Eclipse, Minnesota style
We knew the eclipse of the sun would only be partially visible here in southeast Minnesota. We knew we had failed to find the right dark glasses to protect our eyes, despite an online purchase of ten pairs at an incredibly low price (later found to be counterfeit.) We also knew the forecast for clear skies was doubtful.
Nevertheless, we persisted.
On the appointed day, eight women coming from near and far made efforts to fly in or drive hours to gather at the appointed place on the Mississippi River.
Our generous hostess, an international Native American visionary, a philanthropist, a food drying expert, a returning Lanesboro gal, a recent widow, a nonprofit development director and a policy consultant — what we have in common is a sense of adventure. We are ready to take our chances on experiencing the eclipse on the big backwaters of Old Man River.
Following complicated directions through woods and fields, past Wabasha, we all arrive at a spot on the banks of the river. Our host’s pontoon boat soon arrives to carry us and our gear down stream, past a creek that creates the island on which the cabin sits. The power of the river is apparent as we see the dock anchored by 14 foot pilings driven down into the sandy river bottom, allowing both dock and boat to rise and fall with the flow of the river. Even the cabin is on 14 foot stilts, evidence of the river’s right to carry its load of water as it will.
After quick unloading and changing into swimsuits, we hop on board the boat and head back up the creek. We zig and zag along the shallow water flow.
We check our watches and realize the eclipse has already started. Better get busy making our own sun viewers. Out of cereal boxes, a square of tinfoil and an earring to prick a tiny hole, we assemble our pinhole cameras. With the sun at our backs, we turn the boxes this way and that until I am the first to see the it. The little round circle of light at the bottom of the box, with a small bite out of the right side – that is the moon beginning its pass over the sun. It would be another hour until it reaches it’s maximum, but now we know we can follow the eclipse process without burning our eyes.
The boat makes its way into a wider channel as the circle of blue sky above us is ringed with dark clouds all around. Folks in every direction must have their sky blocked by clouds. How lucky we feel to be out in the sun on these wide-open backwaters, with only a fishermen in the distance and water as blue and placid as can be.
We chug out into a miles-wide shallow area, and are astonished to see the shore bursting with wild rice coming into full bloom, some six feet tall. I am humbled to realize I have never been on the Mississippi River backwaters, and have never knowingly seen wild rice, a basic staple of Native Americans since time immemorial.
Our host explains that wild rice has only recently come back. For decades the dam below held the backwaters at continuously high water levels, drowning out the rice and other plants favored by migrating birds. Efforts by government agencies to raise and lower the dam have brought back the plants that need wet and dry cycles. Masses of birds and wildlife now return seasonally or stay all year in the rich and free-flowing backwaters.
We pull out into the widest part of the channel, just as the sky seems to dim and take on a rosy, almost dusky, hue. A check into our cereal boxes reveals a big chomp out of the upper center of the sun. We know this is the darkest part of the eclipse.
The pelicans and shorebirds have settled together on the sand bars as they do every evening, athough it is only 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The clouds rimming the horizon take on the look of sunset. We are spontaneously silent, sensing the unique and delicately colored moment, strangely out of sync with time.
Slowly, the aura of magic lifts. The birds begin to fly around again, and we begin opening up the special lunch of salmon, tomatoes and potato salad brought for us. Our chatter resumes its natural flow, ranging between the mundane aspects of modern life and the spiritual presence of the living earth.
Back at the cabin, late afternoon rainfall brings a quiet enjoyment to our discussions. The next morning, we are blessed by a morning song with drum, standing together on the banks of the artery of our continent. We feel enriched by this place, these people, and this cosmic event. That which is summer on the water in Minnesota has been amplified in our memories.
Exquisite BBT (bacon, basil, tomato sandwich)
Toast whole wheat bread and slather both pieces with Hellman’s Mayonnaise. Top with two slices of crisp fried thick-sliced bacon, a half inch thick slice of Brandywine tomato, and a handful of chopped basil. Top with the other piece of toast. Slice in half with a serrated knife. Heaven.