Eclipse Journal 2: August 21

I probably am not going to be able to hide the fact that I’m writing this story about the August eclipse seven months later, in the midst of a February snow system. Very well. Let me just cop to that fact, and my need to put some interesting “cornerstone copy” on my site that’s a little less than five years old.

Eclipse Day Wakeup

From our campground in DuQuoin to out viewing site in Murphysboro. Just a few seconds less than maximum totality further south and east.
I believe I had set the alarm on my phone for about 7 am on Monday. But I probably didn’t need to bother. I was getting perhaps an hour of sleep at a time. Sean tried to sleep sitting outside in the muggy night, even though he was being bugged by mosquitoes and whatever other insects are out at that place and time.

In short order we were able to deflate the air mattress, return the extension cord to the fine people who loaned it to us, and pack up the car. We were only 20 miles from our day’s destination, but again, we had no idea what to expect as far as traffic, or availability of services — honest — so we took off early and planned to hit breakfast when we got to Murphysboro. There was a quiet in passing through small towns where everyone was either at home, work or school. It was easy to think that they were deserted, when in fact they were simply going about their regular business. Instead of an expected surge of tourists, we “motored stately” into Murphysboro and navigated the commercial streets north of town to find Big Muddy Brewing. From the side street, it looked like any other commercial building in a rural area, one that could house an equipment dealership, or cable TV installation. But a sign showed that we were where we wanted to be, not to mention a small grain silo for a couple of tons of two-row malt. There were only a few cars in front, but already a couple of campers in the lot in back, next to a field.

I had called to ask if Big Muddy had accommodations, and they said there would be no running water or toilets overnight, so they had suggested that only trailers should come the day before.

I poked my head in the door to ask, “Hey you guys need any more help setting up?” Assured that they had everything already in hand, we got back in the car to finally grub some breakfast.

We will be closed for the eclipse…

We came back to a McDonald’s we had spotted on the way in, sharing a lot with a Kroger supermarket. Here we finally saw the first indication that this would not be an ordinary day:

McDonald's Murphysboro.
Sign at McDonald’s Murphysboro, closing for the Eclipse. Photo by Mark McDermott

We had the basic breakfast platters, I had more coffee. I flipped through some of the local papers to see if there was any late-breaking eclipse event we’d want to detour to. With a few more hours remaining, we slipped over to Kroger in case we needed supplies. I, of course, wanted to see if there might be any local beers I could pick up, but, perhaps not surprisingly, it was the same old BudMillerCoorsLightLiteLight. Not even some local Big Muddy brews.

It’s getting toward 10 AM when we get back to Big Muddy. The crowd is growing a little more, and the temperature and humidity are growing, too. Luckily, the brewery has a big, air conditioned tasting room among its fermentation tanks. Sean and I sit at one of the tables with one of the brewery’s board games when… The phone rings…

It’s my wife… “Um, do you have the camera?” Of course I do. “I have the flash card. I left it in my computer.” I checked my camera. The slot for the flash card is empty. I’d gotten a few photos so far because at least it has some internal memory. But not enough if I’d wanted to shoot a lot of photos, or record a video. So we rushed back to the car and returned to Kroger.

Guess what?

Kroger had no flash drives. Now, I’m not talking about some specialized piece of computer equipment. This is just an SD card, usually hanging in blister packs on the racks that used to hold camera film. But nothing. Really? At least they don’t still sell film or VHS tapes. I managed to swallow my panic at maybe being unable to document the first-time-in-a-lifetime event. At least I’d still be able to SEE it (figuratively speaking). But then I asked for directions to the nearest Walgreens. Surely there’d be one in town. And surely they’d have flash drives. Walgreens turned out to be on the other end of town, but on the same state highway where Kroger was. We got to the door and saw a sign similar to the one at McDonald’s:

Customers! We will be closed from 1:105PM - 1:30PM so our team can see the eclipse.
Walgreens sign in Murphysboro, IL Photo: Mark McDermott

Well, we still had plenty of time. And it was kind of nice to see that people who had to work today would get outside. We found a nice, large capacity SD card (which now holds hundreds of hi-res photos for a fraction of the cost of many rolls of color film). Back to Big Muddy we go!

We finally settle down in the deliciously cool tasting area. I noticed that Big Muddy has six fermenters in the public area of the brewery. Each has a portrait of Moe, Larry, Curly, then Shemp, Joe Besser, and Curly Joe. I wonder, if they get more fermenters, will they be able to get photos of Emil Sitka? Vernon Dent? Ted Healy? Or the lovely Christine McIntyre? Just an hour, now, from the first nibble out of the sun, I can now have a beer. Sure, this counts as day drinking, even morning drinking, but I wanted to get in the Eclipse special they and every other brewer in the area has put out. The Big Muddy special was called “Dark Noon,” a Russian Imperial stout aged for six months in Bourbon barrels. They had already sold out of bottles by 10 am, but it was still there on draft. It had a bit of thick motor oil mouthfeel, but was quite smooth and mellow.

After 11:30, the eclipse had started. The sky was blue, with just a few fluffy clouds skirting the horizon. I think we lucked out here. I later heard it was overcast in Chicago. My cousin from California had come out to Iowa, then drove to Missouri, and her view was clouded over as well. Sean and I could soon see the slight bite out of the sun through our eclipse glasses. We sat outside of the brewery in our folding cars by the car.

By the start of the event, there were maybe 40 cars and campers here all together, a far cry from the 40,000 set for Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. It was a very informal, fun kind of event. The back of the brewery is a grassy area surrounded by bean fields, and just to the east in the beans there were also a few beehives. They sell their own honey at Big Muddy, and no doubt have the occasional honey beer.

It took about an hour and a half to get from the first nibble of the moon to totality. A delicious time of discovery. We have seen partial solar eclipses before, and some total lunar eclipses. But this time we are loaded with proper equipment, with glasses instead of a mere pinhole.

12:40: I started “Dark Side of the Moon” on my car stereo. The folks who’ve set up next to me with a tarp and a telescope say they appreciate some musical accompaniment. Hope I don’t drain my battery. This beats playing it with the Wizard of Oz any day! 1:13 pm. It is now noticeably darker. There is just a sliver of the sun left. Still no way to take a decent photo, even trying to use the eclipse glasses as a filter. The eclipse hits at 1:20, just a minute before Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” starts. I tried to get the sun’s corona in a photo, and actually got a bit of a ring. This was clearly a sight not to be missed. An event best experienced with one’s own two eyes. Shielded by glasses.

Those two minutes of eclipse totality  can become confusing. I’m swiveling my neck, just trying to take it all in. I’m trying to switch between still photos and movies on my camera. The sky above is dark, as most of us take a few moments to safely squint at the sun’s corona without scorching our corneas. Then, perhaps, I look around and notice a pink sky all around the horizon, where it’s still daylight, or something like sunset. We strain to hear the sounds of crickets or other night time creatures. But standing next to my car, I just hear Pink Floyds’ “Eclipse,” hitting just at total darkness. I almost feel like running along the path of the eclipse, to try and make last just a few seconds longer.

And then the day comes back.

And then it’s over. The sun comes back. animals that are active during the day start making noises again. We’ve all be making noises, too; hooting and cheering. A few high fives are exchanged among those who shared this rare event. There’s not much else to do around here. We had snagged a couple of sandwiches from someone who had set up a grill in the back yard. I was drinking water and peeing to filter the beer out of my system, though I had cut myself off two hours before. We slowly pulled the car into the line of cars and campers already headed out, and began our journey home.

One that would take over 13 hours.

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