On Monday, the moon will block out the sun across a band of America roughly 70 miles wide, from Oregon in the west to South Carolina in the east. Nashville, Lincoln, and Kansas City all get a few moments of darkness, as will several smaller cities. But what thrills the heart of this eclipse-watcher is how the shadow seems to prefer the back roads, shunning the big cities in favor of places where cityfolk fear to tread.
My heart beats with little romance for what Marx called “the idiocy of rural life.” I live in a city—and a city whose main virtue, according to some, is that it is within commuting distance of an even bigger city. But I love when nature or circumstance force us to go somewhere we would otherwise overlook, either because of urban snobbery or convenience or good taste. I will be thousands of miles from this eclipse. The last one I saw, however, took me well out of my way, and I doubt I would have appreciated it as much if I could have seen it from my bedroom window.
In June 2001, I was traveling around Zimbabwe. I was a student then, without much money, and as the Zimbabwean economy cratered, hyperinflation added zeroes to the local currency. I found that my U.S. currency bought me more and better food and lodging with every day, and for about five dollars a day I could live comfortably, if indolently, while the country destroyed itself around me. (I watched this suffering with at most one eye. “How everything turns away quite leisurely from the disaster,” as the Auden poem goes.)