Friday, 5 February 2010

A green sky at sunset ~ and other marvels

I'm told it's possible to see the space station on clear nights at the moment, but my preference is to watch the daylight as it fades from sunset to evening.  

We've had a good clear run of fine weather lately and most evenings between nine and ten o'clock I've spent an hour or so sitting quietly in the front room drinking in the sight of the sky as a multitude of subtle colours and tones have passed over it: first the molten gold of the sun in the west, often set in a few fine strands of cloud similarly radiant; these gradually fade to yellow then orange, then orange-brown, and finally grey.  The sky a little higher is even more changeable,  moving from apricot, to yellow, to green to green-blue topped with a most delicate and unlikely pink, and finally to azure, then cobalt.  It's immensely restful as well as beautiful. This photo gives a very partial idea of what the sky was like a few evenings ago:

I wonder if anyone else was watching.  Very probably not.  Very likely a large number of people were watching some frightful thing on television, or poking away at a computer and screen.  How strange and how disturbing it was to read that a high proportion of the population find cyberspace more exciting and enjoyable than real life.

Thinking of that reminded me of the passage in the story of Peter Pan in which the fairy Tinkerbell became ill and was in danger of dying, because not enough children believed in fairies any more, and the call went out for all the children in the world who believed in fairies to clap their hands.  Fortunately quite a lot did, and Tinkerbell revived and was brought back from the brink.  

I think the natural world is more like that than we might wish to imagine.  It's the worrying area in which what we believe and the realities we make for ourselves become very blurry and perilous: if we 'believe' in the vital importance of the natural world we will act accordingly to care for and respect it; if not, and we go on treating it as an endless resource as well as the proverbial scrapheap we destroy not only it but our very futures and would then be truly relegated to some ghostly cyberspace with no choice of returning.  

Fancy that?  I tell you what - all those to whom cyberspace is more important, more vital, and a greater source of pleasure can jump into a spaceship right now and head off into it leaving those of us who have an active interest in and appreciation of the planet to get on with our stewardship uncluttered by the dead weight of these parasitic users. 

And if you don't consider you are one of these, what are you actually doing to sustain the natural world as we know it?  This is a vexed question and I am not blameless or lofty in my own way of life, but I do think it behoves all of us to make more of an effort than our usual complacent lack of affirmative action, and to keep on seeking out ways that we can make a difference. It might seem that the small contributions each of us can make wont make much difference, but if we all make more little efforts in the same direction it might just swing the balance. After all, "Many drops of water, many grains of sand, make the pleasant ocean and the mighty land" and "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" and so on. Easy jingles but apt.

I thought too about those many millions of the world's inhabitants who would have no chance whatever of seeing what I've been seeing night after night, due to permanent levels of atmospheric pollution.  Over parts of Asia it is over a mile thick - all the time.  Those of us who live in more fortunate circumstances should not disregard our contribution to this when we buy goods for which workers receive such low wages that they cannot afford clean- burning fuel for their cooking fires.  What are they supposed to do about that?  What are we supposed to do about that?  These are important questions.  If you find out let me know.

Coming back to observing the sky I want to give credit to an art course I attended in my twenties.  Things that happen in our lives often contribute meaning and helpfulness in ways we don't expect, sometimes long after the event and this is a case in point: one part of the course greatly enhanced my ability to see and appreciate not only colour but shades of light and dark: in a series of exercises using opaque paints (guache) we had to mix one colour with varying quantities of white and black. We painted these variations onto a grid which after drying was chopped up into squares and arranged in random graduated patterns.  It was far harder than I would have thought possible.  I've kept one piece of that artwork all these years.  When I created it I had in mind the patterns of green one sees when looking up through the leaves of a birch tree:

When I got it out just now all the humiliation of struggling with it and then having it criticised came back to me: on the cover sheet my tutor pencilled the comment that in the bottom right hand quadrant there is a diagonal division of the composition - which is fair, and yet he graded it an 8 and added "Very good, well worth the effort" in tediously stylised script. 

At that time my journey home each day took me over the Auckland Harbour bridge by bus and with freshly aware eyes I drank in the delicate shades of colour that were reflected in the waters of the Waitemata - vast, different and ever-changing at every moment of every day for ever! It was a life-changing awareness that is still vivid to me now.

Anyone interested in looking at remarkable photographs of skies and clouds may wish to look at Grace's article on Sundogs and other atmospheric phenomena on her Rata Weekly website. She provides a link there to an atmospheric optics site which contains astonishingly beautiful images and loads of information.

It is worthwhile learning about art, craft and photography, oh, and the study of meteorology - indeed anything which gives us  more knowledge of the world we live in as we can then appreciate it very much more.

So although I'm sure the space station is a remarkable achievement, for me the natural beauty of the evening sky holds far greater magic and is more important to my world. I live to look around me and to appreciate and attend to what's already here, has been for millennia and hopefully will be for many more. Others may wish to venture forth into space but I wish to remain at home - on Earth.

"Is there anybody OUT there?"


Later Note: This article originally included a video of Starhawk's entitled the "Declaration of The Four Sacred Things", a really beautiful clip.  It has since been removed.  You can read the text of it here.

 Here is a clip of her talking in very much in the same vein as I have in this article: 

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