Packing our traditional Memorial Day haul of flowers into the car this morning, I looked up at the wide-open sky, a dome of blues that ranged from the pale robin’s-egg along the horizons to a deep navy straight above. The only break in the blue was a single cloud, a rectangular mass with lateral corrugations. By the time we got home, twenty minutes later, even that interruption of the sky had dissipated.
I love the dominance of the sky here in Northfield: the blue skies are wonderful, the massive cloud banks are magnificent, and we see some incredible sunsets. But I’m still not used to seeing so much sky above me. Growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I only saw this much sky when I was near Lake Superior, and there the sky was overmatched by the lake, which itself was bounded by an evergreen wall.
Inland – in and around the towns where I lived, Daggett, Ironwood, Hancock – the sky was mostly something you either saw in ragged shards through the trees, if the trees let you see the sky at all, or at vertical swatches of blue at the far end of the highway, the powerline cut, the train tracks… If I had to distill this experience to a single memory, I would choose the time I was sitting, as a little kid, outside our one-room “hunting camp” north of Ironwood and looking through the gap in the trees over the cabin at a small patch of nighttime sky that was equally starry and blue-black. The rest of the seen world, all around, was composed of black and gray trees, swaying in the winds off the lake, not too far away. It was scary and thrilling and comfortable all at once.
Even though those boreal experiences were now half my life ago, I still feel like I should see trees when I look up, and that I should see masses of trees – stands, copses, woods, forests – when I look around, not flat or rolling fields and this prairie sky. This is one of the reasons that I love Carleton’s Arboretum so much. Not much of it is truly wooded, but there are at least a few places (especially way back in the northeastern corner, as far from campus as you can get) where you can feel, at least for a few steps, overwhelmed by the trees – conifers that aren’t native to this area but that remind me of the expanses of forest at home.