Darkness at Noon: an experience of a solar eclipse

By Shonto Begay

photo

I was ten years old when the stars came out at noon. After penning the sheep and goats in the corral for their noon rest, I felt a strange sense of uneasiness. The chirping of the birds was absent, the buzzing of insects stopped, even the breeze died down.

My toes felt the sand still warm on this cloudless day. As I hurried through the tumbleweed and rabbitbrush, it got darker. I looked up and saw twinkling stars far above. The dogs were lying in the doorway.

I ran into the darkened hogan.

Immediately I was told to sit down and remain quiet. I couldn’t even eat or drink. My aunt said the sun had died. The sun

had died. The words hit me like thunder. How could this happen? What did we do? I had only started to live. My brothers sat nearby, silent in their own turmoil. The hogan was dark. Only occasional whispers broke the silence.

Outside toward the east, up on the hill, I heard the rising and falling of prayer song. My father was up there boldly standing in the face of darkness, calling back the sun. I prayed silently with him.

As we sat in the darkness for what seemed like eternity, little crescents of light began to appear on the hogan floor, faint at first, then brighter. The sun was returning. It was coming back to life. I prayed harder as the starts disappeared and faint blue washed over the sky. The crescents of light on the floor, coming in the from the smokehole, started to round themselves out, becoming half circles, then slowly one full, bright whole. The sun had regained its form. The holy cycle. The sacred symbol of all creation was reborn this day for me.

My father came down from the hill exhausted and happy. We ran out to meet him before the elders could contain us.

That day and all the days since, I appreciate even more the sun we thought we’d lost. The colors are richer and the warmth of the sun, more comforting. The days are brighter. The summer heat is welcome.

Each day, I rise just before the sun does, to sprinkle my corn pollen, and to thank the coming day for its gift of light.

Editors note: This work and image is published in Shonto Begay’s book, “Navajo: Visions and Voices across the Mesa,” (1994) Scholastic, Inc., and is reprinted with permission from Shonto Begay.

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