Home > About > Bill Peak's Library Column > The Music of the Spheres at the Talbot County Free Library
Remember the eclipse we had back in August? Celestial mechanics had it scheduled to begin at 1:20 in the afternoon, peak at 2:45, and end around four. A force nearly as powerful (the Circulation Supervisor) had me scheduled to work the Information Desk that morning. Which meant I was the fellow who got to field all the calls from Talbot County residents desperate to find a pair of the special eclipse glasses needed to view this seldom-seen phenomenon. Sadly, I had to tell folks that, so far as we knew, local stores were all sold out. But then an enterprising patron called me back and asked if I could tell her how to make a pinhole camera that would allow her to watch the eclipse safely. I checked online, discovered a NASA site that offered instructions, and was soon giving step-by-step directions over the phone on how to build a device first described by Aristotle in the fourth century B.C.
As I recited NASA's guidance, I found myself remembering one of my first encounters with the lady who'd scheduled me to work Information that morning. Ms. Clark was working the Information Desk herself at the time and someone had called the library to ask what the lyrics to “As Time Goes By” were. Having looked them up, Ms. Clark began to recite the words over the phone. But then she paused as if her patron had placed a new demand upon her, looked momentarily uncertain, then, in a thin, quiet, librarian voice, a voice just loud enough to be heard over the phone, she began to sing. Watching Ms. Clark sing “As Time Goes By” to a complete stranger, sing a song I was sure she'd never sung before, would doubtless never sing again, impressed me. On that day—it must have been ten years ago now—she taught me what good patron service looks like.
Anyway, back to the eclipse. When the time for the big event rolled around, I was pretty busy, but I eventually found a spare moment to run out front with a pair of eclipse glasses Melissa had bought me. In the library garden, I discovered I wasn't the only one who had renewed an acquaintance with Mr. Aristotle. Our Information Services Librarian, Ms. Powers, had used an old shipping box and some tin foil to create a sizeable pinhole camera which she was now sharing with people wandering in off the street and those exiting the library. One at a time they took their turns politely, peering through a small opening in one end of the box to view an upside-down image of the eclipse projected onto the far wall of the box's darkened interior. I put on my glasses, glanced upward, saw something terribly wrong, something impossibly big and dark taking a bite out of the biggest, brightest, most enormous thing in my universe, felt an unexpected and primitive uneasiness in my gut, said something profound like “Wow,” then turned, passed my glasses along to the next person, asked that they return them to me when the crowd was done with them, and hurried back into the library.
I got to go out a second time about half an hour later. By this time the moon had almost completely eclipsed our nearest star, and my glasses and Ms. Powers' pinhole camera were still making the rounds through the garden crowd. On nearby street corners, the courthouse lawn, the town parking lot, small groups of people had gathered with similar intent: standing in the peculiar light, gazing upward, laughing lightly and exclaiming over the monstrous transit taking place in the sky overhead. I noticed the sheriff in one group, a lawyer I know in another. Everyone was smiling, everyone was enjoying each other's company as they shared this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Later, someone I'd never met before returned my eclipse glasses to me. Someone else sent me a photograph she'd taken of the strange scalloped shadows created when sunlight pouring through the spaces between tree leaves (Mother Nature's pinhole cameras) struck the ground and spangled our library sidewalk with dozens of little images of the eclipse. Each of us in our own way had connected not only with celestial mechanics, but with each other. It may seem obvious, a truism that doesn't bear repeating, but that's what sharing does. And sharing, of course, is what the Talbot County Free Library is all about. I went home happy that night. I think many people did.
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