It’s been a lovely week in the Ozarks. Autumn arrived and the weather responded kindly. Some of the trees started changing color, their edges tinged with yellows and reds. It’s uneven, though, even though it’s just beginning. The walnuts are all but bare, a few nuts clinging to branches like green pearls. It’s been so dry that many of the shrubs and weeds along the roadways are showing more rust than brilliant gold and scarlet. Even the sumac is giving up its proud red crimson and slinking off to sleep in a blanket of brown and burgundy. Still, the landscape is beautiful, a subdued patina of greens and coppers and russets.
It’s been almost three weeks since we’ve had a good rain and none is showing in the forecast. It will be interesting to see what a month of dryness does to the usual tapestry of colors that usually come with fall. With the landscape so thick and dense after a summer of rain, it would be a shame to watch it all change from green to brown. But it is early, yet. I am impatient. Autumn is only a week old.
Our community had sad news this week. We lost one of our own. Macy Loveless passed away. She was a beautiful child, just thirteen years old, stricken twice with leukemia. The first time, she beat it like a champ. The second time was just too much. She died on September 24.
Though Macy’s life was short, she accomplished much. Not only was she a source of love and joy and happiness to her family and friends, but she brought an entire community together, in her name. So deeply did she touch our hearts that more than a thousand people attended her funeral. People dressed in orange (her favorite color), orange ribbons, and balloons lined the street from the Mountain Grove Gym to Hillcrest Cemetery. Many business signs offered prayers to Macy and solace to her family. Her funeral procession included almost 40 police and fire vehicles with a river of mourners streaming behind.
No doubt, Macy is free from the throes of illness and is now in a much better place.
To her grieving family and friends, know that you are in so many hearts and prayers. Neither you nor Macy will ever be forgotten.
The other event this week, much different, was the lunar eclipse on Sunday. The day started terribly, at least as far as the viewing weather was concerned. What had been forecast for sparkling clear skies with a chance of clouds dawned socked in with fog a thousand feet deep. Midday wasn’t much improved. Though the fog lifted, the sky was blanketed with clouds. At noon, when I headed to Bert and Deans for a fabulous black pot dinner (Dean is an excellent black pot chef), the sky was so laden that it threatened rain.
We sat by the fire where Dean had cooked and ate magnificent meal of chicken noodles and cherry pie. Bert was optimistic. I tried to be.
At three o’clock, the first ray of sunshine popped through the clouds and fell on their living room floor.
At four, when I drove home, three or four rays cascaded through the trees and the swirling leaves.
By five, little patches of blue sky were starting to show.
At seven o’clock, though, a little more than an hour before the eclipse was to start, it was still so cloudy that the just peeking-over-the-horizon moon was completely hidden from view.
And then, quite suddenly and no doubt much to the delight of Ron Hearst and other wonderful forecasters, just before eight, the sky cleared. By 8:15, when the moon was high enough to rest on the bare branches of the tree near the house, only a few wisps remained. A moment later, the left side of the moon darkened and the eclipse began.
I sat on the front steps and watched it rise higher, dissolving slowly as it did. At first there was no red coloring. Just the usual silvery-gray against a growing blackness, as though the moon were being consumed by some dark, unknown creature.
As I watched, I wondered if Sundance and Flicka in the pasture took note of the growing darkness, or if the geese and turkeys and chickens realized something unusual was happening in the sky. Perhaps to them it was no more noteworthy than a passing cloud blotting out the moon. The crickets continued to chirp, the hum of other insects rose and fell and rose and fell without apparent cause.
How awesome an eclipse must have been even a hundred and fifty years ago, when nights were not ruled by artificial light and the disappearance of a full moon would have been seen as an omen of coming fortune or adversity. I read online that, until the last century or so, for many people and cultures there was no rhyme or reason for eclipses. They simply happened. When they did, panicked rituals would ensue to save the moon or sun from destruction.
Other peoples have been able to predict eclipses for thousands of years. The earliest record we have is of two Chinese astronomers, Hi and Ho, who predicted one in 2134 BC. Unfortunately for them, they failed to tell the Emperor and were killed for their negligence. And nineteen of the famed blue stones of Stonehenge are thought to have been used to predict eclipses. One reason attributed to the fall of the Greek Empire is because the Greek army delayed departure from a vital battle because of an eclipse. The time allowed their foes to reform and gain the upper hand. And Christopher Columbus used an eclipse forecast in his shipboard copy of “Calendarium” to convince Jamaican Indians to continue to provide food for him and his crews until they could rebuild their ship and depart.
Even with the eclipse forecast and the cause of it understood, Sunday night’s sky show was still dazzling. As more and more of the moon entered Earth’s shadow, the redder the shadowed area became, reflecting more and more of the world’s sunrises and sunsets. The redder it became, the more and more stars appeared around it, as though observing from a distance. Finally, at totality, blood red mood hung in the sky and the night gentled, softened. Beyond the singing, fiddling insects, all was still.
I thought about my dad, then. He died this year. But, if he’d been alive, he would have watched the eclipse, or at least stepped outside a time or two to take it in, marveled at it.
My Aunt Elaine, who also died this year, would have watched it, too. In fact, she and my mother would have packed a picnic and gone down to the beach to enjoy it with all the beachcombers who’d turned out to see it, too. This year, Mum went alone, carrying Elaine in her heart.
I thought of Macy, too, and about life and death and cycles and eternity and how, through it all, life goes on. In some form, in some way, life, like the moon slowly being restored, life always goes on. Wonderfully. Courageously. Defiantly. Life goes on.