20 October 2010

Land in light of clouds



Space.  We need space.  So much of everyday life unfolds inside a feeling of tightness, a tightness that we've created to promote efficiency and up our output.  Buildings, cubicles, caf├ęs with tables so close together you can't scoot your chair back without bumping into someone else.  Hostels with 6, 8, 14 bunks to a room.  Portapotties, rows of portapotties - they're always standing in rows.  Like they'd be afraid to stand alone, staggered - HOLD RANKS!   Parking lots, where so many paint-scratching mishaps occur, tempers boil, the speedbumps and brakes alerted suddenly to pedestrians marching obediently over asphalt walkways, painted to denote the place where walking is allowed, where stopping is allowed, where fire engines are allowed.

It's all about organizing space.  The chair you're sitting in?  Space. Comfort and space.  Even writing has come to be confined.  Our thoughts, as they hit the page, are prohibited from tumbling wherever they please.  They are hemmed, margined, top and bottom, line after line - the blue ones, not the red.  Space.  Since when were we ever freed from this sense of outlined, projected space?


Space becomes a funny thing when you step outside.  Outside the boundaries of wall, ceiling, window,  suddenly you have...well, space - but not entirely devoid of limits.  Trees, houses, buildings, people, clouds.  The space is not bounded, but filled with presence.  You feel it more than you notice it.  An open field feels a lot different with a single tree in the middle; an open horizon feels a lot different with a full moon above it.  And the sky - the endless shape and pattern and movement of the sky creates an endless number of different senses.

Watching a giant cumulonimbus billow out into a thunderstorm feels markedly different from watching the fragile filaments of cirrus clouds shoot across the blue.  It's the difference between feeling hemmed in or utterly free.  I never fail to feel this overwhelming sense of liberation when I see wisps of mare's tail cirrus splayed out across the sky.  I don't know why, I just do.  I want to leap, I want to sing, I want to read poetry all day.  That is mare's tail cirrus for me.  I remember speaking to someone who thought that a gray sky - that ubiquitous, enveloping gray - was the most beautiful of all the sky's colors.  I had never considered that before, but now I can't help but think about it when I encounter a sky that color.

 Some people say that we think of the weather as a projection of ourselves.  A foggy day may be depressing to the depressed and beautifully mysterious to someone more adventurous.  American artist Roni Horn did this project called WEATHER REPORTS YOU, which plays with the idea that the weather is a metaphor for energy - the social and physical energy of a person and place.  I think she has a point.  I find myself doing this sometimes, deriving my energy from or blaming it on the weather.

But I also can't ignore the fact that a certain  pattern of clouds across the sky reliably produces a distinct feeling in me every time, no matter how I felt beforehand.  Like the mare's tail cirrus.  Many a gloomy day has begun for me that has transformed into a beautiful one at the sight of those clouds.  I say sight, but really, it's that sense.  The feeling produced by their presence.  The simple arrangement of space. 

both photos - All Saints' Chapel, Sewanee, TN

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