My account of the Total Eclipse of August 21, 2017

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It was very hot. We found a country cemetery (Ingram Hill Cemetery, outside Harrisburg IL) on a hill at the last minute. It had shade trees as well as open spaces, and a beautiful view. The great hills of Shawnee National Forest rose in the distance. A huge storm cloud hovered in the east. We’d been anxious that morning about clouds; the radar showed scattered rainstorms. There were other clouds around the horizon, but over our cemetery was all clear.

The eclipse was in progress by the time we got there. We wouldn’t have guessed; it was bright and hot. My weather app said “feels like 104F.” Just sitting in ____’s non-air-conditioned car was exhausting enough for me to break open my emergency electrolyte drink. We sat under a tree and walked out from time to time to gaze at the eclipse-in-progress with our Schnuck’s mylar-and-cardboard glasses. I pressed mine over my sunglasses and saw a fat crescent gradually get slimmer.

After a while everything looked the same, except I could take off my sunglasses. There was a puzzling, “is it getting dimmer? I can’t tell” period. Then we could tell: it was getting dimmer. Soon the quality of light was similar to late in the day, except it was coming from directly overhead. The shadows weren’t long, as you’d expect. The crescent was very slim now. We marveled at how bright the sun still was in spite of being mostly covered.

My eyes felt confused, like my irises were twitching open and closed trying to find the right level. The light was from overhead, but got dimmer and dimmer. ____ said it was like moonlight, only warmer and brighter.

Then, suddenly, it got dark. Not “very” dark, not night-time dark; just-after-sunset dark. The clouds on the horizon glowed pink and orange. Overhead was dark blue. We couldn’t see any stars or planets, whether because our eyes hadn’t adjusted, or because a mid-day eclipse with the sun at its zenith doesn’t darken the sky enough, we still don’t know. The corona was exactly like the pictures, except brighter. It was white-hot bright. The moon was a black disc. It looked like an eye in the sky.

Per other accounts, I kept saying “oh my god” as I looked around the
darkened landscape with a sunset directly overhead. Listening to myself I sounded like I was having sex for the first time.

Every day I unconsciously (and occasionally consciously) orient myself to the rays of the sun. It’s like sensing gravity: gravity is always “down,” whether you’re consciously paying attention or not. Sunlight is always coming from the sun, its qualities – strength, color, direction – always indicating where the sun is. The eclipse gave every indication the sun was setting, but it was directly overhead. It was wonderfully disorienting, as if gravity itself shifted and we were floating.

Then the shadow passed and it was suddenly brighter again, though very dim for mid-day. We put our eclipse glasses on again and saw the thinnest crescent, but that was enough to change everything back to day. The shadows returned, and soon the regular mid-day chorus of birds and insects did too. We marveled, stunned and delighted and moved, at what we had just seen.

Gradually we felt the temperature rise. We’d barely noticed the oppressive heat subside, until it came back. We chatted with some of the local people who had taken in the eclipse at the cemetery near us. Fortunately no one blared music, and although we weren’t completely alone, we had a lot of space to ourselves.

Then we drove home.

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