Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mama Bean fills her soul with whole sky

As a prairie girl, my eyes are used to seeing a lot of sky. When everything around you is flat for miles and miles, you get a pretty good sense of what the word horizon means. The horizon is the straight line between the Blue and the Green and Yellow. These are the primary colours of the prairie: Sky, Grass and Grain.

I need the big sky. My eyes don't merely drink in the blue, they swallow it and digest it and fill my soul with the light (or the dark, or the hazy dusk or foggy dawn...)

I grew up an hour away from the Rocky Mountains, with a half hour of foothills in between, but there is still plenty of sky to be seen on the fields around Cowtown. Still, the land of my youth has major terrain compared to the ironing board that is the Prairie Valley. I didn't know big sky like the Big Blue Sky I know now.

When I lived somewhere low, in a true valley carved by the Mississippi, on the southeast border between Iowa and Illinois, I missed the sky. I didn't know that's what I missed - consciously, I missed my then-boyfriend (not-yet-a-)Papa Bean, my family, my friends, my house (the only one I had ever lived in to that point), my stuff, and having a car (though not necessarily the Jeep I left behind. I just really missed having a car. My automobile is like my third leg. My third super-horse-powered leg.) But subconsciously, I was weighed down by lack of sky. In retrospect, as my mind wanders the streets of my college town, the buildings seem to press down, the leaves on the great big oaks seem laden and heavy. Of course, I'm remembering the streets in the muggy days of summer, which were the heaviest days in every climatological and psychological way. And what I don't remember is much sky - I don't have a clear sense of what it looked like, it's character, it's friendliness. I just didn't see enough of it, over the hills and houses and river and trees to really get a Soul Meal out of it.

(This is all framed, naturally, by the depression I was going through at the time. That being said, it's not like I was miserable in Iowa, I had a truly excellent three years there. And it's not that Davenport was ugly or anything. There was plenty of other beauty to be seen, the Mississippi for one thing. Incredible. And if I'd never lived there, I'd maybe never have seen Chicago, and that would be a travesty. Let me tell you one day about what happens to my soul in Chicago...)

When I'd visit Cowtown in the summers, I didn't understand why the place seemed suddenly so damn sunny. Now I know it's because I was under the sky again, the true blue sky of my youth, and it was weightless and freeing and full of sun like no day could ever be in the Quad Cities. (On the Iowa plain is another story. The sun is plenty bright, and the sky plenty big out there, I know.)

But now I live in on a frying pan. A very large, very shallow, very flat flat flat pan of mud and flood and Flat. Flaaaaaaaaaat. The sky here, my friends, goes on for days.

Here is what prompts my waxing on poetically about the sky: on my drive home I travel due west on a sideway that widens out with open fields on both sides, just before I turn north onto the highway, and I can see the Whole Western Front for two or three minutes (longer if I slow down, which I am often moved to do.) Every Tuesday and Thursday evening, I drive into the sunset. For one or two glorious weeks of the Spring and Fall I am driving when the sun actually sets, and it is so fricking beautiful I don't even have words.

This Spring, it has rained almost every day of May. It is depressing and maddening for so many reasons, most related to the garden. I look at that post about what we were planning to grow, and I get angry at the sky. Yes, my beloved prairie sky. Because it won't shut it's trap and stop spitting on me! And then I want to give up gardening altogether, because before I worked the earth, I didn't give a crap about the weather beyond an interruption to my outdoor plans for the day. I didn't have anything invested in whether it rained four weeks or four days. Now, I care with my hands and my feet and my stomach. My stomach! Oh, and my wallet, which is going to have to pay for all those vegetables I planned on eating for free.

But the sky apologized the other night. Underneath this big prairie expanse, I really see the rain, instead of just hearing and feeling it. As I drove home under a melting pot of grays, I looked out at that Western Front and saw The Rain. Like an errant stroke of slate coloured paint just dredged straight down to the horizon, the perpendicular straight edge of soggy green. And because I could see so much sky, I could see this isolated downpour in the grand tableau of grey and blue and purple. I could see the fluffy cotton balls of cumulus* clouds, white bodied with silver fluff shadows, right next to the rain paint-stroke, like some cosmic force-field was keeping the storm from spreading between cloud banks. And just behind the storm, the sun was still shining. I know this because those cumulus clouds were glowing, lit from behind, and flaming with the palest gold on the edges. And I could see layers of stratus clouds stretching out in different directions to the south, where the rain had already been spent. I swallowed that rainy sky and let it settle deep behind my eyes, tired from work, tired from Bean waking up too many times at night, tired from artificial light at home at work at the computer. And my soul felt full.

Apology accepted, Sky. I love you forever.

*(yes, I had to look that up, because I missed the climate unit in high school science, because I was too busy taking IB science that ignores the weather unit. The actually useful to my daily lie weather unit)

**(yes, I need to start carrying a camera in my car for these evenings. I also get a pretty good glimpse of the Eastern sky on my way too work Monday and Friday mornings, although my sleepy fuzzy brain doesn't always fully comprehend how pretty it is.)


  1. Excellent post! We live in the mountains. Between the 9 months of winter and the mountains blocking the horizon and causing early sunsets, my wife has often complained about missing the sky. I love the mountains, but I quietly agree. Your gorgeous post reminded me why.

  2. You have a way with words! I could see the sky you saw.

  3. What a stunning post...you seriously took me there, thanks! Kim