Night Crawler

"If you were a beam of light traveling at 99.5 percent the speed of light, time will have slowed by half," explains Wilkendorf, "and continue to decrease exponentially, even while your speed seems to increase exponentially, until you feel that you are moving at an infinite rate and the universe has compressed into a single point. Essentially, you would be everywhere at once, experiencing all of existence as infinity and oneness."

According to the space-time continuum, we view the sun as it appeared eight minutes ago and the moon as it appeared a second and a half ago. Despite this, we think the moon will block the sun for two minutes at 4:30 a.m., our time. Folks lounge on a sea of sleeping mats while Ali Akbar Khan College performers present morning ragas. Outside, under the amber glow of the Palace of Fine Arts, fire dancers and drummers celebrate the momentous occasion happening half a world away.

"It's the female principle asserting dominance over the male," explains 22-year-old Shira Nakasis.

"'Eclipse' means 'abandonment' in Greek," says Matthew Brune.
Belly dancers and fire swallowers take the stage inside as a friend calls me from a hilltop in France. Through the static, there is cheering. Several hours later, there is cheering here as well. The sight of the sun's greenish corona is worth applauding, even on video screen.

Two nights later, at Harbin Hot Springs, Jonathan Wilkendorf is fast at work again, explaining the sights amid the Perseid Meteor Shower. Saturn, Jupiter, the Lyra Ring Nebula ... with a nearly constant glimmering shower of meteors, it's easy to forget that Wilkendorf and most of his observers at Harbin are nude. Brilliant green and amber trails chase the meteors across the sky. There are not enough wishes.

As late-night chill settles across the mountain, Wilkendorf burrows into a sleeping bag on the wooden deck beside his telescope, hoping to grab a little sleep before he must return to work in the morning. He doesn't count on it. Only an hour or two passes before someone wakes him with another question. And strangely, Wilkendorf is happy to answer. The newcomer's excitement feeds his own, and he gazes into the endless expanse of space, filled with wonder yet again.

Send comments, quips, and tips to crawler@sfweekly.com.

By Silke Tudor

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