World Peace Through Totality

By Tim Sandlin

World Peace Through Totality


Life in Jackson Hole last summer was dominated by the upcoming eclipse. Every conversation for months centered on the run-up—not so much to the eclipse itself as the prediction that a Woodstock-size horde would descend on the valley, consuming our food, water, gasoline, parking spaces, and toilet paper, stripping our town the way Mormon crickets strip a field of sugar beets.

Rumors ran rampant. I heard urban motorcycle gangs would bathe in the Home Ranch sinks, geriatrics in Winnebagos would squat on every inch of asphalt, wolves and badgers would go insane and attack females having their time of month, bats would go blind and fly into satellite dishes, cellphones would only work in Russian, Jesus would rise from Flat Creek.

Anyone with a screen and a squeegee designed a hole-in-the-middle T-shirt. Eclipse beer, wine, bagels, shot glasses, flower arrangements, disposable diapers, TED talks—we sold them all. Every Porta-Potty in the Intermountain West was hauled to the Hole. While most of us recall August 21, 2017, as the miracle of the moon swallowing the sun, park employees call it the Day of the Great Outhouse Shortage.

My friend Roger Ramsey sold 15,000 pairs of eclipse glasses. Then when the market saturated, he jumped on social media to start the rumor of counterfeit glasses that would make you blind, and he sold another 5,000 pairs to people who already owned them.

The weirdest rumor—besides two weddings, a mass L.A. funeral home spreading ashes, and an outdoor cesarean during totality—was that the Mount Moran Harmonic Convergence Club (MMHCC) planned to sacrifice barnyard birds in the belief that it would bring nine nuns who died in a plane crash on Mount Moran in 1950 back to life. As the club slit the domestic fowl’s throats, the nuns would glissade down Skillet Glacier.

Almost immediately, a second rumor kicked in that a group known as Chickens Matter would kidnap the sacrificees and turn them loose in the Gros Ventre Wilderness, where they would form the Clan of the Chicken.

Somehow Roger discovered MMHCC was camped with their cages of grain-fed chickens in the Atherton Creek Campground. On the morning of the eclipse we hit the road early to drive out and watch, on the theory that dead nuns would be the eclipse icing on the cake.

The predictions of gridlock in town were worth less than predictions for the World Series in 2056. Broadway was dead, Cache Street deserted. The fear tactics had worked. Locals either got out of town or stayed home. A hundred thousand tourists hunkered in place for fear the other hundred thousand would drive in circles.

It wasn’t until we entered Grand Teton that we found the throngs. The Park Service had turned the right lane of the Antelope Flats Loop Road into a parking lot. The left lane was bumper to butt with cars searching for a spot to land. Each and every one of the hundred outhouses had a lengthy line. No one wanted to spend totality in the potty.

The upshot was Roger and I didn’t make Atherton Creek till the eclipse had already started. There we found the cultists and the chicken protectors in a face-off. The prospect of violence would have been palpable had both sides not been wearing eclipse glasses. Little cardboard multicolored eclipse glasses give one the aspect of a praying mantis. Nazi frat brothers in eclipse glasses couldn’t frighten a flamingo.

Even in goggles, I recognized Meadow Morningstar, leader of Chickens Matter, and Phoenix Rising, First Facilitator of the Mount Moran Harmonic Convergence Club. Except in their attitudes toward slitting bird throats, the two women have much in common. They’re both vegan Bikram hot yoga instructors who wouldn’t buy Monsanto bottled water if their lives were at risk.

Of course, they hate each other.

Meadow got right in Phoenix’s face and shouted, “Chickens are people too. They love. They have children. They feel pain.” Behind her five CMers chanted, “Thou shalt not desecrate poultry.”

Phoenix didn’t shout. She formed her fingers into Om air holes and whispered, “We love our chickens.”

“So you kill them?”

“Our sacred birds give their beingness so others may achieve eternal life.”

Roger said, “Eternal life is better than dead nuns on Moran. Sign me up.”

Phoenix gave him a look of disdain. “The nuns will have eternal life. Not us.” She turned back to Meadow. “And how long will your free chickens last in the wilderness? The coyotes will declare a feast day.”

Meadow said, “The coyotes will see the higher plane in our chickens’ hearts and protect them. The lion shall lie with the lamb.”

I said, “You’re both interesting, but nuts.”

At my words, the temperature dropped fifteen degrees. Imag-ine the most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen only it’s on all four sides of the horizon. The shadow swept toward us.

One of the Harmonics said, “Totality is nigh,” and we all stared at the sky. For the first time in my life, hype undersold reality.

The corona, the spires and loops, snakes in the pavement, beads, dancing plasma, darkness in the day.

Roger, normally God’s own cynic, said, “I knew it would be cool, but I never dreamed it would be this cool.”

Meadow wept. Phoenix’s crew dropped to their knees. Night fell, first with Venus and Mercury visible, then an array of stars. The chickens roosted and slept. Bats swooped over the campground. Coyotes howled.

Phoenix and Meadow swept into each other’s arms.

All along a sixty-mile swath of America, every person of every opinion looked at the same thing and marveled. Even now, months later, I haven’t met anyone who saw totality who is blasé about it, even teenagers.

A couple minutes later, the diamond ring appeared on the upper right side of the moon, dawn filtered to light. Up on the highway, we heard howls, not of coyotes, but of blown-away crowds.

I said, “You forgot to kill your chickens.”

Phoenix said, “That was better than immortality. The nuns can wait.”

Roger said, “I’m giving all the money I made on glasses to Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

I said, “Let’s not go overboard.”

Then the CMers pulled out their high-protein sweet-and-salty maple trail mix, and the sides who were enemies before the eclipse came together over organic oatmeal and nuts.

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