Earth and Sky

I wish you could see the sky here this morning. I’ve long since given up trying to capture it in pictures, and words, I’m afraid, are also not up to the task. Turner spent his career trying to get it (and doing a very good job) in oils, but even those majestic paintings smack of artifice.

No. This is sky in its pure form. I once read in Primo Levi about his preference for clouds over blue sky because the clouds gave the sky definition. He would approve of this morning’s offering here at the edge of civilization in Twisp, Washington.

I say it’s the edge of civilization, which is a bit of an overstatement, but we are a little over 5 miles up from town and around 9 miles to the start of the USFS lands of the Okanagon State Park, which sprawls in green blocks across the map of the Methow Valley.

Earth and sky. You can’t have one without the other, not here on Earth proper. How far would you have to go into space for Earth to disappear?

I’m new enough to this place to be ignorant of the names of its parts. There’s a part of my mind that wants to know them–what is the name of the hill I see out my window? And yet there’s a larger part of my mind, the part encompassed by my whole Being that knows that its name is immaterial. It is my hill; the hill; a hill.

It is now on the 5th of July wearing its summer tweed, brassy golds with a few remaining hints of floral yellow on a backdrop of dun. For decoration, it still wears the shiny green leaves of the cottonwood, the Lakota’s tree of life. This particular cottonwood rests at the base of a small gully–small from here– that runs down the west slope to a deeper ravine along which a long line of aspens rise up. The aspens rise up in elegant lines of white trunk with clusters of small leaves at their tops. They are not the same deep, sliver-sheened green of the cottonwood, and they appear more still. their movement is subtle, shimmery compared to the cottonwood’s dense flutter.

But I set out to tell you about the sky. There’s a mottled cloud cover over most of the westernmost corner of my view. It looks like cotton puffs that have been used to blur the lines of a charcoal sketch, or marshmallows that have been lightly singed. It’s got a hot white eye that can not be looked into directly. It’s a bank of white ash on a hot log. It gives way toward the east to a hazy maze of gassy gauze layered in soft folds of varying density. A sheer scrim over a backdrop of deepest blue that resolves into strands of stratus that tip the top of the hill and disappear onto its other side. It’s a testament to this cloudiness that I can have the curtain open as I write, that I can look into it without being instantly blinded.

This is how things are. Everything is relative, relational. We only know this through that. Here through there; dark through light; good through bad. Life is a constant experience of paradox. We can take everything and nothing for granted; they’re the same thing in the end.

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