Rainbow Skies

For years the colors have been calming, a twilight easing up from the prairie horizon as a soft azure before gradually melding into a mauvish violet before blending further into various palettes of pastels. I can’t recall seeing such sky views before moving to the prairie in 1992, although perhaps in my more youthful adulthood I was simply not paying attention.

This array comes shortly after sunset, once the sun has eased below the horizon to the west and before true darkness settles in. It is a fleeting display sometimes lasting several minutes, sometimes longer. 

When I began paying attention to what was left of the former prairie grasslands, and often on jaunts into the restored acreages with a camera in hand for prairie portraits that hopefully featured ambient colors set before me by the clouds and sunset colors, the light around me would dim much like it might before a concert or play might begin. 

Then, like back-lit stage lights, the soft colors would come, azure softly easing into mauve, all in a comfortable array of pastels. Sometimes there would be “players” there, sometimes not. Perhaps the turkey-foot stems of bluestem, or maybe a dragonfly. A dancing coneflower. Maybe a lightly traveled road easing through. Oh, but the colors.

Sometimes there would be “players” there … a coneflower, or maybe a lightly traveled country road …

Not long ago a sweet friend named Sophia, a waif of a woman now in her 20s and who has seemingly returned from the Cities to the prairie to work on organic farms, described this heavenly display as a “rainbow” sky. I don’t know how or where Sophia came up with such a beautiful and apt description, although I know of none better nor more descriptive. Seemingly it is a moniker that may have escaped the best of the prairie poets, although admittedly I’m ashamed to think of how many I may have missed.

Sophia is a quiet, studious young woman who observes life around her with grace and with eyes … oh those eyes speaking of wisdom beyond her years … wide open. If she had been alive in the era of Aldo Leopold he might have had reason to have written one of his more memorable quotes with her in mind: “To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.” 

That would be Sophia. An essayist with a knack for descriptive phrasing, Leopold would most likely have enjoyed sharing such observations with Sophia seated on the bench of his small farm along the Wisconsin River. I can imagine that, for my imagination knows few bounds. There are few blank places.

After the sunset, the rainbow sky eases in like back-lit stage lights before the play begins …

Since moving to the prairie I’ve been fortunate to have had sky views, and in reality why would one not want such vistas. It’s easy to look at this half-football shape of Terra Earth so common to us who live in the lands of these widened skies … Holm’s Horizontal Grandeur …  and not think of the heavenly blue with the white schooner clouds floating by easily above. Our afternoons are commonly graced with such offerings. Yet there is more … so much more. I love the “Monet” light of the early mornings and late afternoons, the latter of which sets the stage for the often stunning sunsets with a surround of ambient light and cloud formations that commonly defies definition. Then …

Some of us sometimes smirk and even snicker when we discuss those sunset fanatics living on the coast of Florida who glamour over their late afternoon displays settling over the Gulf. In some towns second story decks and widow walks are constructed to hopefully offer prime views of the sun lowering into darkened waters of a horizoned sea. “Most of those sunsets I’ve seen there,” says a close friend, “are simple reddish sun balls sinking into the sea. Nothing like what we have here. Rarely this vibrant, and our sunsets are rarely dull.”

A chance reflection in a “ghost” of a prairie pothole …

Here we simply walk outside and take in an offered godly presentation. Some of us even jaunt into the grasses and around the lakes and potholes in search of subjects to photograph or paint attempting to capture such light. Shades of Monet. My home prairie here at Listening Stones Farm has granted me many wonderful images through the years. Many are from the sunsets, those featured events which hardly offer the calmness of the rainbow skies that follow to ease us toward complete darkness.

And, yes, rainbow skies have also provided me with some wonderful blessings through the years beyond the calmness of the inner soul. For some, perhaps myself included, “twilight” is a “my light,” and the peace graced upon us by the rainbow skies is just so precious. It’s not unlike a sigh given after a good day … made just before a reading lamp is extinguished for the night.

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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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