The Great American Eclipse

Eclipse Trekking

A total solar eclipse is one of things I've always wanted to see in person. I grew up in southern Illinois, and being a relative homebody, I knew from the age of five that the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 would be the one. As a kid, I'd occasionally pull out the Audobon astronomy book with a map of upcoming eclipses and wonder what it would be like. I dreamed of hearing the birds fall silent as the skies darkened; the breaking of the August heat as the solar heat rays faded to nothing. My parents occasionally talked of moving, and I gradually realized that my own career would take me away from Illinois by the time the eclipse happened. But deep in my heart, I knew my first eclipse experience would be close to my home. It's hard to step away from an idea that's internalized itself over 20 years.

I moved away to start grad school in the summer of 2016, but I immediately began planning to make it home to my parents' place for the eclipse. Fortunately, the Stony Brook geosciences department provides an extremely flexible work schedule for its graduates, and I was able to take two weeks off to go home for the eclipse. The timing was a little unfortunate - planned fieldwork in Utah before the start of the fall semester meant that I would have to leave for LI the day after the eclipse.

Although I could fly home in a few hours, I decided to drive so that I would have my car available around the house - if Long Island is bad about requiring a car to get anywhere, southern Illinois is even worse. The drive from LI to southern Illinois is 16 hours, which is very close to the limits of my endurance. It's a trip that's pretty long for a single day, but as someone who can drive 12-14 hour stretches, just short enough to make a hotel feel like an expensive stop before making the two or three hour drive down the home stretch.

My plans were almost derailed at the last second. About a week before I left for home, I hit a deer with my car, with the only visible damage being a very large dent on the driver's side of the hood (one which put some visible stress on the latch). I figured it would be cheaper to have it fixed at home than on LI, so I decided to wait to get it checked out until after I got back home. What I didn't realize was that the sheet metal had come into contact with the A/C compressor, creating a small leak that only lost coolant when the car was running. I was setting myself up for a miserable drive through the Midwest.

I left LI around 4 am on a Sunday, hoping that I would be past the NYC and Philly before any weekend traffic began to pick up. As I hit the faster stretches of the interstate just past NYC, I began to notice a worrying hood flutter. It wasn't a lot, but I was worried about whether the latch could stand up for the whole trip. Shortly after reaching Pennsylvania, I pulled into a gas station and bought some duck tape to secure the hood in place. As I pulled back into the interstate, I started feeling puffs of warm air coming out of the A/C. I quickly realized that the A/C was going to be out, so I turned it off and rolled down the windows.

The airflow helped keep the drive from being unbearable, but as the August heat slowly built over the day, the car started feeling soupier and soupier. At about 2pm, I considered stopping for a few hours just to let the worst of the heat pass. I instead decided to get a large cup of ice at a travel center and power through. Between 3 pm and 6 pm, I had to make four stops just to get more water and cool myself off. As cooler evening air started to move in, I managed to regain some sense of comfort behind the wheel, and finally made it to my parents place around 10:30 pm.

I was lucky to have somewhere to crash for the eclipse, since most rooms in the area had been booked for the eclipse years in advance. Campsites were so full that several of the state campsites had people making extra camping spaces in the surrounding woods. Lodging was at such a premium that some locals were turning their front yards into campsites. But one of the beautiful things about southern Illinois is that it somehow managed to swallow these 10s of thousands of people without feeling noticeably more crowded.

Finding the Perfect Spot

While my car was in the shop for repairs, I spent my time putting together a list of locations that might be good for watching the eclipse. I knew I wanted to be somewhere tranquil and away from other people, a selfish conceit to have the whole experience to myself. The last thing I wanted to hear was other people cheering (or shoot fireworks, as I later learned my siblings and parents did), but to immerse myself in the gentle but insistent change in the ecological schedule set by the eclipse.

That said, I was increasingly worried about the opportunity cost of this decision. The mid-August weather in the area is unpredictable, with the hot and sticky summer airmass often fueling afternoon thunderstorms. There is no shortage of parkland in which to lose oneself in southern Illinois, but many of the more accessible scenic locations would probably be playing host to eclipse parties. If I wanted to have somewhere to myself, it would mean hiking my way back into more remote reaches of a park. In doing so, I would lose the ability to make a last-minute decision to bail for clear skies if the weather threatened.

