November Skies

Forgive me as I pay homage to the cloudy heavens now that another calendar page has been turned. As an artist friend recently told me, November skies are when the sky comes to cover earth. Indeed! How appropriate and descriptive, for it is a month of transition from the colorful hues in the leafy timbers of September and October, and before the serious darkness of the Winter Solstice settles in around us. Yes, these past days in November offered us some splendor in the skies.

Canadian singer  K.D. Lang was thinking of November skies when she wrote: “The sky is an infinite movie to me. I never get tired of looking at what’s happening up there.” Nor do I.

A soft, pastel sky and a herd of bison in a South Dakota prairie offered a glimpse into the distant past …

Her comment so describes the heavenly show above us. Not just at sunrise or sunset, when many of us make artistic due thanks to the colorful dawning mornings and early evening light. For me afternoons are prime time for finding interesting clouds, those blankets that come to cover earth. A week or so ago while driving upriver from Montevideo I was just mesmerized by the ever changing shapes and colors of the clouds across the entire horizon with the sun barely, if ever, fully peeking through. Sunlight seemed to break through crevices and peek through cracks. 

Yet, there was really no place offering a foreground or “centerpiece” to make an image complete, for I’m not a painter who can create with a brush and imagination. Depth, content and light must merge for me in “plein air” compositions.

An early morning on little Lake Linka with the dawning sun highlighting the nearby woodland, sandwiched between roiling waters and an ominous November sky.

Later in the week at our cabin on little Lake Linka the ever-changing light and clouds entertained me for hours on end. If someone had asked, “Whacha doing?” as I sat to seemingly staring off into the distant skies as if I was immersed in dark moments of despair and depression, I could have simply said, “Look! November skies!” I get lost in them.

One of those earth hugging November skies that seemed to be an ever-transformation that reminds you that it’s never tiring to watch what’s happening up there!

This past November was a bonanza for sitting back and simply enjoying the heavenly beauty of those near, earth-hugging near-winter skies. Some were peaceful, while others brought a sense of ominousness. Some were gloomy, others colorful and some deep in calming pastels. One morning driving home from town a tubular stormish looking cloud laid across the sky like a strand of pearls; pearls of the necklace appearing as huge, bowling balls stretching from the Dakotas to who knows where. Since I was north of town a few miles when the clouds were at the height of massive awesomeness, I searched for a bit of prairie for a foreground while realizing had I seen the string early enough the Stony Creek valley just east of town on the state highway would have been perfect. It was not to be. 

A “necklace” cloud stretched from the Dakotas to who knows where over a nearby wetland.

Clouds offer fleeting opportunities. Here one minute, vanished the next. A constant transformation. Which I was reminded of on that drive home from Montevideo, for there was a portion of the sky that was nearly straight out of a Van Gogh … and again, no prairie. Nothing but blackened plowed fields, never ending, miles upon miles of them. The same while driving north of town. Off a county road heading east I knew of a dog kennel surrounded by acres of beautiful golden prairie grasses, which is where I headed while my eyes darted from the skies to the nearby roadways for possible authorities, either the State Patrol or county sheriff. By the time I reached the kennel turnoff the “bowling ball” lineup had nearly dissipated yet maintained small hints of definition. That constant transformation! Down the road past the kennel’s long driveway was a nice wetland that gave me hope. And, I pulled over.

Rarely do I use crop fields in my images, although an exception was made for these geese down the road … thanks to the November skies.

Should someone ask, “So, what’s with your aversion to crop fields? What’s wrong with plowed fields?” Those who know my work should know better than ask. My art is in trying to portray the remnants of the prairie pothole ecosystem, or biome, which is essentially adverse to most things mankind including plowed fields or fields ladened with commodity crops come summer. Those are for others with brush or lens, although I will admit to taking a photograph now and then of a flock of geese or deer in a stalk field ­– paying homage to Terry Redlin, perhaps. 

Ice on the wetland helped create an interesting sunset image on the last day of November, a fitting benediction.

So give me those golden grasses in field of prairie, the stilled waters of a wetland and bring forth some of those transforming clouds gracing the November skies. For I never tire of looking at what’s happening up there! 

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About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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