Dirtman and Dillard on Signs of the Apocalypse

5 Min read



1 Essay rec




“And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;” Revelation 6:12


Earthquake and eclipse may be signs of the end of times, the apocalypse–the Greek word for revelation. For both an earthquake and an eclipse to occur in the course of a week, after a deluge of rain and flooding in the area, it is easy to lose your moorings.

The body knows its place: asleep on a foam mattress, rising in an elevator, shuffling along Elm Street with its boutique windows and coffee shops. The mind makes calculations in stride: yes, cars there, parked so. Traffic light at the end of the row of stores, kitty corner to the train, which is moving, the horn thundering in the air. Hands to the ears. The rumble of wheels on the track. The red and white arm drops, the flashing red lights and bells. Step back!

Cues of danger wake me from the fog, of thought, of worry, of vapid and vacuous text messages.

The reaction to trains or alarms even when there’s risk is rote, awareness on autopilot.

UNTIL last Friday.


I am sitting at my desk, a wood farm table strewn with papers and books, at work, reading and taking notes. The floorboards and walls tremble. Shake.


I SAY AGAIN. The walls and floors are moving. OVER.

A fiction this is not.

The walls and floors are sinuous, a subtle reverberating in a series of vibrations, in wavelengths. The TreeHouse is two floors above ground at the front of the house and slopes down to three floors in the rear.

Not right. Cannot be.

Fully five seconds. I place my hands flat on the desk, scan the windows. Backhoe? Bull dozers, dump trucks? The construction site next door is beyond the creek and the trees.

That heavy equipment, is it on my property? The dogs walk in a circle, acting weird, 15 seconds.

Then, it stops. My dancing house is still.  

Local news guy says it’s a 4.8 earthquake. HUH.

Give it a moment. What is astonishingly clear is that we are all just visitors here on earth, in this space of time.

My house is a mere bit of bricks and sticks.


Dirtman on the Earthquake


Dirt is the nickname West Point cadets give to the mandatory class, Physical Geography. Think earth science, geomorphology and the like – land formations, rocks, dirt. The class instructor, whose social media handle is Dirtman, explains the earthquake.

Why did we have an Earthquake over 1K miles from a tectonic plate?


Learn from LTC Rich Knox [Dirtman] Geography instructor in @usma_gene !


First 👉 Fault lines are more common than you think!


Second 👉 While unusual, since most earthquakes DO occur on plate boundaries or near ‘hotspots’ like Hawaii, they do occasionally occur on faults that are NOT along plate boundaries.  Examples include the 2011 5.8 magnitude quake in Louisa County, Virginia, and the 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquakes (7.2-8.2 magnitude) in the central Mississippi Valley (which are considered two of the most powerful quakes in US history), that extensively altered the local topography, including the path of the Mississippi River!

USMA Academic Dean’s Instagram Post from the ‘Dirtman


Monday I set up on the front lawn, ready for the eclipse. The house is not in the path of totality. Residents make do with 91% eclipse of the sun at its peak, but I’m with Annie Dillard. The writer compares the partial eclipse to kissing a man versus marrying him.

I’m not sure. I haven’t witnessed a total eclipse. But this is my second partial, a redux from August 21, 2017 when I sat in the same place, with a different dog, back when my children were children.


August 21, 2017 eclipse during the Belle Epoch (our dog’s name) when our boxer roamed the yard

GEEK OUT! I can hear Chic and the music.

Link to Official Video Clip

One, two
Ah, GEEK out!
Le GEEK, c’est chic
GEEK out!
Ah, GEEK out!


Have you heard about the new dance craze?
Listen to us, I’m sure you’ll be amazed
Big fun to be had by everyone
It’s up to you, it surely can be done

Parody of Le Freak by Chic


This eclipse lasts 2 hours and 25 minutes, with obscuration commencing locally at 2:11 pm. Peak coverage occurs at 3:26 pm. Chairs are set up, with cooler, clipboard.

The light dims, the color of my house a spectral gray. The most noticable change outside the waning daylight is the drop in temperature. It gets cool, cooler, chilly. I put on my vest and the dog shivers, huddling by my husband’s legs.

2024 redux: Glasses, the same. People, the same, sans children. Dogs, different. Shirt, unphased.


April 8, 2024 eclipse with Buster and Simba

My friend Jeff sent me Annie Dillard’s essay titled, Total Eclipse. He wrote, “If you know about Annie Dillard, I am preaching to the choir. If you do not, I am adding something immeasurable to your reading life. Worth the risk.”


Dillard on the Eclipse


Dillard has the final say, because she marries the man. That is, she treks across the Cascades, braves the avalanche at the pass, to arrive in Yakima valley so she can witness the total eclipse. For those who missed it, here is an excerpt from her dispatch.

****** SPOILER ALERT ******

The deepest, and most terrifying, was this: I have said that I heard screams. (I have since read that screaming, with hysteria, is a common reaction even to expected total eclipses.) People on all the hillsides, including, I think, myself, screamed when the black body of the moon detached from the sky and rolled over the sun. But something else was happening at that same instant, and it was this, I believe, which made us scream.

The second before the sun went out we saw a wall of dark shadow come speeding at us. We no sooner saw it than it was upon us, like thunder. It roared up the valley. It slammed our hill and knocked us out. It was the monstrous swift shadow cone of the moon. I have since read that this wave of shadow moves 1,800 miles an hour. Language can give no sense of this sort of speed – 1,800 miles an hour. It was 195 miles wide. No end was in sight – you saw only the edge. It rolled at you across the land at 1,800 miles an hour, hauling darkness like plague behind it. Seeing it, and knowing it was coming straight for you, was like feeling a slug of anesthetic shoot up your arm. If you think very fast, you may have time to think, “Soon it will hit my brain.” You can feel the deadness race up your arm; you can feel the appalling, inhuman speed of your own blood. We saw the wall of shadow coming, and screamed before it hit.

Annie Dillard’s “Total Eclipse” from Section IV



*Annie Dillard. “Total Eclipse.” From Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters. 1982. LINK to full text of essay in PDF. My friend, Kate, read the essay and she was curious about the quote above. She traveled to her childhood home in Buffalo to join family for the cosmic event. Was the total eclipse like Dillard’s description? I’ll have to ask.

*Types of Solar Eclipses.

Solar eclipses occur when the Sun, the Moon, and Earth line up, either fully or partially. Depending on how they align, eclipses provide a unique, exciting view of either the Sun or the Moon.

A solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, casting a shadow on Earth that either fully or partially blocks the Sun’s light in some areas. This only happens occasionally, because the Moon doesn’t orbit in the exact same plane as the Sun and Earth do. The time when they are aligned is known as eclipse season, which happens twice a year.

Source: https://science.nasa.gov/eclipses/types/
Three side-by-side images show (from left to right) a total solar eclipse, an annular solar eclipse, and a partial solar eclipse.

From left to right, these images show a total solar eclipse, annular solar eclipse, and partial solar eclipse. A hybrid eclipse appears as either a total or an annular eclipse (the left and middle images), depending on the observer’s location.

Credit: Total eclipse (left): NASA/MSFC/Joseph Matus; annular eclipse (center): NASA/Bill Dunford; partial eclipse (right): NASA/Bill Ingalls



Apr 11, 2024


About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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