I eventually decided unless the eclipse day weather forecast called for more than pop-up showers, I would risk the weather and hike. My reasoning was something like this - if thunderstorms did get going, the entire area would probably be a wash for viewing, since the anvils would quickly cloud the skies everywhere within driving distance. I also placed a bet that the eclipse would help me out a little bit. The scheduled time of totality - 1:26 pm - was a little early in the day for thunderstorms. I hoped that any towering cumulus still be in the development stage, with the slowly fading sunlight strangling any updrafts before they could get established.

Once I got my car back, I spent a week checking out potential viewing sites in several of the state parks where I lived. Two high-traffic parks, Giant City and Garden of the Gods, were immediately off the list - the former due to its proximity to Makanda, IL on the eclipse centerline, the latter due to the single overlook that was bound to be packed. One early thought was to check out the cliffs at La Rue-Pine Hills State Park. I particularly liked this site because the contrast between the towering limestone cliffs and the swamps at its base always struck me as primeval. However, aside from a parking lot near the park entrance, I had some difficulty finding a break in the trees that opened to the southwest, where totality would occur. I also considered one of my favorite secluded hiking spots, Ox-Lot Cave, but looking at the map, I would be so far from the eclipse line that I would only get a hair over one minute in the Sun's shadow.

Pine Hills
Ox-Lot Cave

I eventually decided on Bell Smith Springs State park, which has a nice little creek that runs around a mile through a small canyon before it turns into an artificial lake. The park is out in the middle of nowhere, and those that did show up to watch the eclipse would probably not stray far from the campground and its nearby swimming hole. A couple of days before the eclipse, I made a short scouting trip and walked along the creek until the lake blocked my path. At the end of the creek, several large sandstone boulders had rolled down into the creek to provide a solid (and flat) platform to set up my equipment. A couple of ducks were swimming on this secluded end of the lake, and I could hear the constant chatter of swallows who had made their homes in the nearby cliffs. Consulting the eclipse map, I was less than a mile north of the centerline, and only a couple about two dozen miles northwest of the point of greatest eclipse. I'd only miss out on a couple seconds on the most the eclipse could give me, weather provided.

My Eclipse Viewing Site

Planning for Astrophotography

The advice to first-time eclipse viewers is to not worry about photos and enjoy the show, but I have been plugging away at low-budget astrophotography (by astrophotography standards) for years. I was not about to stop taking pictures during an event I had been looking forward to for 20 years. My planned eclipse day setup consisted of two cameras, an older Nikon DSLR that was pushing 10 years old would be on a south-facing tripod, collecting a timelapse sequence of the eclipse. I also had a newer Canon DSLR. I planned to use it for nature photography before totality, then about 15 minutes before totality I would hook it up to a star-tracking mount fixed on the Sun.

Although I was still learning my way around the Canon's abilities, I chose to make it the centerpiece of my photography plan because it had more advanced options to automate photo sequences. These sequences were also extremely easy to access - these sequences were tied to a set of three programmable positions on the camera's mode dial. All I would need to do was remove the lens cap before the start, then press the shutter, and then rotate the mode dial by feel before pressing the shutter again. The ease of use made me comfortable with the idea that I could have my cake and eat it too. The only effort on my end would be figuring out what I wanted to do and getting the appropriate sequence programmed into the camera.

Most people opt for either a wide-field photo that shows the shadow covering the entire sky, or extreme close-ups capturing amazing details in the Sun's corona. My photography plan went against that grain, since my inner experimentalist was dying to try to find a different angle on eclipse photography. My location and choice of equipment also put some tight constraints on what I could do. A wide-field photo was out, since most of the horizon would not be visible from my tree-lined site. My telephoto wasn't capable enough to get truly amazing detail in the corona - I figured more well-funded photographers than I would get much better results. So I decided to try something in between - a medium-field photo trying to get a ~5x10 degree view of the sky centered on the Sun.

This wasn't a completely random choice. I had seen very few photos of an eclipse to see stars in the vicinity of the Sun, even though I had heard that eclipses got dark enough to see some of the brighter stars in the sky. I figured with some work (especially my history of trying to grab photos of stars and comets low in the sunset), I had a good chance at making a decent HDR photo with stars in it. I also half-remembered some attempts to image sungrazing comets in the low light of the eclipse, and I thought this would be a good chance to try my hand at a search after the fact. Although the two minutes I had in the Moon's shadow wouldn't be enough to actually spot movement (and actually report a discovery), I thought it would be cool to spot something just beyond the watchful eye of the SOHO spacecraft.

