All this week, during the solar eclipse and the days afterward, I kept thinking of a Ray Bradbury story, "All Summer in a Day."
You might remember the story, which is one of Bradbury's most famous: It's set on Venus, which in the story is a planet of constant rainstorms, sort of like the mid-valley's last winter. The sun in the story shines on Venus for one hour every seven years. (Bradbury published the story in 1954, before we knew that the surface temperature on Venus is hotter than the boiling point of water. But this story really isn't about Venus, just like the best science fiction often isn't really about the science.)
The story focuses on a group of schoolchildren, including Margot, a recent transplant from Earth. Margot is the only one in the class who's seen the sun, and she tells her classmates about it. The other children never have seen the sun, and they don't believe her. Soon, Margot is bullied and ostracized by her classmates. It reaches the point at which the other children lock Margot in a closet just before the sun comes out. The other children are dazzled by the sun; they play and frolic and forget all about Margot. The hour passes, and the rain clouds move back in. Someone finally remembers Margot; ashamed, they let her out, but the sun won't be back for another seven years.
I was working during the eclipse, but it wasn't as if I was locked in a closet (although, come to think of it, my office does have a bit of a closet feel; I really should clean it up). During the nearly two minutes of totality, I stood outside, watched the light fade, felt the temperature tumble, joined in the cheers, felt the goosebumps. Might have teared up a bit, but no one will ever know for sure thanks to the eclipse glasses. Wasted time trying to take a picture of it with my cellphone. Should have just watched with my own eyes and left the photos to professionals.
But, still, it was magnificent. Can't wait for the next one in the United States, which, oddly enough, occurs in seven years.
The next day, I updated the message on my office phone ("Today is Tuesday, Aug. 22; I'm in the office today...") and realized, to my horror, that we already have reached the fourth week of August. Another summer is just about over. Oh, we'll have nice days ahead, and September in the mid-valley is glorious. But the feel of the season, its rhythm, changes right after Labor Day, as schools open their doors and we ramp up for another fall.
In the past, at the start of each summer, I have jotted down a few things I hoped to accomplish during the season. A lot of those goals were unrealistic (it will, for example, take me a couple of years to clean out the garage), so I kept whittling them down each year to the point where the list was almost laughable: One summer, my main goal was to take more naps, which in retrospect sounds like a good goal. Didn't get that goal done, either.
Part of what drives these lists, of course, is the sense that I don't have an infinite number of summers remaining — and, as soon as Labor Day hits, you can cross another one off the list. And it's not at all as if this summer was a bust: I got out of the office, saw new places (who knew there was a Shakespeare festival, and a good one, in Winona, Minnesota?), checked in with loved ones. But I never really felt as if I ever transitioned into that summertime rhythm.
Except for those two minutes. It's obviously not true that time came to a stop during the minutes of totality, but it felt as if we were under the sway of a different sort of time altogether, connected not just to the cheering thousands around us but to people across the centuries who have looked up to the sky, felt the same goosebumps.
Bradbury didn't have it quite right: It wasn't all summer in a day. But it was the best of summer in two minutes. (mm)