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Gravities of the Eclipse: The Festival

April 20, 2023

Team_Sun Guess I am an eclipse chaser now. For this latest one, April 8, 2024, I drove 16 hours to Arkansas to get under the path of totality, to the Atlas Obscura Ecliptic Festival at the lovely Cedar Glades Park, up the mountains a bit from Hot Springs. The event had a mix of speakers and musical acts, including the wonderfully alien Sun Ra Arkestra following up the main event itself. It was a three day shindig, so you had to camp, or take a shuttle back into town each evening. So I bought a Coleman Pup tent (more on that later) and secured a temporary home directly underneath the passing.

In a talk the evening before the eclipse, Torre Yates-Orr mentioned how the Polynesians perceive time differently from how westerners do.

I was sitting in the back row of an outdoor pavilion half-taking this in, sorting the quirky lineup of musical acts and entertainments for the next two days (Sun Ra, Angel Olsen, Holy Wave).


When we plan out our day, we think in terms of ‘going out’ to ‘do things.” This Polynsian view is more like a swimming through the world, in terms of the gravities of the universe: the tides, the moon, the seasons, the days, the weather.

She also spoke about a Pre-Civil War Black spiritual that advises to “follow the drinking gourd.” Escaping plantation slaves could sing themselves this song while heading north through the utter darkness.

The drinking gourd is code for the Big Dipper, a constellation of stars pointing in the direction of The North Star.

Just keep following the North Star. And the Big Dipper will remind you the way.

Maybe we should reacquaint ourselves with the signals the universe provides, she seemed to suggest.

Phone Keys Wallet

I fried my circuits at this solar eclipse.

The main stage was dead center on the highest clearing, offering a 360 view of the surrounding mountainside.


Harpist Mary Lattimore gently led us into the moments when the moon started taking bite sized-chunks out of the sun. You can’t see anything in the eclipse glasses except for the ever-shrinking sun itself.

Mary likened, in between songs, the moment to being hugged by Big Bird.

For me, the true power of eclipse is not so much witnessing the actual passage, but the way its counter-gravitationals fuck with nature, and with me, personally. A once in a lifetime experience, if we're lucky.

The music stopped, in respect for the full passing, for the totality of the moon coveringing the sun.

As the sun became totally hidden, people clapped, and grew ever more ecstatic in their admiration, all the while the surroundings around them grew eerily off-colored.

And then my phone shut off.

I panicked. How would I get off these mountains without my phone?

But when it came back on, I was totally absolutely befuddled about how to use it, like some confused old man fumbling at a remote he no longer understands.

Yeah, a little too exactly like that, I worried. There must always come a time when someone falls so out of sync with humanity’s use of technology, it renders them invisible.

Rebooted by the Sun

The Sun Ra Arkestra creaked into motion, playing a suitably shambly soundtrack for people packing up their Eclipse-watching gear, or just milling about aimlessly.

By then, the sun was restored to its full harsh powers. I was glad I put suncreen on but now wondered if it was enough.

It felt like I was at a small town festival, off in some remote Saharan part of the world, where the sun was relentless, with no relief from it anywhere.

This is Karma, I thought. Everybody at this carnival will eventually play every role here. The person playing on the stage, the person who set up the stage, the food vendor whose truck catches on fire.

I got the distinct feeling that what comes around goes around here in this temporary village, and not in some general bad vibey-sort of way, but as in hard physics.

Timespace is actually just a single block, our paths but snail trails across space. Maybe the cats in the band knew this, and were just playing the soundtrack?

You know, speaking of karma, humans are going to be scorched from the earth, I thought.

Everyone’s gotta have a hustle to keep cool in this climate.

I went looking for water. There was a big water tank in the center of the vendor village where people would walk up, fill their water jogs, and walk off.


I approached it skittishly like a wild animal, and manage to maneuver its levers such that water would drain out over my upturned hat, which could cool my head in this relentless heat.

I wanted to scold the person after me for using too much of this precious resource, but refrained from doing so.

I sat down on a rock. I had no idea what to do. The band played on.

By this time, I regained enough composure to use the phone. I called my Aunt Mary Clare.

“What should I do?” I asked, perhaps not conveying the gravity of my befuddlement.

She told me to center myself and just focus on my breathing. This was advice she got from her Yoga teacher.

After a great while I made it back to the car. But I still had to break down my tent, a good half mile over yonder. It had to be done then, as thunderstorms were coming in that night, and wouldn't cease for two days.


Fetching the tent proved quite the lesson in Karma, namely in not learning how to set up a tent beforehand.

This tent actually came with detailed instructions on tearing it down, which I disregarded in favor of bundling all up into one big ball, dragging it across the prairie, and sorting it out later.

And then I had to go back over the hill yet again (in the still-sweltering) sun to pick up all the leftover bits. Every single dumb ass plastic thing made to make my life easier was now causing me frustration and pain.

Karma, Karma, Karma.

Dogs Can Hear Soft Lullabies

There is no quiet like that before a storm.

Everything packed, I sat listening to the heavenly sounds of Angel Olsen spilling down into the parking lot, playing to the festival's remaining stragglers up on the hill. .

It had turned into an almostly-unnervingly serene evening. The sun was descending, the temperatures had cooled.

But I weighed the weather report again. The later I’d stay, the more thunderstorms I’d have to go through.

So I reluctantly started the car, and slowly drove away from this hilly paradise, taking the windy roads back down off the mountain, now quite thankful for Google Maps.

Within a few minutes, I was engulfed in heavy rain and epic wind and ominous black clouds swirling nearby. It got bad quick, and stayed bad such that it felt too severe to be caught in, that the only way out was to drive through it. lol

What followed was five hours of the most hellish driving I have endured in my 40 years behind the wheel. I couldn’t shake the storm until I got back to Memphis.

And even then, in the days to follow. the stormfront moved slowly across the United States, tearing up some of Louisian and Mississippi,and following me as I drove home back east.

On my first night home came an unexpected tornado warning in the early hours.

Perhaps it was the universe cleaning our past, setting the stage anew. Or perhaps it was just a noisy reminder for me to stay the hell out of Arkansas.

So, in conclusion: 12/10. Would totally do again.


Cazmie_Eclipse Cat Durden's illustration of the Eclipse, for a tattoo I plan to get...