It was the 21st of August, 2017.
It was overcast the moment I opened my eyes and gazed at the window. The sky and possibility of rain in the Las Vegas Valley tempted me to stay longer in bed and sleep, but I decided to get up instead.
My cousin Jango stood there in the bathroom, fully clothed as if for a hiking adventure. I did not know that the eclipse would take place at 9:00 AM in our area.
“We’ll be going to Exploration Peak for the eclipse,” he said.
I hurriedly ran back to the room and changed.
Since my cousins would be doing some meditation there, I decided that I would bring my drawing book and the trusty mechanical pencil I borrowed with my Tita’s permission.
Our friend Megan met us in the house, and the four of us drove towards Mountain’s Edge.
Interestingly, Vegas usually has clear skies, but on the day of the eclipse, all the clouds had an ad hoc meeting; they eclipsed both the sun and moon! My cousin remarked that some people were disappointed with the weather, because the clouds and rain in some parts just had to happen on a very special day!
It was a relatively easy climb; I did have a challenge though when we reached halfway because of the incline. When we arrived at the top, we had a panoramic view of the valley. One would be able to see the surrounding mountains, parking spaces, the Exploration Park below, long stretches of the road, moving traffic, buildings, and the Strip.
There were a few people; some had their cameras ready, some brought their dogs too for a walk, while some sat on the seats and on rocks as we waited.
In the horizon, rain poured in some areas of Vegas too. Airplanes came and went away again somewhere near the Strip.
We did not have eclipse glasses as the stores ran out the previous week. In addition to our good luck, the clouds really covered the sun and the sky for the whole duration of the eclipse! It was only when it was over that the clouds went away.
I was surprised to see that other people in some states fully experienced the eclipse. When the sun was totally obscured, it truly became dark in the day. Writing that down and recalling the videos I saw made my hairs stand up now.
What an experience it was to live in the day when another solar eclipse happened.
Before the eclipse, I drew a bit in my drawing book and surveyed the surroundings after. While my cousins meditated and Megan stayed somewhere by herself, I sat on a rock and just gazed at the view, the textures of the ground, the colors, the plants, and the planes that passed.
With the wind rushing around us, I simply just let myself be there, putting all my attention in what was happening and what I was looking at. It was great to be present with many others who wanted to witness a celestial thing to happen.
Inspired by the event and what was around us, I wrote down my thoughts, reflections, happenings, and observations on my drawing book about the eclipse, light, belief, and the pull of mountains to a human soul to climb them:
1) One cannot look at the solar eclipse directly with their eyes with no protection. It is probably the same with God. He is too bright and glorious to be beheld in our naked eyes. Moses, however, had the honor and humbling experience to see God and live. Today, there are other ways to see God – in the face of our loved ones, in our enemies, in people different from us, and in nature.
2) There were bushes, both living and dead. They reminded me of the burning bush. The ground that we were standing on right now – was it holy? Does the bush make it holy?
3) One cannot convert or force to convert anyone. You just love them as they are. If anyone will believe anything, it must be of their own accord and decision and conviction.
4) Several bushes grow in the land… Which was the real one? Which burning bush do we listen to in this world of many conflicting ideas and never enough open and understanding ones? The real burning bush – it must be the one that burns but never hurts.
5) We hate not because we hate. We hate, because we are afraid, or we painfully yearn for attention from someone who can show us generosity, understanding, and perhaps, love.
6) Jesus went to quiet places, like on a hill or a mountain, to pray by Himself. Right where we were in the peak, there were probably less than fifty people. I try to imagine myself at the time when Jesus fed the 5000 people from five loaves of bread and two fishes. I imagine Him standing in front of me, near the edge of the mountain, teaching us as we wait for the solar eclipse to happen. I ponder: are we having the same anticipation in waiting for You? But I know that You are here, You are in the eclipse and behind the moon. Maybe waiting for the eclipse is like waiting for God to come into our lives, anyway. We wait for something beautiful and out of this world.
7) We were in a valley, and I thought of Hail Holy Queen, a prayer said in the Rosary to Mama Mary. “To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” Were we in a valley of tears then, us people caught in the dark times of the world, crying silently inside, hoping for something majestic to happen in the sky? The eclipse can be a source of hope, right? A short period of darkness arrives, and then it slowly fades into light again.
8) Light – the kind of bright and blinding light like the sun’s – is not meant to be looked at. To look at it is to look at what it touches. It is to be a guide on the paths we traverse and hike and pass and make. It is to be spread and reflected. We cannot entirely hold in our vision the greatness of it. Light is a beautiful mystery.
9) A bird flies by. I saw two though: one in the sky and one on the ground. Shadows follow us; make sure it is doing what you are doing.
10) Notice the little things like the yellow butterflies you saw and the wild rabbit (or what your eyes perceived as the movement of a gray creature at the bottom of the hill).
11) I spotted ants on some rocks… Copper, gray, brown, and light ones. We humans go to canyons and mountains, while the small creatures revel in the magnificence of their own tiny terrains, crevices, and rocks – things we consider small but to them are big. What we consider small makes up the big.
12) In our smallness, we are loved. In our own perception of our insignificance compared to the majesty and size of nature’s mountains and valleys and waters, we are presented the knowledge that we are loved still. That we are loved with these creations. We too are part of God’s creations, and we are to take care of Earth, our ‘common home’ as what Pope Francis called it. The trees, mountains, creatures, and people – we are all neighbors.
On an end note, here is my last reflection on that morning in Exploration Peak.
Why do we climb mountains? Why do we want to witness an eclipse or a meteor shower? Maybe it is to put our lives, selves, and problems against the grandeur of nature and the scenery, to surround ourselves with life (in the land, sea, and sky ).
Maybe we contemplate too much to the point that we do not let ourselves to just feel, to witness the beauty silently from the thunder of our thoughts.
Maybe we climb to just be.
We do not have to do anything else.
Take in our humanity, breathe in the air, look at beauty, and just be.