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Tuesday, April 9, 2024

"The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured"

     "Go to Target, get yourself a pair of glasses," ordered my wife, bustling in the kitchen Monday morning, getting ready to leave for work.
     "So you read my column ...?" I ventured.
     "No," she said. Maybe she heard me in the basement, clattering around. 
     "The next time there's an eclipse, we'll be dead," she explained. "Go to Target and get glasses."
     I don't recall her ever saying something like that, the "next time this happens we'll be dead" formation. I'm not sure I like it.
     Though it is true. The next eclipse in the Chicago area is Sept. 14, 2099. So yes, long dead and forgotten. You too.
I tucked away everything from the 2017
eclipse, including the Saluki-shaped fan.
Except the glasses; I'm not sure why.
     Even as I was writing "Skip the eclipse" column (and yes, I was proud of the little interior rhyme) I could feel my mood shifting. First because I could tell there was something unspoken underneath it. A buried Something Else. And I knew what. I file things, quite methodically, and assumed that I'd tucked the 2017 eclipse stuff away. But couldn't lay my hands on it just yet. I hated buying a new pair of glasses when I still had the old ones., somewhere. Frugal to a fault. 
 I searched drawers, files.
     Screw it. My wife's instructions gave a bit of steel in my spine. I'm good at following directions. Just past 8 a.m. I strolled over to Ace Hardware. No eclipse glasses. So I drove over to Target. No glasses. 
     I was just about resigned to construct some crude viewing device out of a cereal box, when a thought bubbled up that should have occurred to me at the start. I might be solitary, but I am not in fact alone. I emailed three neighbors. Surely they were on top of this who eclipse situation. No response. I headed over the Y to work out before lunch, and driving back down our block, found a knot of neighbors standing in a driveway across the street. I lowered a window. They'd texted me back, and had already gathered three special eclipse glasses and two types of cookies, and their own homemade viewing device, which didn't really work, plus a dog, adding energy. They'd organized the whole thing down to the minute: come back at 1:35 p.m. I told them I would return in ten minutes.
     We tramped over to the public library — in my backyard —  where more Northbrookites had assembled, to view the wonder en masse. We set ourselves up across the field — soccer in summer, ice hockey in winter — because we were going to be joined by one of my neighbor's daughters, a high school senior, and her boyfriend. Maybe we all shared my unspoken tendency to want to be near others but not necessarily in the main scrum. Music was produced — Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse of the Heart," natch, and "You're So Vain" ("You flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia, to see the total eclipse of the sun...") Conversation ensued, though I did not mention Shakespeare's Sonnet 107, which begins, "Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul/Of the wide world dreaming on things to come," and includes a line that almost projects my initial discomfiture onto one of the heavenly bodies involved, "The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured/And the sad augurs mock their own presage."
    That last line means that grim worries are ridiculed by their very direness when "Incertainties now crown themselves assur'd." 
     In other words: don't get stressed. Stuff works out. I saw the eclipse — in a better situation than I could have imagined, at first, with friends, eating homemade macrons. I didn't go blind. "And peace proclaims olives of endless age." Not sure what that means, but it sounds nice.
     As much as I tried to fix in mind the moments I observed the bright orange crescent sun gobbled up by the pitch black moon — this would never happen again, not to me anyway — that wasn't really the memorable part. The eclipse had been so fussed over, culturally, but really didn't seem all that significant, not compared to the pleasant company of my neighbors. There's no marvel in the sky like others showing up, earthbound though we be, the happiness of someone having your back when you think that you're on your own.


  1. I overslept my afternoon nap and I missed the whole thing. Oh well, maybe next time!

  2. I was expecting the sunlight to dim at least a little bit, given it was 94ish% blocked, but it was so bright. Powerful little star we have.

  3. Good to hear. I had a brief thought that it wasn't "cool" but burned a tank of gas to see it totally in Lima, Ohio. Very cool! All the midwestern folks made my day.

  4. I was with you yesterday; in complete agreement. But then a friend, with whom I had a previously arranged lunch date set for 1:00, had a pair of eclipse glasses for me. So at a couple minutes before 2:00, along with some restaurant staff, other people passing by, and people across the street who were standing out on their balconies, we marveled at sight of it, and the sudden change in the wind, and the drop in temperatures. I learned that one of the people on one of the balconies across the street had been videotaping the event since noon. It was a marvelous thing, but certainly not worth a trip to Carbondale. Meanwhile, my daughter stood in line for glasses outside our CPL branch, and watched the eclipse from there, the same place where I watched the 2017 eclipse with a different friend. I agree these rare events are best watched with others.

  5. I was in and out during the big celestial act and although I didn’t really pay any attention to it I did notice the light dimming a bit during it. Birds and others didn’t seem to be excited either. My wife came home from work with pictures on her phone that they had taken through eclipse glasses so in a way I did kinda sorta see it.

  6. I, too enjoyed watching the eclipse with two dear friends in their driveway. Checking on the old sun and her sidekick moon while chatting away. The phenomenon that impressed me most was the other- worldly sensation I got from looking around me at the changing shadows and colors on our clothes and surroundings and the sudden chill, while the sky was as blues as can be!

