. . .And Now I See. . .

by Maria Theresa Maggi on August 23, 2017

“A Perseid Meteor,” pastel memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

The night before the eclipse, pockets of thick mist swirled under the street lamp as I ushered the dogs out to the yard for a final time. By the time we all piled onto the bed, it was raining softly. Once again, the coast had covered itself in mist and water, despite a forecast for clear skies. I could only wonder if my visions of seeing the stars of Regulus or the famed shadow bands on the ground would literally disappear into the mist.

Just about 10 days before, the first night of the Perseid Meteor Shower, the sky had also been completely clouded over. Instead of being able to step out in the wee hours of the morning to see the shooting stars, I dreamed that I had.:

“meteor shower dream, August 12, 2017

Dreamed I was outside on my front porch, standing up against the front wall near the terra cotta moon. Just seeing if the sky would clear. The black shadows of the trees seemed to part more widely. Then the clouds and mist in the sky seem to clear enough to see a few. They had tails that sparkled or sent off sparks! I gasped, happy and awestruck. But then I looked to the right, and I could see the clouds of the milky way! It was amazing! Another shooting star passed by just below it, with sparks lighting up the sky as its tail disappeared.”

About 3 nights in, the sky was finally clear enough to see the stars. I didn’t make plans to go outside, but later on when I woke up to use the bathroom, I decided to throw a jacket on and take an exploratory look. I wasn’t dreaming. I stood out in the middle of the street in my pajamas.  Stars moved, and the ocean boomed. I saw one with a long tail right before I was too cold to keep on. The memory sketch I made of seeing it is at the top of this post. That’s the moon down there in the right hand corner, beginning to rise.

The opportunity to see the stars of Regulus or the subtle shadow bands on the ground did actually disappear into the mist. But it turns out an eclipse under clouds casts its own spell. In my years of astrological counseling, I was very keen to understand and suggest to clients how an eclipse might effect a birth chart on that metaphorical level at which the planets and their movements help to shape our inner world. I’ve seen lunar eclipses in person, of course, but never before have I been present to physically witness a total solar eclipse.

In an astrological reading, I used to like tell my clients it didn’t matter if you could physically see the eclipse or not. If it was affecting the birth chart I’d suggest this: “Make yourself a metaphorical bowl of popcorn about two weeks prior to the eclipse and two weeks after and watch everything that happens around you and in your life, and see if you can discern a theme. Expect this theme to evolve over time in three month increments.” With a total solar eclipse those 3 month increments  can have significance for up to 18 months, and some say a year for every minute of totality–that would mean this current one might hold sway over our nation for the next two years.

Since  I moved to the coast, I’ve written on the blog about my adjustment process cycling in 3 month increments and how I often use the metaphor of fog settling in and then mysteriously lifting, bringing with that another step of clarity in grounding and feeling at home. It’s fascinating to me that my new environment physically mimics this metaphor for the mysterious elements in my own growth process. Here, the mist can rise up from out on the ocean in a matter of minutes and turn a sparkling white and blue surface to pewter and steel and silver in what feels like the blink of an eye. I literally watched it happen yesterday evening when I sat down on the grass at our beach access with the dogs to watch the sun on the water before we headed home.

So it shouldn’t have surprised me that the mist rolled up in huge pockets on the eve of the solar eclipse, uninvited or vetted by the weather report. I would learn later that a couple of my neighbors looked at the doplar on their computer the morning of the eclipse and saw the mist had cleared out by Devil’s Lake in Lincoln City. They set out in their car, and only got as far as the fire Station in Gleneden Beach, at the back edge of a field the county has donated to be used as a community garden where I have a raised bed. It was totally clear, so they stayed right there and watched. Close enough to walk to, which I had done just the day before. But who knew?

At our neighborhood’s beach access and cabana, another of our neighbors, a professional astronomer, had set up a solar telescope and other telescopes hooked to cameras and computer screens. Although it was too cloudy for the solar telescope to work, the others did and we could see real time images on the computer screen. At the moment of totality, interestingly, I learned minutes after, the computer shut off, and had to be rebooted afterwards.