I settled on the following setup to achieve this goal. The 5x10 degree field of view required a focal length of 85 mm with my adjustable telephoto lens. I decided to keep the lens fixed at this focal length throughout the entire imaging sequence. Unfortunately, this would mean losing out on the best-possible photos of the diamond ring effect, but I thought trying to change the focal length would be too much of a distraction. The last thing I wanted to do was to spend totality fiddling to get the zoom right. Changing the zoom would also bring the risk of accidentally knocking the camera out of focus, since I would be using manual focus to avoid problems with autofocus in low light conditions.

The first sequence would grab a time-lapse of the diamond ring effect entering totality. This sequence consisted of 15 frames taken at one-second intervals, using and exposure length of 1/1000s at f/10 ISO 160. Shortly after the start of totality, I would rotate the mode dial clockwise to switch to an HDR sequence. This sequence stepped between exposures of 1/2500, 1/500, 1/100, 1/20, 1/4, 1.3, and 6s exposures at f/6.3 ISO 640. Then, shortly before the end of totality, I would rotate the mode dial clockwise again to switch back to a copy of the time-lapse second to capture the diamond ring at the end of totality. With luck, I would spend only need to spend at most a few seconds looking away from the sky.

The HDR sequence involved a bit of guesswork. The programmable HDR sequences were limited to six photos separated by up to three exposure values. I wanted the high end to take the longest exposure possible. However, I wanted to minimize the jumps in exposure value between images, since too large a jump would make HDR processing difficult later on. I eventually settled on jumps of 2 1/3 EV between photos - any smaller and my options for long exposures quickly disappeared without risking an overexposure of the inner corona.

I spent so long dithering on what I wanted to do that I didn't sit down to figure out the programming until the night before the eclipse. I'll admit that procrastination also had a little to do with waiting so long. Putting it off this long was a bad idea, but I think I was so excited and nervous about the coming events that I don't think I would have been sleeping anyway. Sometime around 11 pm, I got the test sequences working properly, and I added in another 45 minutes of practice switching between the different sequences and testing my timers to build the muscle memory and shake out any bugs that might be lurking in the programming.

Eclipse Day

I wasn't sure what the traffic situation would be like on Eclipse Day. Although the number of people seemed manageable, the proximity of my site to the eclipse centerline had me worried traffic might overwhelm the rural road network. The parking lot at Bell Smith Springs is also relatively small, and I suspected it might fill up early. I decided to leave my house around 5:30 am, and make the 45 minute drive to Bell Smith Springs before people started waking up. I made my final check to make sure everything was in my duffel bag of eclipse gear. It included a folding lawn chair, my camera bags, two camera tripods, the star tracker, a pair of binoculars, sunscreen, a 5-liter water bottle to help beat the August heat, a few snacks, and a folder holding my eclipse glasses and some loose leaf paper. The paper was in case I decided there was anything particularly interesting I wanted to write about in the moment, but I wasn't really expecting to use it.

The duffel proved pretty heavy (close to 60lbs [30kg]) and unwieldy. The strap cut pretty hard into my shoulder, and the rocking motion of the bag as I walked had the tendency to drag it off my shoulder, so I would need to stop every few minutes to readjust. Unfortunately I didn't really have an alternative way to haul gear, and I felt like there wasn't much I could jettison. I figured the hike was short enough that I could deal with it.

Sunrise brought with it some tranquil views, but also made me a little nervous about the weather. It was already pushing 80F (25C), and the air felt unusually damp even by early morning standards. The sky also looked greasy, which usually was a sign that signaled afternoon thunderstorms. I also noticed some light cirrus floating by, which might signal some approaching disturbance that might push thunderstorms along despite the sunlight beginning to fade in the late morning.

As I pulled up to Bell Smith Springs I began to worry about my parking prospects. A small group of people sat around a county police car, taking note of the number of people going in. After a brief chat with them, they said the park was already ~75% of parking capacity, and once it reached 150% they would start redirecting people to keep the park from getting torn up too badly by roadside parking. The main campground was jam-packed, so people searching for a campsite had located disused primitive camping pads that had been slowly reclaimed by nature. It was strange seeing the colorful tents and bumper-to-bumper cars lining this normally quiet stretch of road.

