Saturday, October 17, 2009

Living Skies


Taken in Hines, MN by Laraine 12.5.07 from the web site: www.weather.com

A daily benefit of the commute through the wide open Kansas landscape is the unavoidable observation of the sky. I have witnessed a few things I did not know existed, and a thing or two that remain mysteries.

For a period of about three years, roughly centered around 9/11, I witnessed many sun columns, both at sunrise and sunset. The first one I saw was spectacular. A burning gold beam rose splendidly from the eastern horizon, piercing high white clouds, just before sunrise. Later, with no idea what the phenomenon might be called, I guessed and googled for "sun column". There in cyberspace were photos and a scientific explanation for sun columns. Certain flat shaped ice crystals form in the atmosphere, reflecting sunlight specifically into a single ray that appears as a column of sunlight to an observer.

I saw sun columns often for that period of time, but none in recent years. At dawn, using pastels, I recorded a sun column I witnessed from a country road a few miles out of town the day of my mother's funeral. She died the Saturday following 9/11. Those two events and sun columns are forever linked in my mind, but not in a negative way.

Just recently, I left for work one morning in a wet fog blanketing the valley. Driving east into the thick mists, I witnessed the moment they brilliantly luminesced as the sun cleared the eastern horizon. When I turned north, I immediately noticed a white-on-white glowing in my left peripheral. It appeared to travel with me. At first I thought it was something on the truck window, so I rolled the window down. Then I stopped the truck and removed my glasses so I could look directly at it. It was there - a wide, white column of light glowing within the fog. It was very beautiful. I could see faint bands of reddish light on the edges, exactly like auras I can see sometimes around people. What came to mind was an albino rainbow!

The last two miles of county road commute, traveling north, the land widens into a valley lying west of the road. At that point, I could see the entire white rainbow arc. It appeared as an opalescent glowing portal within the fog. The colors off the edge where dynamic, seeming to radiate, just visible. The gates of heaven could be no more beautiful. I stopped the truck several times simply to fix the sight in my memory.

As soon as I got to work, I googled for "fog rainbow" and once again, there in cyberspace were the answers to all my questions. The droplets of moisture in the fog are not large enough to split the sunlight into the prism of colors seen in a rainbow, but the same arc of light forms. People who live by the oceans apparently see fog bows all the time. Not so much in Kansas.

In my life I have seen strange cloud formations, and brilliant "sun dogs" in both the east and west. I have admired the infinite shades of blue and observed the living spectrum of colors turning in the sky, coalescing in the massing, dynamic clouds. Some mornings, descending Buffalo Mound on Interstate 70, towering banks of eastern thunderheads appear as the front range of a mystic mountain range, visible only on high magic days. I hate the thought of going to work then, wishing to travel on into those ephemeral peaks.

The most mysterious sky ever was on Monday morning, December 27, 2004, on the way to work. It was the day after after the Indian Ocean Tsunami. The entire eastern sky was absolutely clear, not a single cloud. I have seen cloudless skies before, but this was different. There was an unknown quality that drew deeply into my awareness. Never has the empty sky been so profoundly beautiful. Never have I seen such a pure blue. A whispery thought rose, so quietly that I could have easily missed it. "It is the true color of the sky." It was the sky cleared of pollution, cleared of karma. I do not know anything other than those were the thoughts that came in connection with that most unusual sky.

Amazingly enough, I have also witnessed the aurora borealis in Kansas skies. The first time, I was about four years old. My mother and father took me into the night and pointed to the northern horizon. "Those are the Northern Lights," they said. All along the edge of the earth the sky was glowing red. To me, it looked like a prairie fire just out of sight.

It was the second winter or so after the move to Spirit Creek, I had left work late, and even in the lights of Topeka, I noticed a strange reflection in the north. Out of the city, I could clearly see the entire northern horizon glowing a ghostly green. I drove faster. I wanted to get home to my dark Flint Hills. After supper, I wanted my son to come to the pasture so we could see the Northern Lights, but he was not interested. I went alone and was rewarded for my efforts. Green bands of light brightened high above the hills to the north, slowly changing shape and intensity. At one point they became so bright that I could easily see my hands in their silent glow. I have seen the aurora borealis before and since, but that night was the best. I think there is still time to see something even more spectacular, and I hope I do.

public domain photo, Wikipedia

3 comments:

cyberkit said...

That is so cool!

I love Kansas sunsets. The only time I've ever seen a sun pillar was in Kansas (at Patti's house, of course). A solid stream of white light shot up from the horizon into the sky burning a hole through the lingering clouds on the horizon. It was spectacular! That's one of the nice things about being in Kansas.

I don't have real horizons. To the west I have mountains I can all but reach out and touch. Sunsets are often gorgeous, but it's different than what you get treated to in Kansas.

The sunrise is obstructed by trees and "haze" that often hangs in the air over Denver. That, and well, I'm seldom up to look.

Li'l Ned said...

Wow, what a wonderful, descriptive post. I too love to watch the sky, and relish the days we go east of down into the desert, especially in fall and winter. We are less than 20 miles from the mountains, so the big, wide, open sky of the desert is gloriously expansive.

Last week I was driving west in late afternnon and noticed a vertical column of light, with a rainbow tinge, in some clouds, above and below the sun. Then I realized the sun was a good 10-20 degrees of arc farther to the right from where I was looking. And beyond that, farther to the right, was an identical column, not as bright. But it looked like there were 3 suns in the sky -- I briefly felt like I had been transported to one of the alternate worlds I have seen in sci fi shows! So cool!

Jackie said...

Here is a link to the NASA website with a photo of a "triple" sunset. Is this what you saw?! That would be something to see, for sure!

http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap090804.html