It was late afternoon when my husband and I arrived at our destination — Zion National Park. Since we still had several hours of sunlight left, we decided to take a short hike to a cliff where we’d be able to watch the sun setting over the canyon.
After hours of being in the rental car, it felt great to stretch my legs. Luckily, the trail was mostly in shade as we wound our way up through the rock formations. We’d taken this trail once before, back in 2008, and on that occasion, we were the only people at the summit. This time, when I rounded the corner to come to the end of the trail, I saw at least a dozen other people.
They stood in a cluster, in sunlight that shimmered on the reddish rock. They had cameras, tripods, knapsacks of equipment and coolers full of food, as if they were gathered for some kind of event. They were talking excitedly. I looked questioningly at the young man standing nearest to me, who was gesturing the way my students do when they are excited about a tree or animal or some kind of nature phenomenon. I figured if he was anything like my students, he’d suck me into whatever was happening.
“You’re just in time,” he said to me. He handed me a pair of glasses. “Want to see?” Oh, right. The eclipse. I think Smiley Girl and Shaggy Hair Boy had mentioned in a text message that they were watching the eclipse tonight.
I put on the glasses and peered at the sun that hovered above the canyon. It was pretty incredible. I could see the dark silhouette of the moon, with the bright edges of the sun shining all around the edges. I didn’t stare too long — I had this vague memory of an excited nun in elementary school talking about an eclipse and saying we shouldn’t stare directly into the sun — but I won’t ever forget that image. It was way cooler than looking at a shadow on cardboard, which is what I remembered from that elementary school eclipse.
“Look at our shadows!” the young man said. I turned away from the sun. Against the rock, our shadows were blurry and indistinct, but filled with circles. The line of people, from the old man who had driven hours to get to this site to the ten-year-old girl who’d hiked up with her parents, all of us, began moving arms and legs to try to make the circles dance.