Sky, from the toes up
“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” – e. e. cummings
When I was in the first or second grade and learned that the earth revolves, I wondered why the ground did not move beneath my feet when I jumped. How perplexing; I come down just where I started, I thought.
My dad explained that the atmosphere moves with the earth and, in fact, if it didn’t, there would be a substantial windstorm blowing us down around the clock.
For years, I viewed the sky as something far way, especially on clear nights when the stars—according to my observations—moved on flight paths much more distant that clouds, airplanes, or the helium balloons that escaped our grasp at the county fair.
I supposed at an early age that an ant’s view of the sky includes everything from my toes up. My feet are shadows and my hands are clouds and my head is a far planet. I believed they were misinformed and/or had poor eyesight because the sky was miles away.
Early on a Saturday morning when I was in high school, I went to Alligator Bay on the Gulf Coast south of Tallahassee, Florida, with Tommy and Jonathan for a boat ride over to Dog Island. Jonathan’s family had a speed boat anchored just off the beach near his family’s summer cottage. The faraway sky was blue and cloudless, and the water was tranquil.
After a day of swimming, snorkeling and sand-dune exploring, we headed back just as a storm began developing farther to the west. The sky grew very dark before we reached the bay sheltered by Alligator Point. The high chop of the waves slowed our progress, so the afternoon was winding down before we set the anchor and waded ashore. We were quite relieved we hadn’t swamped the boat, something we hadn’t done for a year or two.
As we stood watching the storm pass by outside the bay, the setting sun appeared low on the western horizon with one of the most spectacular golden sunsets I have ever seen. The beach, the boat, and the surf were bright orange and glowing with light. Meanwhile, the lightning from the passing storm to the south of us, was also bright orange, and it hissed as it snaked across the sky over our heads and shook the world with its hollow thunder.
We stood without saying a word, and to this day, I think those moments still represent one of the most mystical experiences I have ever had. On that golden beach just out of the storm’s reach, everything was possible and yes and hopeful and connected. “The sky is everywhere, it begins at your feet,” wrote Jandy Nelson in her young adult novel. Yes it is, and on that afternoon, it was clear to me that I stood within the sky and not below it.