Things, things, things

Jeane Dixon, arguably America’s most famous “psychic,” hit the spotlight by predicting JFK’s assassination.

OK, so she didn’t honestly predict it — instead, she did it in perfect “psychic” fashion: In a 1956 Parade magazine article she wrote that the 1960 presidential election would be “dominated by labor and won by a Democrat.” She went on to say he’d “be assassinated or die in office, though not necessarily in his first term.” Later, she predicted Nixon would win the election.

As I said, perfect “psychic” fashion.

But no matter. She knew how to get media attention and hold it, which she did right up till she left this Vale of Tears in 1997. That whole time she was full of predictions, and crap, each in equal measure. This resulted in something a mathematician named John Ellen Paulos dubbed The Jeane Baker Effect, which explains the essence of all those hustlers. Essentially, it says the fortune tellers and their fans (and too often with a boost from the media) will tout to the skies their few predictions that came true, while ignoring all the ones that didn’t.

If Jeane Dixon had predicted the subject of today’s column, I’m sure she would’ve said it would not be about the eclipse. So, in honor of her skills of prognostication, I’m proud to announce this week’s column is about the eclipse.

Hard to impress …

To be honest, while the idea of an eclipse in My Home Town interested me, I was not fascinated by the prospect of the event itself. There were several reasons for this. One, I’m jaded when it comes to anything I see promoted in the news (or what purports to be news) and in media in general. So the more I kept hearing about how spectacular the eclipse was going to be, the more I kept thinking, “Yeah right, here goes another Event of the Century — just like 75 others.”

Another reason is there was an eclipse here in 1963, which I remember perfectly. But it was an eclipse in name only. Why? Simple: It was due to an ADK specialty — overcast skies.

Let’s face it, unlike On The Range, the skies are cloudy damn near all the time here, and they sure were on that day. So after all the hype and hokum about how amazing the eclipse would be, at the appointed time only two things happened: The sky got darker … and darker … and darker, and then it got lighter … and lighter … and lighter.

So this year, the closer we got to April 8 and the more everyone talked it up, the less engaged I became. Dutifully, I got my eclipse classes and graciously accepted Jack Drury’s invite to watch it from his pontoon boat while cruising Lower Saranac Lake. But I had little enthusiasm and fewer expectations Monday morn was the Adk’s equivalent of a unicorn — a warm, sunny, gorgeous April day. So in contrast to my usual pessimism, I found myself thinking that even if the eclipse itself was only humdrum, at least we’d see it clearly. Little did I know.

Following my orders, I showed up at Jack’s dock at exactly 1330, where I was piped aboard The SS Mark Twain by Cap’n Jack, hisself. In addition to me, the Cap’n and his wife Phyllis, were five of his friends who’d traveled here from such distant lands as Williamstown, Mass and Gotham’s Upper East Side.

His friends were a lively and fun bunch who I’d met the night before and was comfortable shmoozin’ and cruisin’ with. And shmooze and cruise we did on our way up the lake. But that’s pretty much all we did, as nothing much was going on — at least nothing, as far as we could tell.

But whether we knew it or not, something was going on, namely the moon was moving into position to blow our minds.

We kept checking both the time and the sky. And while the sky didn’t change, when we looked through our glasses, we saw a dark sliver seem to appear on the sun. Of course, it was the moon’s shadow on the earth, but no matter — the fact is the eclipse was clearly in progress.

More minutes passed and the crescent got bigger, but the amount of daylight seemed to be exactly the same. The only difference was the temperature started to drop and it seemed a wind came up out of nowhere. We all donned the extra layers we’d had the sense to bring.

And on it went. The sun was then 50% blocked, then 75% blocked, then 90% blocked … and it was still bright as day.

More time went by, more of the sun disappeared, and then — in what seemed like an instant — we were plunged into darkness. It wasn’t the pitch-black of the dead of night, or the gloomy grey darkness of an impending storm. It was darkness unlike any I’d ever seen — a weird, otherworldly darkness you’d find only in a Ray Bradbury story.

Next, before I’d processed the change of light, there it was — the totality!

… impossible to express

I’d heard about it, I’d read about it, I’d seen pictures of it. But nothing prepared me for it. And nothing could have.

The sun was gone, with only it’s thin corona blazing gold. Venus glowed brightly. While the sky was black and we were wrapped in darkness, behind us and low on the horizon was daylight.

I was literally gobsmacked, glued to my seat, slack-jawed. And there I stayed till the moon passed and once again we were back in the daylight we’d started with.

But while I was in the light of day, I was not in the light of understanding. In some way, I knew what had just happened and what I’d seen, but I couldn’t process it. It was primal and simply overwhelmingly, there.

And guess what? In the four days since, it’s still there … and I still haven’t processed it. Nor do I expect to. Maybe all primal experiences are meant to be lived, and not to be understood.

The next day, my mind still wrapped in its eclipse fog, I remembered a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. A loose paraphrase is If the stars appeared only one night in a thousand years, people would proclaim they’d seen the kingdom of heaven. This fit the eclipse perfectly, because the whole event lasted maybe an hour and its climax was less than four minutes.

But what if it had lasted longer? For example, what if we had a total solar eclipse every month and it lasted five days? How would we regard that? Of course I don’t know, but my guess is it’d be considered less a wonder of nature than a pain in the prat, with everyone carping about having to drive with their lights on during the day, and paying increased electric bills.

And that got me thinking about the wonders in our everyday world that we take for granted, just because they’re always there. What if we had those mundane things as rarely as we had a total solar eclipse? What if we had them only once in our life, for only five minutes?

I thought about my life, the things I have and take for granted. If they were with me for only one five-minute period in my entire life, what kind of gap would that leave?

As I said, these are the little things, the everyday things, the unnoticed things. Like a glass of orange juice, or an ice cream cone. A hot drink on cold day, or a swimming hole on a sweltering one. A dog by my feet, a kitty on my lap. A hug, a kiss. A laugh with a pal, a Bruce Young cartoon. An Emily Dickinson poem, a Norman Rockwell painting. My email chats with friends, my brother’s too damned-early-in-the-morning phone calls.. Breakfast at Cavu, my Nori’s coffee klatch …

The more I thought about them, the longer the list became, until it seemed literally endless. So I quit compiling the list and tried to figure out what its significance was. And I concluded this: While there are big and little things in our lives, if you really think about it, there are almost no unimportant ones.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today