I haven’t written anything in months. For someone who once unfailingly carried around small notebooks to jot down ideas, stories, poems, thoughts in, not writing is strange. It’s how I imagine an animal feels as it’s trapped in quicksand, sinking slowly, unable to move, incapable of effort. My life has been moving at the speed of light, while the one constant I’ve always known falls by the wayside in favor of an easy out. Too much TV, too much social media, too much falling victim to the stories of others.
No longer a topical subject, but I wanted to talk about my experience with the eclipse. We drove up to Wyoming to trudge deep into the wilderness in order to catch a total eclipse. The plan was frail, at best, but aren’t all the best ones? Expectations frayed at the edges, a worn idea floating in a light breeze. We’d gone to see a speaker at the Planetarium in Boulder months before. His job was chasing total eclipses all over the world. He showed us the difference between a 95% eclipse and a total eclipse. His passion and fervor for this remarkable natural event was enough to convince us we had to make it work. When it came time to make a decision amidst car troubles, stress at our jobs and issues at home, we knew we had to do this.
We drove through the night to Pinedale, Wyoming. When we arrived at the trailhead the next morning, people were camped at the trailhead, sleeping under cars, brushing their teeth at their trunks. It was mayhem. We second guessed our idea, realizing that many others also thought walking deep into the woods was the best way to avoid crowds. We were all wrong.
Throwing together our packs, we headed to Island Lake in the Wind River Range via the popular Elkhart Park trailhead. The hike started strong, we passed large groups of loud college kids, slowly sauntering families, confused older people on a bird watching day trip. By mile 5, Andrew’s knee started acting up and we weren’t sure how far we could make it. Island Lake is located 12 miles from the trailhead, on a strenuous hike dipping to low valleys and climbing up high passes. By mile 7 we were struggling. Large groups of excited eclipse-seekers traipsed past us while we considered our options. Deciding to keep going, we overheard echoes of “Island Lake” everywhere. It seemed every other person had our same idea.
Finally, hiking with 40 lbs of gear on his back became too much for Andrew’s knee to handle. We made it up a gradually steep incline and saw patches of blue shining through the trees. A few groups sat atop rocks, eating lunch and checking out their maps. On a mission for rest, I pushed forward around a large cliff and saw it: Seneca Lake—a massive cerulean blue alpine lake hidden in the depths of the Wind River Range. Somehow amidst the rocky drops and tree-lined cliffs, I’d managed to stumble upon a perfectly flat patch of dirt, nearly the exact size of our two-person tent.
We threw our packs there and walked out onto a gradual slope of rocks, the perfect seats after a long day’s hike. Groups came and went, settling near our spot before they headed out to Island Lake. So many groups, in fact, that we began to wonder if chance had stepped in and dealt us a really good hand. Soon it was just our little gray tent and a few other groups nearby who had this alpine mecca all to ourselves. We sat for hours watching the wind swipe dark swaths of movement across the lake like drops of ink in a glass of water, dragging right to left then disappearing into the shoreline. For hours, the wind’s voice cooed in our ears, the only sound for miles. Somehow among the swarms of eclipsers, we’d stumbled on solitude. Hours later, beneath the silky opaque sky, we still sat there, jumbled in layers, curled between the rocks on our front porch, watching satellites slowly orbiting as the milky way stretched across the horizon.
The next morning, I hiked the 3 additional miles to Island Lake to see what all the fuss was about and, in short, it was spectacular. But from a few hundred feet above, I saw the sundry nest of neon tents dotting the rocky shoreline. Groups of people camped on top of one another, brushing elbows while brushing teeth. Camped too close to water sources and the trail. Deciding against going any closer to the lake, I turned around and headed back, running into a few frazzled Rangers on my way out.
Afterwards, we sat for a full workday—8 hours—on the front porch of our little hideaway, sharpening sticks with knives and listening to the breeze. We did what many would consider nothing, and had the best time doing it. Until the chill drove us into our tent, we did nothing. The next morning, I was startled awake by an orange glow in our tent. The intense sunrise burned in the early Wyoming morning, blushing the serrated peaks ahead. In my mind, the sun burned more brightly than normal, knowing the moon would steal some of her glory today.
Before the eclipse, we packed everything and prepared to make a swift exit down the mountain just as it passed. I thought I was prepared, but when the time came, when the light grew gray and refused to reflect any tresses of sunlight, I became anxious. My heart started beating, palms sweating, eyes darting back and forth. It felt like the end of the world; time stopped, everything grew still. The yellow light of mother sun was siphoned from the atmosphere by an unfamiliar sphere. The billowing laps of the lake caught the moonlight giving a sterling lunar hue on their spines.
We shivered in the tint of the moonlight until all went dark. Not the black velvet of night, but a blue-lit dusk, shimmering like a trillion microscopic moths catching the moonlight. Dusty, silvery shadows clung to the earth, begging to stay—and for a second, they did. Then a sliver of light appeared, a bulbous beam of light leaning against a circle of black…a midday proposal from one interstellar entity to another.
It took my breath away. It still does thinking about it. And as we hiked out, dragging our feet along hundreds of tiny crescent moons, we hummed to ourselves…life is but a dream.