For months I’ve had 3 pairs of eclipse glasses and an extra from the library outreach lady, enough for me and my kids and whoever else might show up. I had even looked at the sun through a pair one day when my astronomer neighbor was “practicing” at the beach access. I saw the sun and I even saw a trace of a sun spot she was trying to get the solar telescope to focus in on. I thought I was all set with the glasses. And then the cloudy morning of the eclipse came.

Part of my own eclipse show with metaphorical popcorn eating was that I literally felt the eclipse coming. The closer it got, the more dizzy,  nauseous or just plain exhausted I’d get, more and more easily. The ocean went bananas. It roared nonstop, it raced up the beach at high tides like it does in November. The waves were often uncharacteristically huge. They built mountains of sand that made the beach slant at distinct angles in places, making it hard to walk on the smooth wet surface. The soft dry sand had been pushed way up against the steep bluffs, sometimes with no way to get from one to the other  dry island without  being down on the slanted slope where the wave were coming up. I had to curtail some of the our walks. Too risky at some times of the day. Even Cotton got a little dizzy after running for a short spell.

Pacific Trail Hikers Watch a Big Wave Break, pastel memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

On the morning of the eclipse, I  was, to a certain extent, I hate to have to confess, mired in pedestrian minutia. My son and daughter-in-law left ahead of me to set up our chairs at the green space where the telescopes would be set up. I had to walk there in a leisurely enough way that would allow Romeo to have a chance to do his business first. When I realized they had all the eclipse glasses, I had a minor surge of  irritation and anxiety. What if I looked  up while waiting for Romeo to finish? I am, after all, a sky watcher. I pretty much always look up.

This obsession with having the glasses at the ready was fed by an adamant post I saw from a Silken breeder and owner a day or so before who was warning us she wasn’t taking any chances and was keeping all her Silkens inside because they could go blind.  Although a vet commented that was hogwash (and my own vet friend pretty much said the same, and so did every other dog owner I know), because animals don’t look up and gaze with intent for the time it would take for that to happen, she had rejected that common sense stance and her stubborn fear unsettled me and my minutia-making. Cotton is the only dog I’ve ever had who does look up into the sky. He tracks the seagulls. And I have even seen him tilt his head back to watch and wonder what big giant bird THIS might be when the orange bi-plane that gives tourists rides over the beaches crosses over. Be reasonable, I told myself. The birds are going to think it’s night and the plane is not going to be flying during the eclipse. And if I left him alone in the house for two hours, he’d be more nervous, and so would Romeo. They always hang with me down there. And help me get there. Calm down, I told myself.

And so, we made our way down to the crowd that had gathered, and sat with my kids. I had seen from the corner of my eye that the sun was visible, and so was the shadow of the moon, even through the clouds, which was a pleasant surprise. But when I put the glasses on I couldn’t see a thing but darkness. Once or twice, a fleeting image of the shrinking crescent. My daughter in law oriented me by saying, it’s right over that power line. Just point your head right above it. She even said to glance quickly to get my bearings. But every time I put the glasses on and darkness set in, it just took my confused eyes and their slower nerves too long to adjust to see anything. I even tried pressing the glasses to my head, which my daughter-in-law said helped her. It was all pretty much a bust.

But those quick sideways glances? Magic. They were a new test to a theory about how I get (and keep) enough of a scene in my consciousness to do a memory sketch of it later on. When I first started trying to do memory sketches, I was surprised at how much detail I remembered. But I mistakenly used to think that I really needed to stare at what I wanted to draw for an extended period of time. But I started to realize, in that way that mist advances and then recedes, that what I was actually doing was drawing from a flash or split second of apprehension that somehow went right to the core of my soul and stayed with me, at least for a time. It was most important to “get it” while the visual, or parts of it, were still “clear” enough to instill the wonder that compelled me to try and depict what I had seen. If I waited too long, I would still have the feeling but not the image.

Then, earlier this summer, I read about The Blue Brain Project’s findings in a couple of mainstream articles, claiming the brain thinks in up to 11 dimensions. (Click on the link to see the neat geometric images of this in action.) According to one of the researchers,  ” ‘The progression of activity through the brain resembles a multi-dimensional sandcastle that materializes out of the sand and then disintegrates’ .”  This metaphor seems like the perfect way to describe those images that “flash” onto my memory and that I then go home and try to capture within the next 24 hours, sometimes even minutes after getting back. The research claims this geometry disappears within seconds after “constructing” the image of what is being learned or the connection that’s being made neurologically. So maybe what I’m drawing is illumined by the complex  memory of what that architecture wrought, which fades, too, though more slowly. While there’s so much they don’t yet know about this, it seems to me a familiar process that I could never have named but which I recognize in that description. And the even funnier thing is, I have even done a charcoal  memory sketch of a literal “sand castle”  village that I came upon one morning when we descended the steps for our morning walk on the beach and was already gone when we got back to them. It so charmed me that it “stayed” long enough for me to try to capture, if not exactly, at least what it felt like to come upon it that morning.

