Last week I took a break from pushing pixels to have a life, and that life included a trip to Philadelphia. My departure station was Crawfordsville, IN. Since it was a nice day and winds were favorable, I rode the whole 80 miles on my Brompton folding bike, which I’d planned to take to Philly with me anyway. I’d really been neglecting the Brompton this Summer, as my back prefers recumbents. But it’s still a sweet bike, and with frequent breaks for back stretches, I made it without damaging myself.
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.
I have done it, and it is paved. Some parts are terrifying, but at least there’s no gravel. Let’s begin:
1. This is the way cyclists from Urbana get to Kickapoo State Park. County Rd 1700 N is quiet and pleasant and even scenic in places.
2. Continuing to Kickapoo. There’s a bridge here that’s closed to cars, but you can walk your bike over it. You can also walk your velomobile over it, though it’s a bit trickier.
Flying to New York last week I had this amazing view of Central Illinois farmland. It was early in the season and nothing was growing in the fields yet, but they were no longer frozen. The land was unobscured by snow, ice, or crops. I noticed the naked fields were mottled, and it dawned on me I was seeing underground rivers – not unlike veins you can see under the skin – along with the obvious surface rivers. Humans parcel the land along even grid lines, and when I ride my bike through the countryside I tend to think of the land that way too. But seeing these complex, chaotic patterns underneath reminded me just how puny, idiotic, and clueless about nature modern humans really are.
I also got this nice shot of downtown Manhattan from the plane, because the lady in the window seat was asleep:
Manhattan had grown a new tower since I’d seen it last. Or maybe it was just happy to see me.
I really want to visit your country in early to mid October. A festival in Sweden has invited me to speak around October 14-16, and would like to make a stopover before or after or both. I am greatly intrigued by Iceland’s Modern Media Initiative*. Might there be some way I could speak at a university there, or at least meet Icelanders involved with media reform and free speech issues?
*P.S. OK, not just the Modern Media Initiative. I’m also intrigued by your giant thermal pools.
Looks like I will be in Berlin for the Open Knowledge Conference June 30-July 1. If anyone wants me to speak/workshop/do a presentation in Berlin around that time, please contact me ASAP so I can plan my dates while plane tickets are still on sale I will be available July 2nd, going home July 3rd. Super speaking discount if you don’t have to pay for travel! (My usual exorbitant rates are here.)