There are certain elements which truly transfix – a campfire, the sea and the endless sky. All are moody and temperamental, and all inspire wonder. When I think of any one of them, I have happy associations…
Campfires with friends and family in the Adirondacks or Algonquin Park, at friends’ cottages, neighbours’ homes and notably my own fire pit here in the hills, evoke fond memories of fireside chats, story-telling, singing and dancing and much hilarity. The atavistic pull of the fire held us in its spell as children grew up and all too quickly, grand-children joined in the magic.
And the sea, well the sea is not just in my Dutch blood, but it encompasses my journeying across countries and continents – Cape Town, Zandvoort, Palaiokastritsa, Kovalam, Ocho Rios, Trinity Bay and Tofino. All so different and all so captivating. And moments of incredible bliss whether riding in a zodiac off the coast of Newfoundland to look at puffins or floating in the Caribbean Sea feeling one with the sea and sky.
But the sky, well the sky is ubiquitous. It surrounds each and every one of us every day and night and is arguably the most universally transfixing element of all. No matter who we are or where we live, we look up at the sky. We watch clouds move in different patterns across the sky. We see the golden sun rise and set and monthly watch the phases of the moon. We stand in awe of stars and constellations.
Living in the country, I am lucky to be far enough from ambient light. In all seasons I look forward to a nightly walk with the dog to look up at the stars and feel the majesty of the sky. I have marveled at the Big Dipper hanging over Farrelton and I have watched the northern lights, sometimes white and green, sometimes red and orange, shimmering across the sky and dominating the horizon, as I stood still and transfixed.
I have seen thunderheads as big as mountains as I make my way off Highway 5 and down to the traffic lights north of Wakefield. I have seen a setting sun transform the skylight into a palette of orange and pink and red. This is god spell.
The sky is almost always mesmerizing, never static. Like the original shapeshifter that it is, we can be riveted by a spectacular sunrise or sunset or watch in horror at it shifts from blue to grey to black and angrily unleashes hail or fires lightning bolts. Is it any wonder that myths and legends found their genesis in the sky?!
So captivating is the sky that amateur and professional photographers alike watch and wait for just the perfect light, the perfect shot to capture a unique moment or immortalize a special day in time. Beyond the zeitgeist obsession with selfies, I would venture that most cell phone and computer libraries are full of photos wherein the sky played the starring role or provided the perfect backdrop.
As I sat down to reflect on the sky as a backdrop to my own life, I got lost in the pull of distant and not so distant memories of which I will share but a few.
Inspired by Mary Stewart’s novel, This Rough Magic, my mother contacted the property manager credited in Ms Stewart’s book and asked about renting a villa. He responded with the perfect villa and so, at the age of 10, I went with my family to spend a month on the island of Corfu. The villa was set in an olive grove and perched high above the Ionian Sea with a winding path that led to a stony beach below. My father made it his daily mission to clear a path of stones from shore to sea, so that my mother could have easy entry to the water. The villa had a very large balcony off the master bedroom on the second floor and the view across the azure sea was hard to beat. Think of the recent PBS series, The Durrells in Corfu, and you will have a bit of an idea. One of the most unforgettable memories of that month in Corfu, was when on occasion my parents would roll out their big bed onto the balcony and my younger brother and I would lie next to our parents and gaze up at the sky and marvel at billions and billions of stars and glimpse hundreds of fire flies dance on the periphery of the olive grove and the lights of Albania twinkle across the sea. We told stories and lay in wonder as we fell under the spell of our own rough magic.
When I returned to Canada from a youth spent overseas, I flew from Kingston, Jamaica (my father’s last posting) to attend Trent University. Having never been to Trent nor Peterborough, and feeling somewhat apprehensive, I was very happy to meet a girl on the Greyhound bus from Toronto called Pam Turner. Pam came from northern Ontario, a place called Iroquois Falls, which was as foreign to me then as Kingston, Jamaica was to her.