Village of Sand Turrets charcoal memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

As some of you may remember from my post Plein Air Dreamin’ Come True I am inspired by and often aspire to plein air painting, which literally means to paint outside. But even plein air painting in my own backyard can be exhausting, as this photo reminds me.

It’s even more daunting when hauling supplies to a location is required. My walks here are challenging in the sense that they are up and down hills, stairs, across sand or against wind. I’m ever grateful I can walk successfully under these elemental conditions, but it often means I have to travel as light as possible while walking with two dogs who are also helping me. By the time I get art supplies to a location it’s highly likely I’ll be too tired to do much drawing.

My first two significant memory sketches came a few years ago as a result of having been out in nature and seeing something that totally captivated me, and that I had no immediate way to record. Even taking a photo would not have accomplished what it felt like to see what I saw: the gathering of immense clouds, the shimmering of clear water over rocks.

“Storm Clouds Over Green Space,” memory pastel sketch, 6×6, by Maria Theresa Maggi


Water’s Edge, Siouxon Creek, pastel memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi


My success at “getting” what it felt like to look on these wonders in the two memory drawings above gave me the courage to be able to just see if I could “get” something when I got home from my walks around here. It has become a way to journal in images, in a different “key” than words can mediate. I call them sketches to take the pressure off of whether I’m doing it right or not, or have spent enough time, to allow myself to focus on the elements that inspired my wonder, and to emphasize those details that most  moved me.

Thus, in this same vein I realized my split second sideways glances at the sun being eclipsed, and the few seconds I could look without the glasses as totality descended were all I needed to be “charged” with the compulsion to do some memory sketches. I didn’t see it well with my glasses. I was too far away from the computer screen to see it continuously there. I didn’t see the 4 sea lions who popped their heads up out of the ocean down on the beach when it went dark. And it was too cloudy to see the kind of crescent patterned shadows so many others elsewhere under clear skies would be able to see.

But I did get to sit with family, friends, and neighbors, and their friends, too, as day went dark and it got really cold. I did get to see what I later realized was the “diamond ring” effect just before totality, even  through clouds. I did get to see and feel the darkness descend, and to enjoy it when the crowd of us clapped and then howled at the big black moon during totality. I wrapped myself in my blanket, and felt the strangeness, and smiled.

I wouldn’t know until I got back that I had some memory sketches to make. My inner minutia manager was still worried I might have damaged my retinas. All the more reason, my soul replied sensibly (and perhaps a little bemusedly), to make those drawings. So I did. The first one, “Approaching Totality with Clouds,” I made almost immediately upon return. I realize I even photographed the drawing in light that was still somewhat eclipsed or not quite “all the way back.”

Toward Totality, with Clouds, pastel memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi


Entering Totality, with Clouds, pastel memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

As it turns out, I did not go blind, and neither did Cotton or Romeo. They slept through the whole thing, only waking up enough to lift their heads in inquiry (at me, not at the sky) when total darkness came.  The eclipse gave me the opportunity to sharpen my trust in those split second glances, those instants of “seeing” and give them a place of honor in my heart, on the paper, or wherever else they need to shine. The geometry of seeing, of learning, heart opening, can be beautiful indeed–even, or in spite of, the clouds, whatever they are made of.

Maria (moonwatcher)

Leave a Comment

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pam Woods August 25, 2017 at 3:31 pm

I was just going to check in with you about the eclipse when I saw the email to let me know about this post. I’ve really been enjoying your memory sketches lately, and I love hearing a bit more about how you create them. Love knowing about the sideways glance detail.

