One Epic Eclipse Trip
Heat and lots of hippies. These were my first impressions of Ferne Clyffe park, the location we had elected to drive eight hours to totality.
I slept most of the way down, my mom, ever the matriarch, driving our SUV overflowing with people across Southern Michigan and through Indiana. After eight hours, we arrived at the fringes of the Bible Belt in Southern Illinois.
Bleary-eyed, I stepped into the sunlight. The park was filled with people. I doubt it had ever seen this much traffic. Everyone looked like they belonged on the fringes of society. Kind of music festival mixed with basement alien enthusiasts. We arrived around 9:30am so the sun was still bright in the sky, beating down on us.
There was a bit of debate over where to make camp. We had originally elected on a place with a perfect view, but the full force of the August sunshine drove us to move to a shadier location. We spread out, blankets on the ground, lawn chairs up, and cooler within easy reach, the lake in front of us. My sixteen year old brother ran off to survey people on where they had come from (the whole world, basically) while the rest of us sat dozing in the heat.
Finally, after a very harrowing journey to the public outhouses, a friend of ours exclaimed that the eclipse had begun. I grabbed my glasses and ran to see, sticking them over my eyes and staring at the sun. The top right corner had the smallest mark on it. Over the next hour, we lounged, read, and chatted, glancing up as the sun slowly disappeared.
Soon, the shadows cast by the leaves were crescents. We shivered collectively. There was no wondering why the ancients felt unnerved by the solar eclipses. It was downright spooky. The light looked like it does before a large thunderstorm, but slightly different. It felt weak, almost like our source of life on this planet was not as strong as we assumed it was.
When all that was left in our glasses was a thin sliver of red light, we gathered together to watch as even that disappeared. Our sun winked out and a cheer went up from the hundreds of people surrounding the lake, echoing through the trees. I took my glasses off, joining the noise.
Behind me was the whole world, cheering in unison. In front of me — the most spectacular and surreal sight I have ever seen. Pictures do not do the eclipse justice. The moon and sun, bound together, appeared to be hovering just a few hundred feet above. Crickets sang around us, the clouds were lit with a weird, dim light. Jupiter and Saturn twinkled in the sky. An owl hooted.
And then a shaft of light hit us. We swiftly put our glasses on as a spotlight fell on the breathless crowd. We clapped and whooped as the sun returned.
With startling swiftness, it was over. People quickly gathered up their belongings and left, the leaves still making tiny crescents on our skin. A small portion stayed behind to explore the park, but that was it. The 2017 solar eclipse was over.