If you’ve been reading for any length of time, you know that we have a serious love affair going on with the natural world around us. We love the garden, both floral and vegetable. We love the bog in all its ancient glory. We love birds, both domestic and wild. We love the woods and the ravine behind us. And we love the sky — that glorious, ever-changing, ever the same sky that is so easy to overlook from day-to-day and yet is such a huge presence in all our lives, no matter where in the world we find ourselves.
There is something magical and awe-inspiring about the sky. Bigger than anything else around us and so far out of our reach, it feels like an ocean overhead. When I was little, I used to imagine the sky was a sort of ocean encircling the earth. In my dreams, I would float up into the air until I could reach out and dip my fingers in its liquid lightness, pulling them out dripping with clouds and that clear, cornflower blue that only the sky has. Temperature thusly tested, I would flip myself around until the sky was the ocean at my feet and the world had become my moon and I would swim and swim and swim amidst the clouds and stars and birds.
Somewhere along the line, I learned that the sky is just a cushion of air surrounding our world. Sometimes opaque with moisture buildup, other times so clear you could see the entire universe, it was not, as I had once imagined, an upside-down ocean with nothing but air between me and it. Rather, I was but a small mote standing on the ocean floor, staring up from the depths of my oxygen- and nitrogen-rich pool and marveling at the clouds that studded its middle depths and the stars that lie so very far beyond its uppermost reaches.
The sky is dizzying by times. When the wind blows hard and the clouds race each other across the sky almost faster than your eyes can track them, it’s enough to make your head spin. Other times, when you lie on your back in the grass and watch the gentle drift of the towering cumulus, your perspective shifts and just that suddenly you become aware that it is the earth on which you lie that is moving, not the universe, and you clutch at the grass in a vain attempt to not fall off this spinning ball of mud, vertigo having taken over for just a minute.
Most of the time, the sky is simply something vaguely overhead. We notice if it is blue or grey, cloudy or clear, dark or bright. It is our clearest indicator of the weather. It is the simplest method of tracking the time. It just is, blue and bright and impossibly high overhead.
The other night, while walking home from the library (not the same night the wheels fell off our cart for those of you who like to know these things), the sky caught fire.
Caught fire? you ask — an entirely reasonable question. And for once, all I can say is, yes, it really did catch fire. The flames had no heat, nor where they destructive, but fire it was, and we stopped and stared in awe. As we were nearly home, we hurried up a little so I could grab the camera. This is what I saw.
To the east, we saw twilight tinged with pink:
But to the west… oh, that glorious, fiery west!
A fire in the sky, the clouds burning brightly for just a moment before the sun sank below the horizon. Had you seen a painting of such a thing, you’d have thought it the mad imaginings of a science fiction writer. But no, no fiction, this sky of ours. Beautiful, ever-changing, and just when we think we know its habits better than anything else we could know in 40 years of living on this planet, full of surprises.
I love the sky.