White squirrels, turkeys & eclipse: Riding wild in southern Illinois

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Viewing total eclipse at a field by the Garden of the Gods in southern Illinois.
Credit: Dale Bowman

EQUALITY, Ill.–Whooping and hollering bubbled from the rowdy northeast corner of the field near the Garden of the Gods as the last pinpoint of sunlight exploded before the total eclipse of the sun. The rest of us strewn around joined in clapping and hollering.

People were ready for the solar eclipse line of totality through southern Illinois. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources was ready.

The Illinois Department of Transportation, ah, not so much. But somebody else can pick apart the bone-headedness of IDOT leaving one-lane chokers on both sides of I-57 north of Champaign.

The hours lost to traffic jams were worth it because of the 2 minutes, 16 seconds of total eclipse at the Garden of the Gods.

It capped a wild family getaway around one of the coolest things in Illinois outdoors in the last century.

In the spring, I convinced my wife we should trek to southern Illinois for the eclipse. The closest cabin I could rent for the eclipse was at Forbes State Park. That was fine. I figured we could make a side trip to Olney to see the white squirrels.

We saw no white squirrels in Olney, but we did find this fiberglass statue by a nearby bank.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman

We saw no white squirrels in Olney, but we did find this fiberglass statue by a nearby bank.
Credit: Dale Bowman

With traffic jams Sunday, we barely made it to Olney before dark. The only white squirrels we spotted were models or painted on signs. I was hoping to share the simple pleasure of albino gray squirrels.

For those who can’t relish the simple pleasures of the outdoors, such as white squirrels, I feel bad. For those who don’t enjoy the more complex pleasures, such as a total solar eclipse, I wonder about their humanity.

Monday we lollygagged in the cabin because word came early that the Garden of the Gods was so jammed it was closed. My wife, daughter, our youngest son and their friend figured we would get as close as we could and improvise.

It worked.

At the One Stop in McLeansboro, the woman behind the counter asked, “Where are you folks from? Where are you headed?” She suggested alternatives.

We stuck to improvising.

Near Equality, the kids jumped out and rescued a turtle lollygagging on Route 142. “Savage,” our youngest said.

It was that kind of adventure.

A few miles before the Garden of the Gods, we came upon hundreds of cars parked. We turned back to join the 150 people in the cut field.

It turned out perfect.

A thunderstorm floated off to the east. The clouds flowed intermittently at the beginning, but completely cleared before the total eclipse.

“It is getting darker and it is not the clouds,” our daughter said. “It is like those Utopia books where I imagined it is colored darker.”

My wife described it as a weird mix of midday and sunset, like a dream without color. Beside the tint of the dark, what most caught me was the dramatic cool-down during the eclipse.

Then came that odd half dark of the total eclipse. I choked up. When the sun peeked out again I grabbed my wife for a kiss, to the disgust of the kids.

“I wonder how many eclipse babies there will be,” she mused.

The stuff of life.

REND LAKE: The IDNR received no bids to reopen the resort at Wayne Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area. But a new RFP was posted Friday. Rend Lake needs that resort back.

STRAY CAST: Apparently suggesting Bonnie Tyler falls on the country side is like suggesting common carp are worthy fish.

Turkeys sneaking away at Forbes State Park on a visit to southern Illinois for the total eclipse.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman

Turkeys sneaking away at Forbes State Park on a visit to southern Illinois for the total eclipse.
Credit: Dale Bowman

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