The solar eclipse that raced across the United States on August 21 had little visible impact on the Fox River. The moon covered more than 80% of the sun over the Fox River Valley but on such a cloudy day it was hard to tell whether the diminished light was due to the eclipse or cloud cover. All seemed rather routine on the Fox.
But watching live coverage of the eclipse on TV was a different matter. WGN Meteorologist Tom Skilling reported on it from down around Carbondale. For him the eclipse was epochal and unleashed an emotional flood that helped me understand, even better than the charts and diagrams, the scope of what was happening. Tears ran down his face; his scientific meteorologist’s composure was lost. He was awestruck. His exclamations were giddy and delightfully unselfconscious.
Caught in the shadow of the moon, Skilling seemed held in a gravitational pull that teased and undid his poise. What he had studied at length and what he knew well through the accounts of others he now partook of in person. He was deeply stirred in ways that his studies could not predict.
This is the risk for people who enter into a relational encounter with nature. Standing on a gravel bar in the Fox River and painting the affect of the rising sun on a tall Sycamore, I look over my shoulder to see the sun, ninety three million miles away, just above the treetops behind me. The coppery Sycamore turns gold then golden green. My back is to the sun and we roll toward it in silence while I scurry about with a flurry of strokes trying to respond to a thousand nuances. My tiny station point between the Sycamore and the sun is accentuated while the immensity of space all around me resonates vaguely through the atmosphere.
My work has gone franticly madcap, my craft a clown act. I am unhinged. All I can do is jabber with my brushes in vain hope that some stroke will fall parallel with one of those rays of light or vicariously land on one of those elegant limbs and giddily vibrate on the canvas. All this in response to the radiance of one Sycamore in the quotidian presence of one rising sun. But I think Tom Skilling would understand.
Written by Joel Sheesley, Artist-In-Residence for Art of the Fox, a program of The Conservation Foundation’s Fox River Initiative