The Color Of The Sky

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“None of them knew the color of the sky.”

That’s the first line of Stephen Crane’s short story, “The Open Boat”.

When the world is reduced to the small vessel, the ocean and the sky, desolation and hopelessness are apparent from the start.

With little to work with: a small life boat, the sky, the water and a few characters, Crane turns this short story based on true events into a masterpiece of hope and despair. The flat, motionless ocean, a glimmer of light from the sky, a word or gesture between kindred souls…carry the reader along in weariness, discouragement, hope and sadness.

I think of his first line in the dismal days of this season on this small island.

Sunshine is a rare commodity on Beaver Island, most winters.

There’s something about the water temperature compared to the air temperature that keeps us frequently cloaked in haze,this time of year. The sky is most often some variation of  gray. The sun, if visible at all, is a pale glow through the mist.

Snow covered, the woods take on the limited palette of a faded photograph.

Everything is gray, or nearly gray. There is a leaf that clings to branches through the winter. In the autumn, it’s pale orange is one of the least impressive of all the colors offered. This time of year, that bit of orange hanging from dark limbs is often the only bit of color in the view.

Humans, too, are in the throes of winter.

We walk carefully out on paths covered with snow or ice. We talk cautiously, as conversations seem able to turn quickly into tense discourses. We get excited over new faces on the streets. We appreciate the sun when we see it. We get out with skis or snowshoes or sleds when we can. Otherwise, we keep plodding on.

Winter is here.

Spring is not so far away.

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19 responses »

  1. Cindy, it’s interesting how we all perceive things. After being in Chicago for so long, I always saw it as being gray, dismal. Now that I’m back on the Island, I see color everywhere, revel in it, cherish it. Most are looking, hoping for spring… yet I’m content with our gray winter days.

    • Of course, Loie, compared to Chicago or nearly any other city, Beaver Island is beautiful in the winter. This winter in particular we’ve had a number of bright, sunshiny days with beautiful blue sky.
      I sat down to write this post today, after an hour out walking the dogs. The road was too icy to traverse, so we took to the trails, where I tromped through wet, slushy snow to my knees. My fat little dog found the fleshy, ripe leg of a deer quite a ways off the trail under a pine tree. I waded through muck to get to her, where she was willing to take off my hand to keep her find, if necessary. When I got it, I hung it out of her reach in the tree. I carried her out to the Fox Lake Road through deep snow made soft by the rain. Every footfall left a hole filled with slush; every step threatened to leave my boot behind. We walked home, exhausted, down the road covered with gray ice under a layer of freezing water under a colorless sky that was spitting sleet.
      Some days just seem more “wintery” than others. Now that I’m showered, warm and dry, I can share in your contentment!
      Thanks for reading, and for your comment!

    • I suppose winters anywhere can be depressing, but the lack of sunshine and isolation from the outside world make it more possible here, I think. We are troopers, though, and have gotten very good and finding entertainment in this world. Also, many of us relish the calm and quiet after the rush of summer. For me, yes, it is a treasure to be here! Thanks for reading, Yvonne, and for your comment!

  2. Back in the 70s I spent two weeks downtown Chicago attending a workshop on community activism. For those two weeks my only view of the sky was what I could see between the tall buildings when I looked up from the street. At the end of the workshop and I left the city I was so overwhelmed the first time I saw the whole sky again it was almost scary. When I first moved to west Michigan almost every sunset found me at the beach. Now- knowing it is always there it isn’t so automatic or without thought that I go there. It is funny how we can take for granted some of the things we see every day. We have to be without them for awhile or see it through eyes that have never seen them before appreciate what we have. The latter could be, in part, responsible for that excitement those
    new faces bring.

    • February days – when the weather is nasty – bring “cabin fever” to the surface. It’s like a big family, shuttered in a house with no diversion for months on end. We love to see something new every now and then. I so understand what you say about not getting out to watch the sunset each day…just knowing it’s there. I see more sights here when I have company than I ever do otherwise. Those should be our resolutions…to take a few moments each day to appreciate the wonders around us. Thanks for reading, Bob, and for your comment.

  3. Cindy, this was an interesting piece. Oh these gray skies that linger on and on… But you know what you inspired me with? I suddenly wanted to study the color of the sky with even more attention. To notice the shades and hues of gray. So thank you for that. Blessings…

    • Oh, yikes, I got “interesting”…I say with a smile. This was certainly not some of my most uplifting writing, but it did reflect my mood of the moment. I’m glad you found inspiration to look at the skies with even more attention. Thanks for reading, for your comment, and for always “looking up”.

  4. What a beautiful piece, Cindy. You convey despair and hope, dormancy and rebirth. I really enjoyed reading this. Hang in there, spring is just around the corner!

    • Thank you, Sara! It was perhaps a bit melodramatic to equate my life this winter on Beaver Island to survivors stranded on a life boat in the middle of the ocean. Still – even though it was just a momentary lapse in my general good humor and not a reflection of my usual attitude toward winter – I felt I had pulled it together as a bit of good writing. Thank you, dear friend, for noticing that!

    • I bet! We all get a bit “inoculated” to the wonders around us, so that they begin to seem tedious just for their stead-fastness. Since drastic changes (I’m imagining waking up to an Arizona sky) might be scary, what we should all try to cultivate is seeing with “new eyes” each day. Thank you for reading, Tammy, and for your comments.

    • Oh, Kathy, you wrote this just in the nick of time! I was just thinking about writing a “disclaimer” post, explaining myself and saying that I really don’t see the world as a bleak landscape and that it was, yes, quite an exaggeration to equate Beaver Island in the winter to a life boat in the middle of the ocean…but I really don’t have the time or inclination. I wasn’t actually as negative as I sounded, and thought – in the end – it worked as a fair piece of writing, and I wasn’t expecting to be judged by my momentary mood…and was probably over-reacting, anyway, to every single response. Thank you for reading, and for your comment!

    • Yes! I’ve heard that before, that our misty winter days are reminiscent of Ireland. As our island was settled mainly by Irish immigrants, we love the comparison. Thank you for reading, and for your kind comment!

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