On Skies

cloudIn John Ruskin’s short essay “Of Truth of Skies,” he remarks that so few of us know about the sky—specifically the sky above us right now.

“It is the part of creation in which nature has done more for the sake of pleasing man, more for the sole and evident purpose of talking to him and teaching him, than in any other of her works, and it is just the part in which we least attend to her.”

Several years ago, we moved to a rural area in East Texas. Here the skies, as everywhere, vary greatly. As I write this, it is “gray.” There was much-needed rain last night and clouds remain. But if I look just a little closer, I see that the gray is not uniform. There are varying intensities and varying shades, yet no distinct clouds—just one great covering of my world. As the day brightens, the gray is becoming warmer, shifting because of the sun behind it.

Last evening, however, the sky was altogether different: brilliant with abstract arrangement of clouds, vivid oranges, deep scarlet, streaks of yellow and of sunrays. All this is a delight to our eyes and our minds, yet is usually not noticed at all—especially by those living in cities where views are obstructed by man’s constructions and by man’s distractions.

Ruskin reminds us that even for those who have no access to great art, the sky is ever-present:

“…there is not a moment of any day of our lives, when nature is not producing scene after scene, picture after picture, glory after glory, and working still upon such exquisite and constant principles of the most perfect beauty, that it is quite certain it is all done for us, and intended for our perpetual pleasure. And every man, wherever placed, however far from other sources of interest or of beauty, has this doing for him constantly. The noblest scenes of the earth can be seen and known by but a few; it is not intended that man should live always in the midst of them; he injures them by his presence, he ceases to feel them if he be always with them: but the sky is for all…”

So why is it that we fail to see? How have we become blind to these wonders? Why do we no longer marvel at the sky? What is the source of our distraction? And what is that distraction’s cost? Is there anything revealed by our contemplation of the gift of the sky? Ruskin comments,

“…we look upon all by which it speaks to us more clearly than the brutes, upon all which bears witness to the intention of the Supreme that we are to receive more from the covering vault than the light and the dew which we share with the weed and the worm, only as a succession of meaningless and monotonous accident, too common and too vain to be worthy of a moment of watchfulness, or a glance of admiration.”