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Eclipse Mania: Let’s Do It Again

Wed, 04/10/2024 - 13:02


When was the last time you gathered with a crowd of neighbors and strangers, outdoors, to experience some special event? Did you unfold a beach chair and coat your nose with Coppertone to sit in the Florida sunshine and watch Apollo 11 launch from Cape Kennedy in 1969? Did you stand all weekend in the mud and rain at Woodstock? Were you there when a million protesters came to the Great Lawn in Central Park on an unforgettable Saturday to protest the nuclear arms race?

Americans, by and large, don’t get together out in the elements much anymore.

Villagers no longer meet in the fields in late summer to bring in the hay. There are no more community barn-raisings, no more monthly barn dances under the moonlight. And that, perhaps, is what gave Monday’s solar eclipse such a buzzy energy of fun and, well, specialness.

As documented in “Bowling Alone” by Robert D. Putnam, not only have most traditional group activities, from nine-pin leagues to boxcar races to Toastmasters roasts, fallen largely by the wayside due to the onward march of entertainment media (first radio, then television, then iPads and the Oculus), but all of Western civilization has –- lock, stock, and barrel — moved indoors apace. Going outside, for the average American, requires an event. At minimum an organized trail hike or, if you’re lucky and have kids who participate in Little League, a nail-biter of a game on the old diamond at the town park.

On Monday, we experienced something that’s truly lacking in our lives: a mass outdoor gathering. Excited crowds gathered all over the South Fork, from the rooftop of the Sag Harbor Cinema to the gardens at the LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, from the grounds of the South Fork Natural History Museum to the lawn of the East Hampton Library, where the throng of people and cars was so great that the police had to send traffic control. Nearly 50,000 flocked to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, according to NBC News. Visitors from as far as the United Kingdom and Ontario, Canada, jetted to Missouri and gathered on the playing fields of the Cape Girardeau Sportsplex. At Walt’s Diner in the Adirondacks hamlet of Old Forge, they started serving blueberry pancakes to skywatchers at 6 a.m., according to the Observer-Dispatch.

We can’t engineer an extra eclipse or Mars landing — at least anytime soon. There won’t be another celestial event of such drama again until 2044. So we’ll have to find other reasons to create an event out of being outdoors and we’ll have to make our participation a conscious choice. Shall we?

We’re nominating, for the next consciously prioritized together-with-a-crowd-outside event, the No-Fling Spring series of litter pickups organized by the East Hampton Litter Action Committee.  No-Fling Spring debuted last year and runs this year from April 20 to May 18. It’s not a complicated idea: You get together with likeminded nature-niks at one of 10 Monday or Sunday-morning trash pickups, with meeting points from West Lake Drive in Montauk to the Beach Hut at Asparagus Beach to Wainscott village. Or, if the dates don’t suit or you’d like to make more of a party out of it, you are invited by the committee to gather every household on the street — or your pre-K classroom, your prayer circle, your garage band –- and you D.I.Y. it. Provide everyone with a garbage bag and rubber gloves from that Covid-19-era box at the back of the medicine cabinet, and ask the grown-ups to bring bagels or a hash-brown casserole for a community brunch, after the good deed. Americans don’t host nearly enough community potlucks anymore, either. Let’s do that.

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