However, passing the main campground, the parked cars rapidly thinned, and only a few cars were parked at the trailhead leading to the canyon and swimming hole. I breathed a sigh of relief, because I had not been relishing the prospect of lugging a 60lb duffel bag an extra mile or two. After I pulled into a spot, I kicked back the seat and dozed for a few minutes before pulling out some snacks for breakfast and drinking a Diet Coke for some caffiene. Once I had woken up a little, I hopped out and started the task of hauling gear to my viewing site.

The first part of the trail is a series of gravel stairs to make the walk down the steep hillside a little easier. The stairs are a little oddly spaced - about two paces long - which meant that the same leg kept doing the lifting on every step. Every now and then I would have to kill my downhill momentum to switch gait to avoid a cramp. The next part of the trail is a stone staircase built into a narrow fissure in the cliff-face. Although large enough to easily fit a person, trying to maneuver the oversized duffel along this stretch was tiresome. But after a few minutes, I had reached the creek, which at this early hour was still deserted.

I took a short breather at the swimming hole, since my gear bag was proving to be more exhausting to carry than I thought. I popped out my folding chair and set up beside the creek. I spent about 45 minutes just enjoying the early morning birdsong and the gentle wisps of mist swirling off the creek. The first group of people I met were a group of college students who had come down from Loyola. A couple of them had done undergrad at Southern Illinois University, and had come to enjoy the eclipse at their old hangout spot with their friends. They had a small inflatable pool trampoline to play with at the swimming hole, and while I chatted with them a couple of them got to work inflating it. They offered me some beer, but knowing the hike ahead I turned them down. A few minutes later people began to trickle in, so I decided it was time to pack up and get a move on.

There really isn't a trail down the creek, and most of the hike involved following a gravel bar in the creek until it stopped, then climbing up the bank and trampling through brush before jumping back down to the next gravel bar. Although this had been a pretty easy task during my scouting trip, Eclipse Day was a lot more humid and the extra weight of my gear bag was making the task excruciating. A walk that had taken 15 minutes during my scouting trip turned out to be closer to an hour with all the extra stuff to haul. I finally reached my viewing site and began to set up my gear. My folding chair and star tracking mount were set up on a large flat boulder laying in the creek. This boulder gave me a lot of room to spread out on dry ground. I then set up my time-lapse tripod on a gravel bar about 20 feet away, which had a relatively clear view of the horizon to the south, and a nice landscape arrangement in the foreground.

I finished getting set up around 10:30 am, so it was then just a matter of watch and wait. The time seemed like it was passing slowly, I suspect due to my excitement. I continued to be a little anxious about the weather, as small puffs of cumulus were dotted the sky here and there. But, I figured unless the skies turned truly threatening before noon, I stood to lose out on most of the experience simply by making a snap panic judgement. I also convinced myself that there wasn't really anywhere to go in the time available - the winding rural backroads severely limited my ability to get away from any clouds. So I settled in for the long wait.

Around 11:15, I heard something crashing through the brush from the direction of the lake. I wondered if it was a deer or mountain lion. I quickly dug out my pocket knife and had it sitting in my lap just in case it was something aggressive. Soon a shirtless man, soaked head-to-toe, emerged from the woods. I asked where he'd come from (there's really nothing but wilderness in that direction), and he said he had camped out near the dam impounding the lake (roughly two miles downstream). To my bemusement, he explained that he'd been bored waiting so he'd decided to swim up to the end of the lake to see what it looked like. At some point the lake became too shallow to swim, but continued to meander through the woods, so he kept following it.

At some point, wading got to be too tiring, so he just climbed up on the bank and walked along the lakeshore. He asked me what was further up the creek, and I replied there was a swimming hole and campground a few hundred feet away. He shrugged and said "Oh, I guess I've made it to the end, then. Nice chatting with ya" before turning around and wandering back into the woods in the direction he came. The trampling eventually faded, and I hope he made it back to his campsite in one piece. The whole encounter, while odd, had been a welcome break from the crushing boredom.

The Eclipse Begins

Although the eclipse began shortly before noon, it wasn't until a little after noon before I could see a small bite starting to appear out of the corner of the Sun through my eclipse glasses. However, my excitement was starting to build and things started to feel like they were moving a little more quickly. As the Sun became half covered, I noticed my weather gamble was paying off - most of the smaller puffs were starting to dissipate, and some of the clouds that had started to tower were quickly losing their vigor. My only concerns were a pair of towers along the southern horizon, which seemed to have some staying power and had the ability to spread an anvil over my spot. I was also worried about anything that might emerge from the trees to my east, but all that ever drifted into view were quickly dissipating cloud banks.

