading in the lobby about gold mines that “extend so deeply into the Earth’s crust that they are hot. The rock walls burn the miners’ hands. … When the miners return to the surface, their faces are deathly pale.” Why does she tell us this? Already she’s established a mood, a space, where she can introduce just about anything and it will seem right and ominous. But what’s most unforgettable is the vegetable clown. Dillard recalls lying in bed the night before the eclipse and seeing, on the hotel wall, a painting of “a smiling clown’s head, made out of vegetables”: “The clown was bald. Actually, he wore a clown’s tight rubber wig, painted white; this stretched over the top of his skull, which was a cabbage. His hair was bunches of baby carrots. Inset in his white clown makeup, and in his cabbage skull, were his small and laughing human eyes ….” Finishing her description of this likable “lunatic,” who is also composed of string beans, parsley, and chili peppers, she abruptly continues, “To put ourselves in the path of the total eclipse, that day we had driven five hours ….” The juxtaposition makes a clear suggestion: this clown is “ourselves,” the vegetable body with an expiration date, in which the eyes of what’s distinctly human—that is spiritual, not corporeal—shine out for a brief moment in time. And already, on page one, time begins to scramble: One has to recall the curious paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the sixteenth century Milanese painter behind the Four Seasons, each a smiling man-cornucopia of fruits and vegetables.