Thursday, February 18, 2010


...I gazed up at a skyscape that looked like it came straight out of Lord of the Rings. Just where the pinkish hue of the lower sky gave way to cobalt blue above, three figures were laid out beside each other like a celestial ellipsis, each of them icy white and starkly visible. On the left was the start of a distant contrail being formed as I watched, while Venus shone brightly in the middle and a waxing crescent moon hung suspended on the right...The only sound was that of the dawn wind blowing softly. I again found myself feeling sorry for those who don’t realize that similar moments are waiting to be had by them, every day, if only they would take time to notice the vast Creation in which we exist. (January 2008)

I didn’t have my camera with me to capture the image that morning, but I will never forget how the sky looked. I was hiking in the Cypress Creek Preserve north of Tampa, and was so moved that I wrote the above passage into my still-unfinished book. Today, I am remembering that morning while trying to write this unconventional post.

As I see it, travel is composed of two aspects. On the one hand, there is the physical act of leaving home and going somewhere else. On the other, there is the mindset of letting go of your daily worries and immersing yourself in the beauties and joys of wherever you are in the world. The latter aspect is more important, because without it, all the physical traveling you do will be wasted.

So what does the sky have to do with all this elementary psychobabble? Simply put, it offers an instant vacation of the mind that is available to all of us at all times. The sky is stunning to look at and awesome to behold, yet people rarely pay attention to it. Check out the view below, which I captured on my iphone camera while driving to work one morning. Noticing it made me feel positive and less rushed, and the feeling lasted all day.

No matter how old we are, we tend to get stuck in the child’s way of thinking “the sky is blue.” But in reality, the sky is sometimes orange, sometimes filled with leaden clouds the color of coal, and when it is overcast, it might be ashen gray or pearly white.

At night the sky is black, and out in the country, away from city lights, a blizzard of stars punctures that blackness with innumerable points of light. When the moon is bright, the night sky serves as a dark canvas. Images in the foreground stand out against it, as did this forest when I camped on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee:

Even when the sky is the usual pale blue we immediately think of, it is still beautiful. I took the next picture in Wyoming in 1989. At first it seems to be a portrait just of the Hayden Valley and the ridges beyond -- but it would be nothing without that expansive sky. The more I have looked at this picture over the years, the more I have come to think of it as a skyscape rather than a landscape, and the more I wish my 18-year-old self had noticed what stretched above me when I took it.

To illustrate how much the sky changes based on the amount of moisture, and the angle of the sun’s rays, and the direction you are facing, consider the next two photos. They were both taken in Hernando County, Florida, shortly after the sun dropped below the horizon. But the first was taken on an especially cloudy day looking west (i.e., in the direction of the sunset) while the second was on a day of average cloudiness looking east.

And do you notice how the second photo puts the lie to the notion that “sky blue” automatically means pale blue?

So again, where am I going with this? I just think that if people would take time to look up and appreciate the heavens, they would feel less stress no matter where they are or what they are doing. But instead, much like me in Wyoming, most people fail to appreciate the sky even when they are on vacation.

If we would just remember to glance up and ponder it every day, we would get more good vibes and life itself might start to feel like a vacation. Call me crazy, but that’s what I believe.

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