Sunday, December 9, 2012

Big Sky Country

Montana is called “Big Sky Country” and it is quite apt for that state and the rest of the rambling Great Plains of the U.S. and Canada.  Without the distractions of gleaming buildings, cell towers, high tension power lines, blaring signage, and swarming arteries jammed with garish SUV’s and hulking trucks cluttering my immediate view at ground level it’s much easier to be overtaken with the immensity of what is above me.

How I enjoy traversing out to an obscure spot on the map, scaling an unnamed hump, and soaking in a 360 degree unobstructed view.  But it’s usually not the terrestrial that wows me—it’s the ever-changing terra firma that dominates the scene.

And if you hear the wind blow
The breeze can catch your eye
And if you feel the sunlight
Straight from the sky
Away from the noise and the madness
All you have to do is pray

(Glass Harp, “Look in the Sky,” Glass Harp, 1970)

Early on a summer day in remote Nebraska the horizons are an opaque blue that grow to deeper azure as your eyes ascend higher. It is so gradual and yet so obvious.  Lying still on my back, I watch patiently as time progresses.  Early on, the canopy is crystal clear, but as the day unfolds the moisture begins to accumulate, and wisps evolve into clouds, and then often dissipate for no discernable reason.  It’s as if an invisible artist moistens a canvas then decides to wipe clean what was just painted.

These ever-changing puffs seem to move at a relaxed pace in the morning.  One the size of a small county takes the shape of a hand, with fingers extending for miles.  But within 20 minutes it simply evaporates into nothingness, except for the tip of the ring finger.  From whence do they come…and where do they go?

The immensity of it is so very good for my soul. Contrary to what I would often think, being made to feel small by the sweep of God’s workmanship—even the most temporal—gives me much needed perspective.

The sunshine in mountains sometimes lost
the river can disregard the cost
and melt in the sky warmth when you die
were we ever warmer on that day a million miles away
we seemed from all of eternity

(Yes, “South Side of the Sky,” Fragile, 1973)

I recall in South Dakota seeing every type of cloud imaginable in just one scene.  Hazy billows to the north with little broods of baby puffs in tow. To the east were celestial saucers interspersed with serrated cotton-like feathers that were becoming heavy and gray on their underside.  To the southeast was a heavenly sea of rippling waves moving towards some undetermined shore.  Beneath, it cast shadows that skimmed across the vast fields like gossamer sheets.

To the south was a mass that resembled the underside of a gaseous crab treading water…snuggling low as if trying to hatch. I saw a quarter of a rainbow glistening beneath an already misting cloud.  It was that time late in each day where the rain often falls in violent displays.

To the northwest were pulsating amoeba-like globules with a singular orb glowing from within.  The sun works in concert with these heavenly hordes to create the most amazing non-stop dramas over our heads if we would just take the time to look up. As I craned my neck backwards I saw cotton tufts dashing by whose bottoms were flattened evenly across an unseen barometric glass ceiling less than a mile above me.

But it was to the west where the real show was beginning.  Aeriform battalions were marshalling forces for a late-afternoon siege…seemingly in ordered cadence and on the march.  They were going to clash with a Gibraltar-like thunderhead mushrooming in the southwest. Between the two combatants the open air was being closed off, with sunlight smearing the edges.  Virgas were beginning to sweep downward like tentacles from a jellyfish. Lightning shards crackled in the distance.

The clouds prepare for battle
In the dark and brooding silence
Bruised and sullen storm clouds
Have the light of day obscured
Looming low and ominous
In twilight premature
Thunderheads are rumbling
In a distant overture...

Just when it appeared that they had completely smothered any solar intervention, suddenly spectacular radiating pillars perhaps forty miles long burst through a crevasse creating a Jacob’s Ladder that would put even the most powerful photon torpedoes in Gene Rodenberry’s imagination to shame. 

All at once, the clouds are parted
Light streams down in bright unbroken beams...
Follow men's eyes as they look to the skies
The shifting shafts of shining weave the fabric of their dreams...

(Rush, “Jacob’s Ladder,” Permanent Waves, 1981)

But those late day melees with all the accompanying salvos rolling and reverberating across the flatlands are often swept away in mere moments…and after the rain dampens the heat that has built throughout the day, all that atmospheric bombast disperses before me over the course of the next hour.  The sky is once again cleansed…and so is my cluttered heart.

It’s all so lofty, in the truest sense of the word.  It’s ethereal…and yet deeply resonates within me.  In all the non-stop energy of the wild blue yonder, I sense a profound purposefulness.  Practicality is addressed through the cycles of wind, rain, and sun.  But the soul is also replenished by the vaporous vitality of it all…and the sneak peak at what’s to come once I’m finally on the other side. 

You made the climb up to the crest
Seeing it all ahead of the rest
And your expression showed the wonder of the place
Looking westward with the sunlight on your face

In the wide-open sweet someday
Climbing over the ridge top to finally see the view
All of us go there alone
Crossing over to home
In the vista
The wide-open sweet someday
The wide open vista

(David Wilcox, “Vista,” Vista, 2006)

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