Thursday the rain pelted us pretty hard. I left work and had to run across what appeared to be a newly made and unauthorized mini-canal in the parking lot. The water rolled over my shoes. We have days like that in the early summer. Clear, then suddenly the sky grows dark and the clouds empty several inches of rain in a short time. I guess we’re not unique in that. All of the places I’ve lived have had that same type of weather during the spring and early summer.
What is unique to me here is the sky. It’s huge. I mean, I know that Montana is nicknamed “Big Sky Country,” but Nebraska could also be called that. I noticed it during my first visit with my family when I was a teenager, and I notice it quite often now that I live here. On days like yesterday, I step outside at work, where there are really no significant trees for miles, and I can feel the sky looming above me. The sky just feels bigger here than it did in the other places I’ve lived, and I just feel smaller. I can almost imagine being above myself and seeing people scurrying around doing their thing below, oblivious to the fact that the whole of creation sweeps above and around them.
I can’t really figure out why the sky seems bigger here. Is it because there are fewer trees and buildings and steep hills (although there are plenty of dune-shaped hills) where I notice it? I don’t feel it as much in my neighborhood, where mature trees line the streets, but get a few blocks away, where fields surround the highways, and there it is: Big Sky. Or maybe it’s because the clouds pass overhead at a higher altitude, giving the sense of space above. Or maybe the air is clearer or there’s less low, dense cloud cover. Maybe a combination of those things. Who knows?
After I got home from work yesterday, the rain stopped. My kids and I took advantage of the break in the rain and drove to the store. On the way, I noticed wildly interesting clouds forming above us. Huge clouds. Mountainous clouds, some heavy and ominous, and some swirling in formations like I’d never seen before. Of course, I had to stop and take some pictures of them. And mind you, I was not alone. One other car had pulled over to photograph the natural wonder taking place above us. Maybe the passengers in that car are newish here, too.
I noticed a few things about what was going on around us. Besides that other driver and me, nobody seemed to notice the show happening above us. The clouds changed minute by minute, and everyone just drove around, going to the store, taking the kids to softball practice, driving home from work. Nobody seemed impressed. I also do that plenty of times, and, realistically speaking, I can’t stop every time something interesting goes on around me or I’d never get anywhere. But what happened to the sense of connectedness to nature and feeling of awe I had when I was younger? When did I stop noticing things like a giant cloud formation sailing above me?
I also realized that artists have attempted to paint, describe, and compose replications of such natural phenomenon for centuries and that, in reality, I’ve probably spent more time looking at the human attempts to replicate that sky than the sky itself. Mostly nature doesn’t catch my eye unless it results in something super-impressive, like a storm rolling in.
One of my favorite musicians ever has to be Rich Mullins. Even if I didn’t know he spent a lot of time in the Great Plains area, I’d be able to tell it from his songs. They highlight how the beauty in nature bears the distinct fingerprint of God, how it points us back to Him. The prairie and the Big Sky always especially remind me of the words from one of my favorite Rich Mullins songs, Calling Out Your Name:
“I feel the thunder in the sky.
I see the sky about to rain,
And with the prairies I am calling out your name.”