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In the path of the eclipse

In a moment when the world was so focused on “Don’t look up!” that, as a result, it was seeing nothing at all, this photographer noticed and grabbed the reliable AE-1 with whatever was already loaded.

photo: shadows of trees and leaves cast by a solar eclipse against weathered wood clapboards
“Eclipse Over Mojave” (II)

People sometimes make pinhole cameras, which are touted as a way to “watch a solar eclipse” without frying one’s eyeballs, without sautéeing a little brain. Some literal-minded schoolkids (we confess) found it anti-climactic compared to the excitement that precedes these rare and, somehow, primal events. And now, as an adult with lowered expectations? It’s a pocket-sized shadow play of the tempting real deal that’s happening just behind and over our shoulder.

The weathered, old farmhouse stood in a small cluster of trees too humble to call an oasis, though it felt like one. A few dozen acres of alfalfa lay to the left of it, and a million square miles of raw, never-broken desert stretched far to the right and dead ahead. This was borax country.

The farmhouse residents filled the cistern and deep-watered the trees weekly from a rusty-but-trusty behemoth of a leftover irrigation pump. When they pulled the power lever, something deep in the stomach clenched and for a split-moment the nearby power grid gathered itself. With a loud crack and a building whine, cold, clear water geysered out of the 12″ pipe. It was so powerful, they had to run off with shovel in hand to ensure the ditch didn’t break and flood the house. Plus, it was fun to follow the water, barefoot, cool up to the knees in the middle of the Mojave.

photo: Eclipse Over Mojave II shown in example room with dark blue walls.
In situ: Eclipse Over Mojave II

In the harshest environments, it is not possible to ignore the underpinnings to life as we know it. That weekly chore kept the trees alive and the livability meter somewhere between “Bearable” and “Ask Me After Sundown.”

The position of the eclipsed sun conspired with every twig and leaf to make a million tiny gaps between them into a million pinhole cameras, each aimed at the house’s stained, bitten, and blighted clapboards. The dark trunks and larger twigs are overlaid with clusters of light-crescents, countless real-time images of the eclipsed sun at the moment the photo was taken.

“Eclipse Over Mojave” (I)
It’s one of those places people drive past on interstate road trips and ask, “Who would live out there?” It’s hard to say, succinctly. Recently, Google Earth showed us that new residents apparently had not kept that little oasis watered. From satellite view, it looks as blasted now as nearby abandoned places. A field that has hosted nature-struck weekenders from the city might now have been used for parking semi-tractor rigs.
In the longest view, the desert always wins, regardless of who squats there. Still, we are touched by the change that we see as a loss. Surely the many owls, mice, cats, and more would agree, if they still had that habitat.