At about 12:30 the light began taking on an odd quality. Everything seems a little sharper somehow, but the lighting was diminished. I noticed that pinhole lights through gaps in the leaves were starting to get a distorted shape, forming fat crescent spotlights on every surface.

The wildlife, too, was beginning to change. I could tell the cliff swallows were getting ready for sunset - they had stopped swooping along the creekbed to hunt insects, and their extended hunting cries had changed into cackles of nesting chatter. The woods, which had been relatively loud with birdsong, began to quiet. The cicada calls switched from their normal daytime cacophony to their more rhythmic evening chatter before they too came to rest. I could hear the crickets start to come out, followed shortly by the low chirps of frogs.

Shortly before 1pm, I decided to make my last rounds for nature photography before finalizing my eclipse setup. At this point the landscape was starting to change by the minute, and the air was becoming noticeably cooler. It was a welcome relief! I quickly found a magical spot, where pinhole lights were falling onto a boulder in an otherwise shaded rock overhang. It felt almost like a petroglyph site, where someone had scrawled crescents over one single rock in particular, yet somehow these crescents were attached to delicate sunbeams filtering through the trees. I wondered if other petroglyph sites were designed to reproduce, however imperfectly, the mystical connection between sky and earth. I spent a good five minutes trying to get a photo that captured the sunbeams to no avail. Seems whether it's something as simple as a drawing or as technologically capable as a digital camera, there's not a good way to capture the dimensionality of mysticism.

By this point, the pinhole crescents were everywhere - even the large blobs of light were beginning to morph into something suggesting a crescent. The light was quickly fading, which was making it difficult to get pictures of the increasingly spectacular landscape. I came across pinhole images of the Sun falling into the murky creek, but trying to capture the crescent beams falling through the murk proved to be impossible.

With about 10 minutes left before totality the lighting began to take on a truly bizzare quality. Areas getting full sunlight weren't much brighter than the shadows. Everything looked like it was under a razor sharp light, but the pinhole crescents shifting around in the gentle breeze made everything look oddly distorted. Everything had a dull orange-red glow to it, as if I were sitting beneath stage lighting. I tried to get a photo of the landscape, but again, it does not truly capture the ethereal scene forming around me.

The final photo I took before transitioning to direct photography of the eclipse was of my shadow, which probably best captures the dull orange glow and distortions of the shadows. Looking at it again I can partially see what was weirding me out about the light - some shadow edges are razor sharp while others are blurry. I assume this is because of the crescent shape of the light source, since the light source is very wide in one direction and very narrow in another.

I quickly set up my camera and had it ready to go about 5 minutes before the eclipse. I continued to watch as the light became stranger and stranger, with the orange glow becoming more prominent and everything continuing to sharpen as it faded from view. At this point the skies had turned a deep blue with a slight purple tint. About 30 seconds before totality, I began to see shadow bands everywhere. Small ones only a few inches across flickered across the rock under me, and looking around I saw large ones that must have been a few feet across rolling across boulders sitting in the creek. The sight was mesmerizing, when suddenly, my phone let out two large chirps and broke me out of my trance. Photography time!

Hands shaking, I immediately dropped the lens cap but didn't bother looking for it. I had a hard time counting, but I could visibly see the diamond ring starting to form, so I triggered my first photogaphic sequence.

It was hard to imagine it getting any darker given how much of the Sun was covered, but as soon as the last drip of sunlight was sucked up behind the Moon the landscape grew truly dark. All of a sudden, I could understand why people were terrified of eclipses. The Sun was a bright ring surrounding a pitch black disk, which suddenly seemed to loom over the landscape. The large wings of the corona unfurled from behind a pitch black disk like a misshapen butterfly. The rest of the sky was a dull blue-purple color, and the thin cirrus cover that was drifting over took on a mother-of-pearl appearance - a soft milky white near the sun, going through all colors of the sunset in every direction. It was a truly ominous sight.

I stared for what felt like minutes, but in reality was only about 10 seconds. A light bulb kicked on in my brain and I remembered to flip to the next sequence. Although I was hoping to take 7 or 8 HDR sequences during the eclipse, I only managed four. The rest of the time I was taking in the landscape. Partway through I noticed a plane cross nearly overhead flying southeast, which must have been one of the NASA research jets flying down the centerline.

