I grew up in Elkhart, IN (on the Michigan border, so not utterly flat), so I spent my “formative years” on the periphery of stereotypical Midwest farmlands immediately south of us. I also took many excursions to West Lafayette, (since three of my siblings graduated Purdue University—and from where I write this). It’s surrounded by such countryside. Views of rows corn or soy beans that narrow to a point on the hazy horizon, endless miles of acreage, punctuated by occasional groves of trees feels very comfortable and familiar. [It always strikes me to consider all of Indiana (actually the entire eastern US) was covered in old growth forests when Europeans arrived. No wonder it seemed both an incredibly bountiful “gift of God” and also a daunting, uncultivated, untamed, wild place where the “confusing” native peoples lived.]
Cruising on a highway through the region this weekend, something new occurred to me. As I approached, met, and drove through a dramatic storm, I was struck by the presence of the Indiana sky. I’ve always been captivated by it — since my teen years, when I climbed high in the backyard tree simply to watch the sunsets, and eventually began hauling a camera up there with me to try to “catch” those beautiful instances. On this trip I recognized how the skies where we live also influence, define, and create our concept of “home.” They are the homespun quilt that gently wraps us at dusk and the slow veil that lifts at dawn. In each region of this planet the character of the ever-shifting, shroud speaks in its own voice. The clouds tend to take certain forms and reveal certain winds more routinely above every part of the globe. So too the dramatic shapes and character of storms vary with each region. Certain color harmonies offered through the sunsets we experienced in our most familiar region become part of us and at once feel most familiar. Even cloudless skies sing to us in a timbre unique to where we trace our roots, and I feel, resonate more deeply.
In this peculiar moment in America, the very ground beneath us feels a bit unsteady. Many of our routines have been disrupted. Like many I’ve felt a bit disoriented. An annual summer family reunion of 30 years had to be cancelled. I planned this quick trek with hopes of visiting some family, sharing time with siblings and in-laws, and celebrating my nephew’s transition from HS into official “adulthood.” And primarily I intended to be able to hug my mother and hold her hand and savor being physically next to her for a a few too short hours. But the mostly air-borne virus altered everything. It is challenging to accept change.
Like the lands we walk, the heavens above nurture us. They complete the sphere within which we live and share our existence. Just as we are integrated within the landscape and this shapes us, so too the skies mold and create us. I have always loved the expansiveness of these Indiana views. Such stunning sights are available from mountaintops in my current southwestern Virginia home, but here in Indiana they are THE defining perspective. There’s an openness here that for me seems not as guarded and private as some mountain folk ways seem to be. A plain-spoken, unpretentious quality; perhaps because living here you see what’s coming from miles away. Maybe there’s also more time to accept we mostly can’t change the imminent events, only adapt to them. In a way similar to grand mountains, but somehow less conspicuously, these Indiana skies remind me we are peons on this earth.
Mountains seem to contain power and invite us to tap into their energy. They reveal the slow onslaught of geologic time through erosion or if we stop and reflect on their components and origins. Skies require no prompts. They are more direct, in the moment, in every moment. Whether bright and clear, or vague and hazy, playfully tossing feathery clouds or rushing herds of heavy ones filled with life-affirming water, a sky’s presence is instantly felt each instant on each portion of this planet. They carry our waters, express the winds, highlight the energies of the sun or buffer it, and reveal the stars and are our portal to the universe. To all willing to listen, they open a doorway into the extraordinary and interwoven nature of life. They speak without words and convey understanding without thought. They’re continually present and ever-shifting at a pace even impatient humans can not miss.
In doing so, they also silently insist we can not defy, and ought not deny, that all life is change.