1. Well, Monday was probably the coolest day of my life thus far. I took the day off work to venture south to the path of totality for the eclipse, and let me tell you, best use of PTO EVER. I hope you’re not tired of eclipse stories, because this whole post is going to be about just that.
2. While Carbondale was definitely the place to be for the eclipse, my eclipse-viewing group wasn’t especially interested in being in a gigantic crowd (and the consequential gigantic traffic jams) for the occasion. Even though we decided months ago to take the day off to see the eclipse, we didn’t nail down any specifics until last Friday, when the person heading up the trip looked at a map of the totality and picked St. Clair, MO as our viewing location, due to its apparent smallness and relative ease of accessibility. St. Clair, population 4,400 + change, was pretty darn excited that this major event was taking place in their little town, and went all out to celebrate. They had the most helpful website of all time dedicated entirely to all the festivities taking place for the eclipse, and all of the website’s excitement definitely rubbed off on me when I read through it on Friday. I could not wait for Monday.
In an attempt to avoid spending our entire lives in the car on Monday, we left on Sunday night, spent the night in Springfield, then finished our journey to St. Clair on Monday morning. Everyone predicted horrific traffic, so we expected horrific traffic, but ended up getting to St. Clair without any delays at all. We stopped at the local grocery store to pick up lunch (the store was going to be closed for 20 minutes in the afternoon during the totality – small towns, man. I love them.), and the cashiers were comparing how many customers they had already seen that day and warning us about the “traffic” in town, which amounted to your average stop light traffic in Chicago. We arrived at Evergreen Park 15 minutes or so before the eclipse began and settled in! The National Weather Service that morning had said there could be about 50% cloud cover in St. Clair, but there were blue skies above us, and it looked like we wouldn’t have to deal with any obstruction for the duration of the eclipse.
The beginning of the eclipse really didn’t seem like much of anything. Every 10 minutes or so, I’d get up, look at the sun through my eclipse glasses, and then go back to my spot in the shade. It was HOT in St. Clair on Monday, and I had very little interest in spending any more time than necessary in the sun. After several tries, I finally perfected (well, “perfected.” “Figured out how to semi-effectively do it,” is more accurate) the art of taking pictures of the eclipse with my phone through my glasses. Totality began at 1:15 p.m., and probably around 12:50 or so, I started to notice that it seemed less bright outside. It certainly didn’t seem dark by any means, but it just seemed…not normal, kind of like when you walk inside after being out in the sun and the room just seems a little darker than normal while your pupils adjust, or like when you turn on the lights in a room and a bulb has burned out, so it seems slightly darker. It was so subtle that I don’t think I would’ve even really noticed it if I hadn’t known what was coming.
I kept making trips out to the full sun from my chair in the shade, and at some point after 1:00, realized that standing in the sun no longer felt hot. Considering that it was over 90 degrees when we arrived and the first thing I said upon getting out of the car was, “Why does this have to be in AUGUST?!” that was a pretty big change. I had been staying out of the sun both for heat purposes and for avoiding-sunburn-without-putting-on-sunscreen purposes, and wondered if the sun being so blocked by the moon meant that I could stand in the sun without getting burned as quickly as usual (I have no idea – I haven’t looked this up). Since the sun was tolerable, I stayed put while we got closer and closer to 1:15, moving only when the group next to mine commented on the shadows on the sidewalk:
Those crescents are all due to how far along the eclipse was at this point, similar to the pinhole viewer or what you would’ve seen if you had cast a shadow with a colander on Monday. By this point of the eclipse, the percentage of the sun covered was so great that you didn’t need something so small as a pinhole to cast this kind of shadow: the trees worked just fine for that purpose.
Right on time (obviously), the moon passed fully in front of the sun and we experienced totality. It, truly, was one of, if not the, most incredible things I’ve experienced in my life up to this point. The dimness I mentioned earlier got more intense, the streetlights turned on, and then suddenly it was like twilight in the middle of the afternoon.
