Saturday, January 4, 2020

A Reflection on Our Sky

Cloudy sky dotted with hot air balloons.


When I am outside, whether gardening, walking, driving, or just standing, I always look upward... many times. Doesn’t everybody? The majestic display often makes me feel minuscule and fills me with awe of the majesty and expanse of this world blanket of air. The sky's appearance is always changing, some days by the minute and some days over many hours. Only when the sky is cloud free does it ever look the same, and even then, depending on the day and time, not always. When clouds are present, it is always different. In many ways, the sky defines not only our ability to live on Earth but also our daily reality.

During daylight hours, the sky can be an empty, clear and a startling blue cover. Other times it is dotted with glorious puffs of snow-white puff-ball clumps of clouds slowly moving and shifting in shape or filled with stacks of billowing rotund froths of clouds. The sun's light highlights the upper edges in a glowing, angelic white while the lower parts have grey-lined edges lining darker undersides giving them three-dimensional shapes. Occasionally, high flying wisps, commonly called mares tails or Cirrus clouds, decorate the sky’s vastness. Sometimes clouds seem to stand still, other times they move at a fast, rolling, often threatening pace. Sporadically a dense blanket of grey predicting storms covers the sky and hides its upper reaches.

Along with the clouds’ visual grandeur, the wind created by the atmospheric movement affects our hearing. The sound can be soft whispers moving through the needle or leaf-lined branches of trees. or it can rage in a howling volume over the ground as well as the sky.

We judge the weather by its appearance, and to those gazing at the clouds, they provide predictive clues. They can be delightful, inspiring viewers' imaginations to visualize shapes like ships, or dragons, cats or whales in their vast undulating vastness. Clouds can change how the sun and its rays appear in the sky in fascinating ways. They can also show what will be an average, ordinary good day, or express impending storms of either rain or snow. Some cloud signs are so severe they indicate approaching danger. Thunderclaps startle us, and lightning bolts frighten but fascinate us. Tornadoes and hurricanes spell peril and disaster.

Olathe, Kansas, cloud photo taken by Karen Crnkovich
Watching the sky shows life’s adaptations. Birds and man-made conveyances often fly by. The birds glide and soar on unseen winds and drafts or can wing their way to anywhere. Sometimes they dart after smaller, flying insects. Airplanes and helicopters pass with loud engine noise.

On cloudless nights a phenomenal view of the universe appears showing its grandeur and the Earth’s movement. The moon’s reflected light often falls on clouds in a glow the sun seldom creates. Infrequently, northern lights play over and through the darkness. And occasionally, flying objects pass, showcased in reflected light, those closer to Earth often appear as dark shadows.


The sky in all its glory has enchanted man for millennia, probably since consciousness began, inspiring mythology, ideologies, and freeing human imaginations. Skies have imbued humans with stories for their own purpose on Earth. While we still watch clouds and let our minds float in cloud-based inspiration about creation,  finding imaginary images within those vast collections of water molecules, so did ancient peoples. The ancient ones often discovered hidden images and meanings. For eons, mankind's stories have been imbued with ancient sky gods and stories of the creation.

More than 2,000 years before Christ, the Sumerian god Anu reigned over the sky and held rein over the entire universe as the ultimate power of the world. Around the same time, or maybe long before, the Egyptian god Ra (sun), the goddess Nut (sky), and Horus personified as a falcon, ruled over the Eqyptian sky. Greek mythology had Zeus as the god of heaven and Earth, and Nephele was a cloud nymph. Zeus became Jupiter in Roman mythology.

On the other side of the world, the Navajo’s spirit Absonnutli created the sky. In New Zealand, Rangi, the sky father, and Papa, the Earth mother, were locked in a tight embrace with their children caught in the darkness between their bodies. Their children tore their parents apart, creating the world.

In the Hindu lexicon, Indra holds authority over the sky with his thunderbolt weapon as does the god Thor in Germanic mythology.

I find it interest how often males were sun gods and females Earth goddesses, maybe saying men represented energy and women matter, tying it to today's physics.


The sky’s atmosphere exists miles above the Earth, holding molecules of gases and all the billions of water molecules that form clouds. Just because they float, doesn't mean they are any more weightless than the moon. Those clouds weight far more than their floating images imply--sometimes we have the weight of a hundred elephants or more floating overhead, delivering water and snow to the Earth's surface.

As sunlight diffuses through the sky's many molecules, Rayleigh scattering lets the shorter, blue waves of light color the daytime sky. Red waves often appear to color the sunset sky.

Photo of Traverse City's East Bay, Sunset by Chris Courtright

Moreover, we know the atmosphere’s gases allow life on Earth. The atmosphere of the sky provides oxygen for animals and carbon dioxide for plants. Plants and animals work in symbiosis to expel into the air what the other life form needs. The atmosphere also invades and filters into everything, even the Earth itself: its waters, its caves, and even its soil. It holds other gases, too, like Nitrogen, Argon, Hydrogen, and Helium. The higher the atmosphere rises, the less vapor it holds. Gravity gathers most of the molecules close to its surface in the Troposphere. Above this layer, the Stratosphere holds a cover called the Ozone layer, composed of O3, which helps protect us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. It is also present nearer ground level where it mixes with human-created pollutants from industry and vehicles. This creates smog becoming a danger to human health.

Knowledge lies out there… Of course, our night vision shows the vast universe of stars. We know much about the various objects in the sky that ancient man marveled over but never understood, not that we have complete understanding today. We have the hope of someday exploring it, and perhaps finding other Earth-like places. We know devastation lies out there, too – asteroids could crash into Earth, cosmic rays present a danger to human space travel, and black holes suck the matter and energy out of everything in their reach; plus the debris humans have left in space spells danger.


Humanity has tended to take the Earth for granted, including its sky. Many people are unconcerned with how our actions and inventions have changed and polluted the very things we depend on for life: water, earth, and air. We have filled our air with Sulfur dioxide, Carbon monoxide, and Nitrogen dioxide. Poisonous dust particles also float in the air. In some parts of today's world, it is not unusual to see inhabitants wearing face masks to prevent inhaling dangerous particles from smog, smoke, and other exhaust gases of man’s making. It is a dangerous situation of our own making; hopefully, one we can repair.

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