Yesterday, the Benny family traveled south to get as close as we could to the center of the totality path of the 2017 Solar Eclipse. We live within 5 hrs driving distance (actually 3.5, but it took that long due to descending traffic) to one of the NASA sites in Carbondale, IL. However, where we live, we could have seen 92%, but we wouldn’t have been able to take off our glasses, thus it would have been just seeing a large bite of a black apple or viewing yellow skinny crescents. Before hoping into the car just a little past 7 am, we had made attempts last week to get the special glasses. By Thursday night, all of the stores were deplete of their supplies.
Saturday AM we went about 8:30 to the public library, only to be told 20 minutes later that only 100 coveted pairs would be given out that morning, and we were numbers 120-121 in the line. We returned on Sunday morning shortly before 8AM and we waited for 4 hours. It wasn’t too hot while waiting as we employed a sun umbrella, sat in chairs, had plenty of cell minutes, and I carried my preview (and autographed) copy of Ron Chernow’s Grant to read while passing the time.
Earlier this summer, I had attended a library conference and one of the bigger programs featured Ron Chernow speaking. Afterward, I was in line about 80 of 250 who waited for the free copy to be signed by him and ask a question. It’s a great read so far. Recommended when it comes out in October. He’s also a good speaker so when he is interviewed on C-SPAN, do watch him.
We were numbers 33 & 34 in line for those special pairs of lenses. The library staff were wise to give out tickets to those in line in order to ensure those who waited the longest didn’t have to be in the position to compete further with a potential mob rush who just arrived. One guy solicited the ticket holders by offering a $10 bill, but I don’t think anyone relinquished their ticket when leaving the library. As a Democratic Socialist and a member of the public library, I was offended by the solicitor, but I decided it wasn’t worth it to engage him.
My spouse is a bit more serendipitous when it comes to road tripping. However, I made the suggestion that we should target two cities in Southern IL, weigh the pros and cons of each based on info we were gleaning from websites such as Getting Around in Illinois, IDOT, CarbondaleEclipse, and other places. We thought about Sparta, IL, which was slightly west of the NASA site, but we read the roads going SW were congested already. So, we decided upon Harrisburg, IL, population 10,000, and not a terribly wooded area. (see map below of the totality path in Southern IL)
Our WFAN app (traffic) indicated that Interstate-57 (the main artery N-S) was stop and go traffic, thus we opted to go Blue Highways. We took IL state highways all the way to
Cami, seeing some rolling hills (not too hilly, but more shape than the flat town we live in), with lots of fields filled with corn and soy ready to harvest, wild cornflowers dressing the skirts of the 2 lane roads.
At 10:50, Cami, IL (just slightly north of the shadow path) was backed up due to congestion, then continued as we drove slightly southwest to Eldorado, IL, which had a stop light and a couple of stop signs. Ruby was road tripping with us in the hatchback of our Prius, so we had to find a public park with trees if possible when we reached Harrisburg. But when we got to Harrisburg, it seemed to be so crowded. I implored my spouse to go just 6 miles further southwest to Carrier Mills. According to the SolarEclipse2017 site, we would increase our eclipse totality time by 20 seconds to 2m 16 sec. We moseyed, and after driving around, catching a quick pit stop, we finally came upon a small public park on the north side that had all we needed: street parking with shade for the car, open space for viewing the southwest sky, relatively few people, green space to walk Ruby, and a decent port-a-potty on the property. Ruby’s pic illustrates how she’s ready to go for a quick jaunt, but no, during the partial eclipse, we walked her in the shade so not to damage her eyes when glancing upward.
As you see in the photo on the left, there were some clouds and they continued to drift by, in some instances, we couldn’t see the partial eclipse that had commenced 20 minutes earlier.
I’m posting a YT to a video created by someone who went to Carbondale to give you an idea what it was like at that NASA site but bear in mind, our clouds drifted pretty well to the southeast then headed northeast away from us. (Carbondale had more clouds floating by) It gives you a good sense of how dark it got. I recall it got quiet except for one amateur who kept trying to pontificate her knowledge about the total eclipse to come. (She was oblivious to my looking and texting on my phone, indicating I wasn’t interested in engaging, but I chose to let her talk as I poorly typed during my excitement of the build-up.)
At 1:01, the clouds drifted apart and there was a big blue clear sky. It kept getting darker, as though it were approaching twilight.
At 1:20, the crescent was so skinny and orangy-yellow, then it turned white. Then at 1:23 pm, as predicted, the moon slid completely in front of sun, with a twinkle of Venus to the right. Someone popped a firecracker (not into the sky, just on the ground and only two of them), and the few people in park were exclaiming, “WOW-look at that. It is STUNNING. So perfect. Look at the corona! Isn’t it beautiful?”. The chirps got louder as though it were night and it had been so humid and hot, but it cooled about 5 degrees, no wind. The hue of the sky was progressive wing background blue.
Video by someone at Carbondale, IL, followed by my photos onsite.
As my smartphone was not set to take good pictures, you can only see the corona in the right picture. But the video reveals more.
Then the “diamond ring” appeared along with Beez, and the 2 min, 16 min passed so quickly. You can see from the video how the sun disappeared from the left and the crescent reappearing on the right side. But it was perfection, akin to seeing Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” in person at the MoMA for the first time. Art, science, and mother nature all came together as a trifecta.
A brief, inner feeling of bliss came over me when the ecstasy subsided.
When the sky began to refill with the sun’s rays, we put on our glasses. I remained standing close to a nearby pole, just staring upward, enthralled by the waning of that shadow and the big banana on appearing on the left side. My spouse photographed the crescent shadows peeking through the leaves of the shade tree. We almost could not believe what we saw but we knew it was real. We did a “high five” for finding a very good location, unmolested by crowds.
Neil Young’s (but A cappella’s cover) “After the Gold Rush” played in my head afterwards, at least until we packed up 40 minutes later, and trekked back northward to Central IL. Ruby was ready to go home.
En route we went through a rain storm, and once on the other side away from it, appeared a rainbow.
An amazing excursion, filled with wonder.
For those who prefer the original, YT of Neil Young performing “After the Gold Rush”, but now the words should be “in the 21st century”.