It was a very auspicious beginning. Pam was not only going to Trent but also going to the same residence as me, Otonabee College. We became fast friends and at the end of third year, Pam invited me to Iroquois Falls at the end of term. Dare I say, it was a true cultural experience from the moment I got on the Ontario Northland bus in Bracebridge where I had been visiting my new boyfriend, Steve. Steve and I parted ways, he to go canoeing with friends in Algonquin Park an hour away, and me to make my way North passing through dense spruce and pine forests and leaving a beautiful Muskoka spring (no bugs yet) behind. And while not enamoured with the North, I have to say it provided me with an unforgettable memory.
One night while driving with Pam and friends (one of them hockey player, Roger Lemelin) and looking to the horizon, we saw not only a beautiful orange sunset but more spectacular still, we watched the biggest moon rise I think I have ever seen. By 11 pm the moon consumed the sky. It was truly awesome and we all got out of the car and sat on the hood to watch the sky transformed. It seemed the paddlers in Algonquin Park had the same experience as when swapping tales later of our respective adventures, almost the first thing Steve and I said to each other was, “I saw the most incredible moon!” It had been a marvelous night for a moon dance.
The early years of my life were spent in South Africa where I remember, and really I do, swimming almost before I could walk. However, having left South Africa when I was almost four, I don’t remember visiting Kruger Park or travels in the Transvaal, but despite my tender years, Africa had left its imprint and always held a fascination for me. In fact, at one point in my adolescence, I thought I would love to work at a game reserve in East Africa. That never happened, but thanks again to my adventuresome parents, I did travel to East Africa and was able to experience the wonders of Africa’s wildlife while on safari in Kenya and Tanzania. Ingrained in my memory is the migration of the wildebeest, the pink cloud of flamingos as we descended into Ngorongoro Crater, leopards lying in trees and elands and antelope standing majestically. Two weeks of driving across the dusty red earth to see hyena and zebra, lions and elephants, giraffes, baboons and secretary birds in their natural habitat was truly magnificent and left me profoundly hoping we never lose space for where the wild things are.
One day as we were nearing the end of our day’s journey and making our way to the lodge, the sunlight shimmered across the road creating a mirage of the hills and thorn trees up ahead. It was hard to know if the road was still there and where the landscape began. And then as if through the mist, this giant African sun took over the landscape and for a very brief moment the sky was on fire, trees and distant animals silhouetted against a vermilion sky before the sun dipped below the horizon and disappeared.
Amidst the challenges and sorrows of the pandemic, many people across the globe are coming together virtually to stand up for a just recovery and an end to the extractive economic system destroying our earth, robbing it of its biodiversity and our children and grandchildren of a sustainable future. Where do we find hope? Where do we find agency?
My mind drifts to a trip to the Isle of Skye in 2013 where on a bus tour with friends, we saw 14 different rainbows in one day as we crisscrossed the island. The constantly changing sky shifted from sun to clouds and as we rounded one bend after another, someone on the bus would say, “oh look, another rainbow.” I could not help but think of the Celtic myths of fairies and leprechauns burying their pots of gold at the end of the rainbow and the biblical story of the covenant of the rainbow where God says to Noah after the flood, “Never again will I let floodwaters destroy all life. When I see the rainbow in the sky, I will always remember the promise that I have made to every living creature. The rainbow will be the sign of that solemn promise. ” Genesis 9
In reality, a rainbow’s arch is just an illusion, rainbows form a perfect circle. Perhaps rather than a pot of gold, the rainbow should remind us that this blue-green orb we call home is full of treasures.
I think how life unfolds in curious ways and I think of many serendipitous connections, including that trip to Skye with my old friend Fiona and her husband, Paul and how my son-in-law’s maternal ancestors, the McIntyre clan of Cape Breton, hail from the Isle of Skye and that my granddaughter was named Danika (morning star) Skye! Connections. The love of Sky(e) and the circle of life!
Every day as I gaze up at the sky I am captivated by its glory. I delight in the beauty and diversity of this planet we inhabit and I am grateful to live where I live and to have seen what I have seen. I am grateful for the good earth which offers so much and only asks to be respected, protected and preserved, to provide not just a legacy but a future for generations to come. Blue-sky thinking perhaps, but therein lies my agency and my hope.