  7. Cynic that I am, I missed the eclipse yesterday. I did check out photos and videos of past eclipses, which I'm sure equaled or excelled the sights experienced in Northbrook by our genial proprietor and his congenial neighbors. However, I did miss the eclipse, not the cosmic event in the sky, but the human togetherness on the ground, the joy of the crowd celebrating or just experiencing something together, almost like the Wrigley Field joy after a walk-off Cubbie home run. I certainly won't be around for the next solar eclipse in '99 and it is just barely possible that I will be here for the lunar eclipse in '44, but I will make sure to be around for the next coming together of friends and neighbors for whatever event, cosmic or terrestrial, that impels the folk to gather..


  8. At last minute invited a small group for lunch on our deck to view on our property in Forgottonia. 5 of us watched total in 17 in MO. It did get dim and spooky-the birds sang as it got brighter and it warmed up slowly. The sun does a good job keeping us cozy from 93 million miles away-good thing it was dim for 2 minutes! I wish I would've made plans to see total a year or so when I found out about it. But I have seen one so far and who knows maybe I'll travel for another before there's a knock at my door...

  9. I enjoyed the 2017 eclipse far more than I expected. We planned on Carbondale, but it developed a "circus-like feel" in the weeks prior to the event, so we switched plans to Paducah, KY, where my sister had property. We viewed the event - for free - on the lawn of the National Quilt Museum, along with 80-100 eclipse-watchers. They provided just enough comaraderie and community. We left shortly after totality, but our drive home was a disaster. We were south of the totality band, and then tried to come back through southern Illinois where we had to merge with the departing Carbondale crowd. We returned home after midnight. We definitely wanted the eclipse experience this week, but not the driving fiasco of 2017. We chose a spot on the northern edge of totality in Muncie, IN. We were ahead of the Indianapolis crowd as we drove home. The best part of this year's experience was sharing it with the kids and grandkids who joined us. It was our last full eclipse, but their first. Pass it on!

  10. We also shared a pair of eclipse glasses with our 83 year old neighbors in the drive. It was so nice to hear the typically gruff husband exclaim, "Wow! This is so neat!!"

  11. As I mentioned last week, after Mr. S commented about discarding boxes of old stuff, I had to get the house ready for our eclipse guests from out of state. Took almost two weeks to go through everything and to deep-clean. And to get our upper deck (which sits atop the screen porch) ready for eclipse viewing. As it turned out, only one of them made the trip down from Michigan. The rest had various ailments and infirmities that kept them away from the glorious totality of northern Ohio.

    We had some pretty crappy weather, starting in mid-March. After one of the earliest starts to spring I can ever remember, thanks to our extremely mild winter. Flowers and bushes and trees and greenery are already quite visible. .Bu there was also cold and blustery winds and snow, right up until last weekend. The local weather forecasters agonized over their eclipse predictions, and tracked every component of the though April 8th were D-Day. They were really on the spot. Every change or revision in the forecast was breaking news. They sweated out ever-changing cloud cover, and sky cover percentages, and rain chances, temperatures, and the confidence in their prognostications. Was it high, or low? All this, and more...right up until the night before. Can we stay put? Do we travel east? Or west? Will Cleveland's eclipse be a clouded-out flop? It was sheer torture. Imagine what they went through.

    Yesterday dawned rainy and chilly, as predicted. The skies cleared by mid-morning and became a soft blue. The mercury hit the low 70s by lunchtime. Eastern Ohio, western, PA, and upstate NY got the heavy overcast. It could easily have been us, instead of Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Turned out to be far better than anyone had predicted, or imagined. Simply put...we hit the winning combo. Lucked out. Big time.

    Lake Erie's shores were pretty crowded, though not with the six and seven-figure numbers that the event planners had trumpeted for weeks. Maybe all that fearmongering about traffic and gas shortages kept visitors away. Just like Carbondale in '17. Maybe the locals, too, especially the ones who didn't want to be gouged by the outrageous and ballsy profiteers...eighty bucks to park in a downtown lot?'s the American way.

    We had no intention of braving crowded streets, looking for scarce and expensive parking, and dealing with mediocre bands playing unnecessary "eclipse mixes." Or ubiquitous blinking phones and screams and shrieks and endless shouts of "WOO!" Instead, we waited waited patiently on our quiet side street, sitting and chatting and noshing on our upper deck. Felt like summer, too. My fantasy was coming true. Saw neighbors on porches, and in the schoolyard. How lucky we were. Could have easily been 30 and snowing.

    There were more high clouds by eclipse time, but they didn't interfere with viewing. They seemed to make totality a lot darker than Carbondale's had been. And it came on much faster this time, more quickly and darker than any twister (I've seen three of them). Birds quieted down, but there were still a few chirps. Dogs began barking. The streetlights, mercifully, had been turned off, so it got DARK. The temperature dropped sharply, and a chilly north breeze started up.

    Ragged cheers broke out, from all over the neighborhood. Fireworks went off. The orange glow of sunset could be seen in every direction. Stars and planets were faintly visible, but I was too mesmerized by the changing light to find them, let alone to stargaze. And of course, I stared up at what everyone else was looking at.

    Then, suddenly, the light flooded back. Fast. Like a celestial dimmer switch. And the four minutes, that we 'd waited days and weeks and months and years for, were over. All that advance hype and preparation, for four minutes of unreality and otherworldliness...and then it quickly receded into history. Same as so much else in our lives and in our culture. Relief that it's over...but sadness, too. what?

  12. I also burned almost a tankful to travel to Terra Haute, IN (home of Indiana State University)
    Perfect weather, a cool little street fair (it is a college town, after all), and too crowded.


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