I'm kind of in a funk and don't feel like writing tonight, but I'm afraid if I put it off, it will be too late. So here goes. 

I have a pretty good track record with witnessing rare celestial events. I had the good fortune to be in Salzburg, Austria in 1999 during the total eclipse there (which I saw from atop a monastery). A few years later, my dad organized a camping excursion to a Boy Scout camp in Kentucky so we could all see the transit of Venus at the crack of dawn (though we were all awakened several hours earlier by a damn whippoorwill - who knew those things were so loud?). And about two years ago we walked to the neighborhood park to see the lunar eclipse and blood moon, letting the kids stay up late, even though it was a school night. 

Of course, the solar eclipse of 2017 was not to be missed. 

We drove to Illinois to see it. Stuart had the forethought to order those special glasses and book a hotel room a few months ago. Our plan was to drive most of the way there Sunday, go somewhere in the path of totality on Monday and hang out all morning, then drive home after the eclipse. 

The plan mostly worked, except for the part where post-eclipse traffic was so unbelievable, so intolerable (like if Chicago rush hour traffic mated with post-Bears game traffic) that after it took over four hours to go less than 80 miles, we got as far as Champaign and stayed the night. Evidently people who went as far as Carbondale had it far worse...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

We stayed the night in Effingham at an establishment I shall not name because it was so crappy. The lady at the desk was incredibly friendly, but our room was disgusting. Everything was damp. The whole building was damp, and there were even soaking wet towels on the floor at the end of the hallway by an air conditioning unit. Stuart had unknowingly booked a smoking room (evidently those still exist in parts of the country), so on top of everything being sort of wet and gross, it was smelly, too. 

Really, though, all we needed was a place to sleep, so it was fine. The next day we drove to Marion, IL, which is a bit north of Carbondale, well within the path of totality, and looked to be potentially less crowded. We found a large public park with lots of shade trees and a disc golf course, and proceeded to sweat away the entire morning. Did I mention there were heat advisories that day? It was awful. We arrived by 9:00 and two minutes after we got out of the car - a full four hours before the eclipse was supposed to happen, mind you - the kids were complaining that their clothes were sticking to them. We tried playing disc golf to pass the time, but we all gave up by the 8th basket (except for Stuart) and spent the rest of the morning sweating in the shade.

The park never got too crowded, though by noon all the parking spots were full. It was a friendly, calm group of people. Some were local, I'm sure, but we heard of couples and families who had driven from Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, even California. There was one couple from Slovenia, even. (Do they know Melania? Nah, prolly not.)

Sock knitting, eclipse watching

The build up to the eclipse happened slowly. It was so hot that we put on the glasses, checked on its progress, then retreated to the shade. This went on for a good 45 minutes. We started to notice that the shade wasn't as distinct, that we could look at the glare of the sun shining on the cars in the parking lot without squinting. Then in the last few minutes before total coverage, it got exciting. Some clouds blocked the sun for a minute. See how it looks like darkness is pouring out one side and light out the other? Yeah. 

There was a guy with an app on his phone that talked to him so he didn't have to look down. He kept everyone updated. Just as he shouted "One minute until totality!" the cloud blew away and we could see the whole thing. For a few seconds, we saw shadow bands on the ground, whirling like the sun was a giant disco ball, and then it got dark. Everyone cheered, the cicadas went bonkers, and the edge of the sky turned an eerie orange. The streetlights in the park flickered on, and we could hear fireworks in the distance. This lasted about 2 and a half minutes before we saw the shadow bands again and it got light. It's amazing the difference between 100% coverage and 99% coverage. 

Not winning any photography awards for this one, but trust me it was cool.

We left soon after, sighing in relief when the air conditioner kicked on in the car, and hoping we would beat the big rush of people driving from Carbondale, which was a bit further south than we were. It didn't quite work out that way. Traffic was crawling, then stop and start, then crawling again. Google maps was a tangle of red lines. Daniel started feeling car sick and had to take a Dramamine and sit in the front. I finished knitting my sock and started another. 

The hotel in Champaign was much nicer (dry and smoke free!) than the one in Effingham. At breakfast yesterday morning we heard that it took some people ELEVEN HOURS to drive there from Carbondale (this would normally be about a 3-hour drive), so as excruciating as our trip felt, it could have been far worse. 

Hours in the car, two nights in hotels, entirely too much take-out pizza, heat advisories, rotten traffic - all for just under 3 minutes of staring at the sky in the middle of the day. Was it worth it? Abso-freaking-lutely. There is just something so delightfully wacky and nerdy about a solar eclipse. It has basically no impact on our lives. It's not bad or good. We can't control it. But it's so rare and ephemeral and beautiful, we had to experience it. Also, for those few minutes, I wasn't thinking about all the things weighing me down and all the anxieties I have about the impending school year. We were just in a park with a bunch of sweaty strangers experiencing this awesome (and I mean that literally) thing.

We're already thinking about 2024.


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