Danahey On the Loose: Finally mooning over the solar eclipse

It’s been just a little more than a year since I went on one of those trips that makes it hard to come back from a vacation – a trip to Ireland where it reached the 80s the last day, and Killiney Hill seemed like California or the Mediterranean.

Facebook reminded me of that trip, in that super creepy way it does, pulling up old posts for my viewing pleasure because of some stalker algorithm or other. Facebook also knows I was looking online to see where cargo shorts were marked down for the end of summer, so ads for them magically appear on my feed, too.

I’m surprised I haven’t been getting gum ads or asked to “like” the Bonnie Tyler page, as the best journey I’ve had this summer was a couple weekends ago to southern Illinois to view the solar eclipse.

Still life with Tom, beer, cigar, eclipse, Pink Floyd t-shirt.

Best fest buddy Tom, his brother and two nephews and I wound up at a place where they did play “Total Eclipse of the Heart” shortly after the moon covered the sun and some stars came out in the middle of the day. They followed that up with Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse.” I’m surprised somebody somewhere didn’t try to make a mashup disco mix of the two.

We were watching the skies from the big patio of Von Jakob Winery and Brewery at the edge of the Shawnee National Forest in the tiny town of Alto Pass. No, there was not an Austrian family singing the above tunes, which would have been ….oops! I am saving that word for later.

The cover charge was only $5, which included those dorky special glasses that allow you to look at the sun and a souvenir pint glass. Craft beers were only $5, wine tastings were only $3, and you could bring your own Ritz Crackers or other snacks with you. Kudos to this place for not gouging tourists.

Hey, I heard on the radio that if you held a Ritz just right to catch the sun’s light, it would project an image of the eclipse onto the sidewalk. We tried that, and it turns out it works.

Eclipse gum, not so much, unless maybe you drill a very small hole through a piece. The gum is a nice ice breaker to share with a crowd, though, and comes in handy on a long drive.

Turns out eclipses seem to bring out the pleasantness in people, too, at least where we were. That we wound up in such a setting was a touch of spontaneous luck. Tom and I headed down there because Tom has family in the Carbondale area, the town that was getting all the eclipse-tical attention for being the place where the eclipse would have its point of longest duration.

Our backup plan was a rooftop in St. Louis, which is only a bad backup plan if it was still the 1990s and you were in a rap beef with somebody who might hold you buy your feet off the side of the building. Plus, if it rained, we could go to the St. Louis Zoo to see if animals acted freaky come eclipse time, even under cloud cover.

Tom’s brother tried to rent a boat and had no luck, so we didn’t get to see how fish behave during an eclipse or if mermaid would appear out of the mist.

Instead, the morning of the big solar event we decided to drive along a wine trail down there. One place we tried wanted $20 a person, so we kept looking and wound up at Von Jakob, which we had initially passed, as it looked like it was closed.

If you haven’t been to a solar eclipse, you owe it to yourself to plan for when one happens again in North America in seven years. I hear Cleveland and Toledo are beautiful in early April.

Where we were, the mood was a combination of summertime relaxing with a giddy sense of anticipation.

We wound up talking to a retiree who had driven up from Arkansas to take photos, an older couple from Buffalo Grove, a family from Green Bay, and a couple sets of people who had setups which allowed you to see the dance the sun and the moon where doing in the sky, seemingly so slow, slow being a very relative term here.

Solar eclipse with lunch and a monitor.

Those glasses look silly, but once you took a look through them, it pretty much hooked you, as you saw the moon and the sun crossing paths.

It looked even more impressive on a set-up a guy had with a computer monitor and a telescope.

That it wasn’t as overcrowded as the hype had been insisting would happen made it all the more mellow, like a good backyard barbecue.

It didn’t hurt that the spot had a broad, open view of a vineyard and orchard. The sky held just a few small, puffy clouds, which turned out not to be the case in Carbondale, less than 20 miles away.

As showtime approached, you could sense the anticipation. Would a spaceship drop down from the sky with Electric Light Orchestra music playing from it? Would animals go crazy? Would doves cry?

What did happen was the light took on a texture that made things seem a bit like they do through a Viewmaster. It got darker as if twilight was approaching. Then all of sudden you heard people start with the “wows” and howls even, and you looked up and there it was – the dark side of the moon surrounded by a solar corona, with a few stars nearby thrown in for good measure.

People were giddy and some close to tears. Tom may have tried to strip and dance naked, but maybe that was just his reaction to being stung by a yellowjacket.

It was, dare I say –  and a lot of people did say –  awesome.

Staring at the solar eclipse in Alto Pass.

We were at the Irish Fest in Milwaukee the Friday prior to our drive south. I  thought it was awesome that we found the aptly named The Irish Pub not far from the fest grounds where the Guinness was just $5 for an imperial pint, too.

But after seeing an eclipse, I have a new appreciation for what truly is awesome, a new point of reference.

That so many people traveled so far or took the time out of their day to get a glimpse of a naturally occurring phenomenon may not have been awesome – given Illinois’ annoying road construction. But it gave me hope, in this day and age of people getting their news from wackadoo websites their friends feed them on Facebook, that millions at least showed some interest in the wonders and facts of science.

Plus, it inspired Tom and I to work on a show about our experience. We still haven’t decided who gets to be the sun and who gets to moon, though we’re pretty sure somebody inevitably will tell one of us that they saw Uranus during the performance.

Either way, it’s September now, I took too long to write this and I am missing the summer already.

A view of the Mississippi from Grafton, IL on the way home from the eclipse and toward the end of summer.