I'd suggest wearing sunglasses while staring directly at the sun, which is something I should remember for next time.ALTON - After learning about a local woman’s ritual of watching the sunset, I had to try it for myself.

Jennifer Sillivan goes outside, takes off her shoes and grounds herself in the earth every night as the sun goes down. When we spoke, she told me that it was a peaceful experience, a chance to connect with herself and nature after a busy day.

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Well, who doesn’t need that? I was completely on board. So last night, I loaded up my lawn chair and trekked out to the abandoned bank near Alton Square Mall, where Sillivan usually sits.

One thing to know about me: I am not a super organized person. (If you’re reading this, RiverBender owner John Hentrich, please stop reading right now. I’m telling on myself.) My desk is a mess. My purse is full of old wrappers. My planner is illegible, but hey, I can read it just fine. It’s chaos, but it’s a chaos I understand.

All of that is to say that I didn’t check the weather beforehand. We’ve been under an excessive heat warning for days, but that didn’t stop me from heading out for a nice, sweltering 90-degree evening. Mostly because I didn’t know it was 90 degrees. I stepped outside, thought, ‘Ugh, it’s hot,’ and went on my merry way.

This is how I ended up watching the sunset alone, because Sillivan is smarter than this.

But that’s okay! I had learned from the master herself; I could do it on my own. I unfolded my chair, planted myself on the edge of the bank’s lot, and kicked off my sandals to rest in the overgrown grass. And I stared directly into the sun and waited for emotional catharsis.

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It was…awkward, to be honest. My chair faced North Alby Street, where a constant stream of cars drove by and turned in and out of the mall parking lot. I got honked at once or twice, and stared at a lot.

I found myself itching to pick up my phone, just to respond to a couple of messages or do a quick scroll through social media. That urge for distraction was so strong, it surprised me. Wasn’t the whole point of this exercise to be mindful, to connect with the world around me? I was still looking for a way to escape.

During the early months of the pandemic, I had downloaded a meditation app to try it out. This habit lasted maybe two weeks before I grew bored of it. But I still remembered some of the techniques and so decided to try them out.

Eyes closed, I took a deep breath. How often do we actually do that? I could feel it in my chest. Listened to the crickets chirping around me. A gust of wind as a car drove by. A bird’s repetitive cry.

The sun burned orange, then red, sinking lower and fast. The sky crisscrossed with powerlines, the grass turned golden with drought and dusk. Light bathed the asphalt. A grasshopper skipped to a weed growing in the cracks of the parking lot, one tiny jump at a time.

I sat there until the sun was halfway below the horizon, and then I loaded up and drove home. The air had cooled. The last light glinted off the stop signs. Sweat was drying on my face, and I could feel the itchiness from the grass creeping up my ankles. I was hot and gross and totally content.

There’s just something about a sunset.

My cat (Franklin) and I enjoy the air conditioning before I go to watch the sunset. He was much less willing to hang out when I got home, until I took a shower.

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