Friday, August 25, 2017

Total Eclipse of the Sun

Are you guys still getting over the total eclipse, too? Is it just me?

Y'all, I had been so pent up with excitement over the eclipse that by Sunday afternoon, I'm surprised that Matt didn't just drug me like a dog about to go on a plane trip. Studying the eclipse intensely with the kids for a month (I'll share our unit study with you another time, but we used this as a spine and it was AWESOME!) just got me even more worked up--I've been revved up about this eclipse for a year. Matt got us our hotel room 50 minutes from Carbondale, Illinois, Eclipse Capital, almost a year ago. Heck, I have had our eclipse glasses since MARCH!

Plan A was to leave our house on Sunday, stay the night at our hotel 50 minutes from Carbondale, then drive the next morning to Crab Orchard National Wildlife Preserve, just outside Carbondale's city limits, and watch the eclipse there. Plan B, if Crab Orchard was too busy or the traffic on the highway into Carbondale was too heavy, was to head a little further away and watch the eclipse from Cedar Lake, a reservoir more to the east. Plans C and D, if Carbondale was overcast, were to drive either towards Nashville or St. Joseph, Missouri, until we were free of cloud cover, and then find a suitable spot to watch.

To that end, we left the house on Sunday morning, just in case the traffic was already heavy. Since it wasn't, though, we ended up with plenty of time to spend the afternoon in Evansville, Indiana. We played at a local playground, found a Krispy Kreme so that Syd can continue to live her dreams of eating ALL THE DOUGHNUTS, and then tag-teamed the kids around Angel Mounds, on account of I'm not used to planning vacations that include dogs and I didn't notice that dogs weren't allowed in the archaeological area until after we'd paid our admission:

Three Sisters Garden, with the addition of sunflowers

Here's a partial reconstruction of the wattle and daub stockade that surrounded the community.
This is what the inside of the stockade would have looked like, absent kids trying to look up the Native American's skirt.
This is Mound A, the Central Mound. The chief probably lived on the highest point, with some other community members living on the lower platform.

Even the lower platform is high, especially considering that it was built using basket-fulls of dirt, probably carried by hand.
Here's what the village might have looked like:

I'm always the most fascinated by the artifacts that are uncovered in a particular place. The architecture or other physical features are one thing, but these are items that regular people used as part of their everyday lives.

And look! The perfect complement to the weeks that Syd and I spent studying prehistoric fashion as part of her History of Fashion study!
See the holes drilled into those teeth? It's like the holes that we drilled into shells!

We had an early night at our hotel (why does my quest to order from independent pizza places wherever we stay mostly result in us eating a lot of highly mediocre pizza?), with me checking the radar hourly and fretting over all the traffic reports, and an even earlier morning. The good news is we passed the north-south biscuit and gravy line in our travels, so there was a crock pot of sausage gravy waiting for me, along with cold biscuits, microwaveable cheese "omelets," and bad coffee down in the hotel's breakfast buffet. Every single other person on the planet was also shoving breakfast into their faces and bolting out the door, too--we'd booked our hotel so early that it was a normal price, but the night before, on our way down to the pool, I'd heard the check-in clerk telling some guys that they were full, but she'd heard there were still a couple of rooms at the Fairfield Inn down the road that were going for 900 bucks apiece.

We were on the road by 6:30 am for a 50-minute drive, with little traffic to speak of, and were pulling into an only quarter-filled parking lot at the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Preserve an hour later. There was an air-conditioned visitor center across the lot, with working bathrooms and flushing toilets, and a lovely wooded hike that led to a lovely lake, but honestly, we spent most of the morning like this--

--and like this--

--yep, hanging out in the shade right off of the parking lot. The dog was content, we had plenty of books, and the car was right there whenever we wanted a snack or a drink--it was perfect! The parking lot filled within the hour, and then we were also treated to the sight of cars coming in and circling hopelessly before driving on--ahh, the satisfaction of sitting snugly in our spots in the face of the desperation of others!

Around mid-morning, rangers even came out and closed off the entrance to our lot entirely, so we could move our lawn chairs out of the shade and onto the asphalt, to better watch the show:

Even before you could really tell a difference in the day without your eclipse glasses on, things started to get weird. Just as we'd been told, the dappled light under our tree began showing us the crescent images of the sun:

Just as we'd been told, our shadows on the sidewalk had crisper, sharper edges:
This is because the light is coming from a smaller and smaller point, not diffused as it is when it comes from the entire body of the sun.
The crickets began to sing. The ambient light began to seem oddly dim, but not like sunset, when the light is leaving from the side; this was dimness like a room with the light bulb on low. It grew noticeably colder, as 99% of the photons normally striking us through sunlight were now being deflected. A breeze blew, as the air pressure became affected. We could see that it was visibly darker to our west. And still we watched:

And then there was this:

I was peeping at the sky when the last light left, so I saw the diamond ring with my naked eyes. I turned to make sure the children were watching, and saw Syd still with her eclipse glasses on, so I ripped them off her face--I wasn't even thinking about damaged eyesight; I just wanted her to see that spectacular beam of light for the second that it was visible.

I'm not even going to try to describe the total eclipse, itself, to you. My photo doesn't really look like it, but I haven't seen any photos that do. I can't think of the words to say that would make it clear to you what it was like, if you didn't see it for yourself. Just... it was beautiful. It was the best thing that I've ever seen in my entire life, and yes, I know that I'm supposed to say that my first look at my children is the best thing that I've ever seen, but I was half out of my mind both times I gave birth, completely terrified both times, both times in pain. This was nothing like that. This was just beautiful, just this ephemeral, beautiful thing that had nothing to do with people and our struggles in our little lives, just something that you had to experience right that second for all that you could, because you couldn't rewind the experience to play it again, couldn't watch it on TV later and get the same effect, couldn't come out the next weekend and see it again. It lasted 2 minutes and 40 seconds, all of which are impressed on my memory, and yet when the diamond ring appeared again on the other side of the sun, it felt like surely it hadn't been that long. Surely it had just been a couple of seconds.

As the totality passed, someone began to play The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" from their car stereo, and people were already packing their cars back up. The kids were beaming. My hands were shaking so hard that I had trouble taking a drink of water. We hit ALL the eclipse traffic on the way back that we missed on the way there--we only saw one car crash happen right in front of us, but the drive that had taken 3.5 hours the day before took more like 7+ on the way home, bumper-to-bumper traffic the whole way.

I don't know what mood I'd be in if I didn't know that there's another total solar eclipse coming in seven years, but there is one coming, and I am buoyant. Better yet, Friends, my town is in the path of totality, and we're just the kind of town that I know will turn it into a festival. You can come stay in a tent in my backyard, and I'll haul out the lounge chairs. Syd will decorate us eclipse-themed doughnuts. Will will read and ignore us. And we'll have another powerful encounter that's beyond belief, in just seven years.

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