We lucked out… the fog lifted at our campground just before 9am, and it was mostly sunny the whole time. What was interesting was that the fog began to come back in as the moon covered more and more of the sun… and then the fog began to clear again as the sun came out from the moon’s shadow. It was magical to experience totality. We’re already researching where to go in 2024 for the next total eclipse in the US! 🙂


2 Maria Theresa Maggi August 25, 2017 at 10:07 pm

Thanks, Pam! I’m glad you’re enjoying the memory sketches and hearing a bit more about how they come about. Wow, you sure did luck out! I love the details about the synchronizing of the fog rolling in and out–perfect! Sounds like the experience made eclipse chasers out of you. More cool travel adventures in your future. 🙂


3 Colleen August 28, 2017 at 8:54 pm

Wonderful thoughts and an unexpected art appreciation moment. You know, I like to go to art museums and learn to appreciate at least one new artist each trip. The last time was a trip to the Heard museum and an RC Gorman painting that was recognizable as his work but utterly unlike the pastel prints that are in 75 percent of the medical offices in the southwest. This is the first time I have done that without actually being in the environment of the art, even Sister Wendy (who I adore) didn’t really teach me anything new, I just enjoyed her take as entertainment. I see visual art in a new way now, and that is really something. Thank you, Maria.


4 Maria Theresa Maggi August 28, 2017 at 9:22 pm

Thank YOU Colleen! You are most welcome. I am honored to be part of your art appreciation curve. xo


5 Veronica August 30, 2017 at 7:12 am

I’m so glad you got to see it! I was hoping clouds and fog didn’t ruin things for people on the totality line. We had to drive out about 45 minutes inland to find a tiny patch of blue sky – but we saw it! Only 80% totality, but it was still pretty incredible. I hope to see the next one in full. Already planning…. Luckily I grew up in Dallas, and it’s on the line in 2024!
I love all your sketches – drawing something from memory is quite difficult, and I like how you described your process. You’ve always got an uncanny knack to see things a little differently, with your sideways glances. 🙂 xo


6 Maria Theresa Maggi August 30, 2017 at 2:57 pm

Thanks Veronica! I’m so happy you enjoyed the sketches and seeing how I see things. . .and very happy you got to witness the eclipse yourself and that you are now hooked! You and Pam (comment above) both!! 🙂 xo


7 Gena September 9, 2017 at 4:28 am


I missed the eclipse when I was away, and I was looking forward very intently to reading your thoughts about it when I returned home. I love that you’ve give us a written “memory sketch” about these visual remembrances and how you process/experience them. And I especially love the way you’ve been incorporating them into your posts lately; it’s giving your blog a wonderful new dimension, and because you’re currently living in a landscape that’s very different from my everyday “view,” it affords me an opportunity to feel closer to you and to truly inhabit the world you describe verbally!

When I got back from Prague, a few friends asked why I didn’t take more pictures. I felt a little sheepish, because what I shared on the blog is really all I have; I’ve never had an easy time remembering to capture images in that way. Rather, I often write about what I saw not long after I see it, and in some ways I think I can understand the cognitive processing you describe in generating your memory sketches. I also sometimes feel that, were I to try to capture an image in the moment, I’d end up with something exact, but less authentic, because in processing what I’ve seen retrospectively, I come to find what stood out most to me. Maybe you can relate to this sentiment, too.

I’m happy that the eclipse, no matter how completely topsy turvy it may have made things feel, actually encouraged you to self-soothe, to speak calmly to yourself, and to tap into your own humor and wisdom, rather than getting overly transported by nervous energy or fears about the experience. And so glad that this centered quality allowed you to write, create art, and verbalize your experience so lucidly to all of us!

G xoxo


8 Maria Theresa Maggi September 9, 2017 at 1:47 pm

Dear Gena, Thank you for this lovely comment. Perhaps this is ironic for both of us in the age of the smart phone with camera, butI so agree with you that taking a picture, but I so agree with you that snapping a photo doesn’t necessarily capture the experience of seeing authentically. When I draw, as when you write your accounts, I am perforce emphasizing what moved me, what it felt like to see what I saw, which the smart phone camera just can’t do. Sometimes I do get a good shot on my phone, but since I’ve started trying to do this instead, I often find the phone shots are lack luster and definitely don’t have an immediacy of sensation to them that I strive for in the drawings. Thank you for looking forward to my take on the eclipse and also for the encouragement about including the illustrations in the post. I always look forward to your insights from reading! xoxo


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