I didn’t notice if nighttime bugs started chirping or daytime animals fell quiet, because everyone in Evergreen Park (including me) was making way too much noise to notice. It was just phenomenal. I really didn’t understand just what the darkness would be like until it happened, and it was mindblowing. I think what surprised me the most was that I could see planets!
(Look in the middle of the picture, about one inch from the right. Tiny white speck behind the wispy clouds is a planet.)
My astronomical identification skills begin and end with Orion’s belt and the Big Dipper, so I really don’t know what planets I was seeing, but if you want to trust the guy a few feet away from my group, this was Venus (same white speck as above):
And this was Mercury (tiny white speck about half an inch to the left of the sun, near where 9 or 10 would be on a clock):
Honestly, I don’t really care what they were. I could see them at 1:16 p.m., and that was cool enough for me.
Speaking of which, to emphasize just how dark it got, here’s a picture I took at 1:14 p.m., one minute before totality:
And here’s one I took at 1:16 p.m.:
I brought my SLR to use during the totality (I didn’t get a solar filter to put on my lens, so I couldn’t use it during partiality), and oh man, WORTH IT. My pictures of the totality don’t really do justice to what I could see in real life, but my camera ended up functioning basically like a telescope, making it even easier to see the sun and moon themselves, even if I couldn’t get a picture that accurately represents what I saw.
The totality ended at 1:18, and coming out of it was also nuts, like experiencing an immediate and total sunrise in the space of a less than a minute. Suddenly it was mid-afternoon again, and everyone began packing up their things to head out of town. Obviously I’m perfectly aware that the eclipse doesn’t have feelings, but I did feel bad for it that no one cared about the second half! Haha. We stuck around for another 30 minutes or so, but by that point it had started to get hot again, so we piled in the car and headed home.
3. Heading home. Ugh. While people trickled in for the start of the eclipse, everyone wanted to leave at the same time and traffic was bonkers. Google initially predicted that it would take about five hours and 15 minutes to get back to Chicago; it ended up taking seven hours and 15 minutes. 😐 Add on the two hours of driving between Springfield and St. Clair that morning, and that’s nine hours in the car for one day (though I did read an article in the Trib that quoted someone else who had gone to St. Clair, and it took them more like 12 hours to get home, so I guess I shouldn’t complain). Needless to say, my step count on Monday was a joke. But all of the traffic and lack of physical activity was one bajaziliion percent worth it. I am so, so glad I got to see it in its totality, and I’m already excited for April 8, 2024 to see it happen again.
4. Also, bonus fourth thing: can you IMAGINE how TERRIFYING an eclipse must’ve been back in the days before there were scientists who could tell you what second it was coming? Like, how scared would you be if you were just going about your day, maybe noticing that it seemed dimmer or cooler outside (like I said, I noticed the dimness because I knew it was coming, and the coolness was only an afterthought–not something I think I would’ve noticed if I had just been going about my daily life outside. It was more like, “Wait, standing in then sun 30 minutes ago was miserable, and now I’m comfortable. That’s now how this usually works.”), and then all of a sudden it looked like sunset for twoish minutes before going back to daylight? I think that would be so scary!
5. And, finally, a bonus fifth thing: I cannot get enough of the eclipse videos. It was apparently cloudy for part of totality in Carbondale, but this video should give you a pretty good idea of what it was like to experience it:
And if you can’t appreciate this clip of Tom Skilling, well, then I don’t know what to tell you.
And in St. Clair (though not Evergreen Park – totality starts around 3:30)
It’s the unity in the reactions that I find particularly cool about all of this, the way everyone responds with the same awe and wonder at this incredible phenomenon. It was such a human moment, this visceral reaction to seeing something happen that defies your understanding of how day and night work, and, as a species that generally seems more interested in defining ourselves by our differences rather than our similarities, I thought it was really, really special to see so many people all feel the same way about something.
Did you see the eclipse?