Like millions of other Americans, my husband and I made a pilgrimage into the path of totality on August 21, day of the Great American Eclipse. Or rather, I made a pilgrimage. Joe came along to keep me out of trouble.

We live in Charleston, Illinois, a town where the moon would obscure 95% of the sun. Joe couldn’t see the point of traveling a hundred miles for that last five percent. But I’d done my reading. Everyone who had witnessed a total eclipse attested that it was a unique experience and that last five percent makes a tremendous difference.

Our journey: viewing the eclipse in comfort

We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard in Chesterfield, Illinois. The place was packed with other pilgrims and the occasional business traveler. I chose Chesterfield figuring it would be less popular than the prime viewing spots in Southern Illinois, where hundreds of thousands gathered to observe the eclipse. Also, Chesterfield was next to a wildlife preserve, which seemed like an excellent place to watch the eclipse.

Unfortunately, Joe refused to drive to the wildlife preserve. He gave several reasons. The traffic would be terrible coming back, and he didn’t want an extra five miles of it. Hundreds of people would crowd the preserve, and we wouldn’t find a good spot to watch. Besides, the trees would block our view. But it came down to this: he’d traveled this far and he refused to travel any farther.

Eclipsus interruptus: light pollution

We watched the eclipse from the hotel. They call the place the Courtyard for a reason. A cozy courtyard in the back was furnished with several cushioned patio chairs, a couple of tables with umbrellas, and an outdoor fire pit. We waited there with several other people too unmotivated to venture into the wild.

Joe brought me coffee. He had fun watching and talking about the eclipse and sharing his eclipse glasses with an attractive woman who didn’t have any.

The location disappointed me a little. I hoped for crickets chirruping and birds flying to their roosts as the sky darkened. I spotted no birds. And although a few crickets chirruped, traffic from the nearby highway almost drowned them out.

Worst of all, the lamps around the building next door, equipped with light sensors, switched on and diluted the dark.

Total wonder: the last five percent

But none of it spoiled the wonder of the eclipse itself. The moon covers the sun and the midday sky darkens. You gaze at the corona with naked eyes and connect to a long-ago time when humans experienced the magic in the world. For the one minute and thirteen seconds of the total eclipse, the heavens reigned. Nothing could kill the magic—not the traffic or the lamps or the sterile comfort of the hotel courtyard.

It ended too soon.

Joe allowed that the last five percent made the trip worthwhile. And to his delight, traffic was light on the drive home.

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