Radical

The most radical new object in America. Photograph by Rebecca Lawton.

If the most radical thing you can do is to stay home, as Gary Snyder said so many years ago and Rebecca Solnit revisited, then the eclipse viewer, made from a bran flakes box, must be one of the most radical new items in America.

This is not to shame you who have chosen to fly or drive or walk or bike or ride the rails to a totality site for the August 21 solar eclipse viewing. Not at all. More power to you, be safe and sane. This is to reassure you who are choosing to view the moonshadow from the perspective of your home base that you are far from losers, as some essayists, world-renowned and otherwise, would imply.

Nay, you homebodies are radicals.

I’ve met you at my public library, where you were first in line to nab a pair of the free eclipse-viewing glasses the librarians were passing out. (The glasses were all gone in ten minutes.) You plan to use them here in our hometown, where the solar coverage will be eighty percent.

I’ve met you while birdwatching, where you travel anywhere in the world to see a new bird, but when it comes to the movement of planets and stars in various optically interesting configurations, you say, “I let them come to me.”

I’ve talked to those of you who will attend eclipse-viewing parties in your offices, maybe from the rooftops, maybe from the parking lot.

Maybe, as one of you has said, you’ll watch it online.

Me, I’m going low tech. I made this last-minute, cheap-o, cereal box viewer out of a bran flakes box. You, can, too. You too can empty the bran flakes into another container so you can easily cut up the box. Or, if you’re using a Pebbles cereal box, like the pinhole-viewer instructions I used advise you to do (with a caveat of “Hey, kids, this advertising”), you can empty Pebbles into another container.

Why am I not moving heaven and earth, my car and my person, my sleeping bag and my pillow, my camp stove and my tent, my cat and my husband, my cosmetics and my lingerie, to Oregon to see totality?

Does it have anything to do with the fact that the state is burning up and emergency personnel already have their hands full with diverting traffic, supplying water and food to people not in their homes, hiring extra staff, dipping into reservoirs and fuel pumps and public monies to battle the flames? Does it have anything to do with the crowds, the fact that evacuating campsites even in non-emergencies must be a nightmare, but with twenty thousand extra souls it ain’t gonna be pretty?

Sure, some of that.

But mostly it has to do with the quiet, radical act of witnessing a natural phenomenon from where I live. With not having to be the guy who flies his Lear jet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun. With wondering what eighty percent looks like, easily as much as I wonder what one-hundred percent looks like. With feeling like, really, I can let them come to me.

But you on the road tomorrow, godspeed. Calculate your carbon costs, please, and put some of your travel funds into the carbon bank of your choice. Pay it forward, you know, for the benefit of future generations of eclipse viewers. They may want to see it, too.

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