Blue Skies #52essays2017 no. 5

Blue Night, London by Joseph Pennell from the LACMA
The sky is blue, the NASA website tells me, because the white light from the sun gets scattered by the earth’s atmosphere and the blue light waves, which are shortest, are scattered the most. I picture the light coming down and refracting and scattering into all the different colors and the blue covering everything else up. I keep reading the description, but I still don’t quite understand how it happens. I wonder if this page for children about why the sky is blue is part of the science that the new administration seems to dislike so much. Surely the blue of the sky is innocuous, and this page will remain. I wonder how the color of the sky might be affected by climate change, and if changes in the earth’s atmosphere will ever affect the color of the sky.

I saw that blue again today for the first time in a long time. A cold wind came up and suddenly there was a rift in the clouds, and in that rift was blue, and around that blue sun was shining out. It was the most beautiful color I’ve ever seen.

Today I wore all black for some online action that I forgot to participate in, save for a blue necklace. I don’t own any black jewelry was my rationale, but maybe I wanted that sliver of hope. It’s a small necklace, just a few clear blue stones dangling from a thin fine silver chain.

Black and gray are my natural colors, the ones you find in my closet and the ones I wear most days, but they aren’t the colors I want to see in the world. When I went out just now I was dismayed to find the clouds had rolled in again, low thick stratus clouds, the kind that promise more rain and sleet as the temperature hovers right around freezing. They aren’t foreboding like thunderclouds or elegant like cirrus clouds; they are just dim and gray and depressing, and they obscure the light. They are fitting for this moment in time.

I grew up with my mother singing me a song called “The Brown Bird” which her mother sang to her, having learned it off the B side of a Maxine Sullivan record of “Blue Skies.” Research has led me to understand that the song is actually called “A Brown Bird Singing” and that it was the B side of either “Dark Eyes” or “Speak to Me of Love,” but I know I taped it and “Blue Skies” off ‘78s of my grandmother’s when I was in high school. The ‘78s are long gone, but I probably still have the tape somewhere. If I digitize the tape, I wonder if I’ll still hear her voice coming through or if it will sound more like the cloudy dub of a dub of a dub tapes that we passed around in high school. I know digital sound works differently, but, like the light scattering and making the sky blue, I don’t really understand how it works.

The stones on my necklace aren’t pure blue. They’re a grayish blue, a smokey blue. The aren’t like the sky. Or maybe they are — they are the sky just before it clears, the blue coming out from behind the gray. My necklace is today in the atmosphere, if not today in the world.

I read that computer programmers are trying to preserve climate data from government websites. They are downloading datasets about air quality and temperature and atmospheric conditions — all the things that tell us that climate change is real, things they fear will be made to disappear during the current administration. The article I read says that sometimes the data isn’t readable by humans — as it downloads it comes out as text, elements separated from the elements they go with. But eventually they will be able to put it back together to give us a picture of the atmosphere through time, a picture of our sky.

Writing often seems indulgent, particularly if you write primarily about yourself. It seems particularly so when the things you depended upon being true in your own country — that it would respect facts and laws — are crumbling beneath you. Writing about the things that are crumbling beneath you seems pointless when you ought to be calling your horrible senators or taking to the streets. But we resist in the ways that we can — by calling and marching, but also by continuing.

I continue to look to the sky for the sake of my soul. When it is cloudy I continue to believe that somewhere behind the clouds it is clear and blue.

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