I pulled out my binoculars, but it turns out my hands were shaking too much to actually use them effectively. So I put them back down and leaned back in my chair to take in the sight. The thunderstorm towers to the south were starting to darken as they entered eclipse, and it was fascinating to watch them turn a dull gray as the red-purple sky glow intensified behind them. Suddenly, there was another chirp from my phone - totality was almost over. I took in one last sight of the glowing silver disk and looked over to my camera to switch to the last mode. I started the sequence only a couple of seconds before the diamond ring reappeared.

The end of totality was beautful. Unlike the entrance to totality which was a relatively swift descent into darkness, a small spot of sunlight slipped out from behind the moon, almost like a drip hanging on a faucet. The silvery beacon sat there alone for a few seconds, before suddenly a torrent of sunlight flooded over the landscape. Excited, I began to look around for the shadow bands that had so mesmerized me prior to totality. They were there, but not nearly as prominent as they had been before the eclipse. Unlike the ones before the eclipse, which had moved in a single direction, these moved in a chaotic manner, shimmering back and forth. The large bands that had rolled over the landscape were not there.

As the bands began to fade from view, I looked to the thunderstorm turrets to the south, which were now reemerge from the Moon's shadow. The clouds, now in bright sunset colors, stood out against the dim indigo skies behind them. By this point I was completely overwhelmed, and sat shaking from happiness at the experience.

For the next 45 minutes I listened to the wildlife slowly return to an abbreviated afternoon schedule. I noticed the lizards were very quick to return to the rocks to try and rewarm themselves - perhaps some never even left, instead choosing to bask in the residual heat from the rock during totality. I must have spotted seven or eight lizards sitting on the rocks near me.

At this point, I was eager to leave, as the mid-afternoon heat was beginning to return with a vengeance. I was also running a little low on water. I cut short my time-lapse a little early, packed up, and began to hoof it back to the car. If I thought the trip in was rough, I wasn't thinking about the trip back out. The temperature had returned to the low 90s, and the humidity really hadn't gone anywhere throughout the entire experience. It took nearly an hour to haul everything back to the swimming hole. At this point the college students I had met in the morning were packing up, and one offered to carry the folding chair for me. After divvying up our load, we started back up towards the parking lot as a group. We talked about the eclipse, and apparently the shadow bands had been spectacular at the swimming hole, with the bands rolling up and down the cliff both before and after the eclipse.

After a strenous 20 minute uphill walk, we finally made it back to the parking lot. At this point I was exhausted and out of water - probably very close to the point of heat exhaustion. I slumped into the car and put the A/C on full blast - a welcome feeling after sitting outdoors through most of a brutally hot day. At this point, I decided I would drive up to Harrisburg, which probably had the nearest gas station. Once I made it there I hopped out and got some powerade and potato chips. I chatted with the clerks for a bit about the eclipse, although they were a little blase about it.

As I drove back towards Carbondale to meet my parents for dinner, I ran into brief traffic near I-57 in Marion. I was thankful I didn't need to take the interstate north, since the northbound lane was completely bogged down. The eastbound lane of Highway 13 coming into Marion was also the busiest I've ever seen it, with standstill bumper-to-bumper traffic leading five miles or so out of town. I wondered where all these people had been, since the area hadn't seemed that much busier than normal. But I made it home without much of a hitch before going out to dinner. The thunderstorms that had been threatening to the south had exploded, treating us to a spectacular sunset display.

After a heavy barbeque dinner that hit the spot after a day of light snacking, I called it a day and got ready for the long drive back to LI the next day. As much as I would have liked to say I dreamed about fulfilling a lifelong dream that night, I was so exhausted that I fell into a deep dreamless sleep until my alarm clock went off the next morning. But I was electric about having seen the eclipse for months afterwards.

Seeing the 2017 eclipse was a special experience, and even now writing this recollection three years later, I still get shivers of excitement and feel the same ethereal energy from the event when I think back to it., and I'm already looking forward to 2024, when the next eclipse crosses the US. As much as I would like to see the 2024 eclipse from southern Illinois, I don't feel the same need to return home for this one. I feel like the emotional connection between the skies and the land where I grew up is already cemented. Besides, the April weather is rarely good in the Midwestern spring. So I think I will hit the open range of south Texas, where the weather is much more likely to play nice. But where ever it will be, I'm not sure that it will have the same power as it did in 2017.

Written: May 28, 2020