Report from the August 21, 2017 Eclipse


Like many people, I made a journey with the kids to witness the total eclipse of 2017. In my case, a 360mi trip from Chicago south to Carbondale, Illinois. I wasn’t part of the mayhem at SIU, but found myself in a relaxing area about 2 miles east. There were maybe 40-50 other families scattered about watching. It was pretty low-key.

A lot of people have written about the phenomena of watching an eclipse so I won’t really repeat that here. Yes, it was completely stunning and one of the most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed. So, if you’re able to do it, I’d definitely recommend doing it.

A few things will stick in my mind for this event. One was the weather factor. Skies were clear with small scattered clouds up until about 10 minutes to totality. At that point, a large cloud moved in and blocked the sun. Egad! It just parked itself right there, barely in front of the view. Great. Everyone kind of looked around at each other nervously hoping it would break, but no dice. Darkness rushed across the landscape. You could see Jupiter shining in the east. You could see a kind of strange glow going on behind the cloud. The lighting was weird everywhere. Something was happening. View denied! This was the view at one minute before totality:

Then, suddenly, a tiny little notch opened up in the cloud and we witnessed the last 45 seconds of totality, the infamous diamond-ring effect, and the return of the light before the cloud swallowed the sun again. Here is a glimpse (photo with my phone, doesn’t quite capture the beauty, but gives you an idea. We’ll return to photo-taking in a moment).

Yes, it was amazing. The highs and lows of emotion at that point were real–maybe even more intense than if we’d been lucky enough to see the whole eclipse in the clear. It was fleeting–like life itself maybe. Wow!

A funny thing also happened with the kids. Let’s face it, the early stages of the eclipse are not the most exciting thing. I was constantly fielding a stream of questions “has it started yet?” “When will it start?” “I’m bored.” And so forth. The kids spent some time fiddling around on iPads to pass the time. Anyways, totality starts and we’re all standing around looking at the darkened horizon, the strange clouds, Jupiter, and the weird sights. When the cloud parted and we saw the corona through this tiny opening, there was a collective cheer, and my youngest kid took off running in the other direction. I shout at him to come back. At best, we have mere seconds to look at this spectacle. Why is he running off? I later find out he’s running to go get his iPad. WTF? The iPad? Why?!?! To take a picture naturally. Ugh. I really should have thrown that iPad off a cliff in the Canyonlands when I had a chance the week before. I digress, but when I’m 90 years old and half-senile, I sure hope my kid likes hearing that old story about how he ran off to get his iPad during the total eclipse. Because that’s the story I’m going to be telling. A LOT.

Finally, I’m going to remember the EPIC traffic jam that commenced afterwards. I don’t really know what it might feel like to be a raindrop in a flash-flood, but after surviving the return trip to Chicago, I think I’ve now got a much better idea. I think most people would be inclined to whine about it, but I think the traffic itself might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience just like the eclipse. For example, it took nearly 6 hours to drive the first 100 miles home–a time that I’ve actually beat riding my road-bike on a century ride. Imagine cars driving every which way. On every road. In scattered blinding thunderstorms. Out in the middle of farm-fields. Meeting at dark intersections in the middle of nowhere–some evil AI back at the Google Maps headquarters laughing maniacally. Bwahahahaha! Yeah, THAT kind of driving. Oh yeah, and it was almost all minivans. So, really it was more like a 200-mile traffic jam combined with an elementary school kid pickup and the Mad Max movie–which is to say pretty awesome in a strange sort of way. Anyways, I just sort of zoned out and just drove and drove and drove. Made it back home after about 11 hours.

Anyways, would I do this again? You bet.