Monday, August 25, 2014

A Small Slice Of Sky

I saw a video the other day that was shot from the Space Shuttle during take-off. It was pretty interesting watching the accelerating speed and the perspective from space when the roundness of earth came into view. There were scattered clouds and darkness, spheres of light, and endless distance as the shuttle flew faster and faster away. Seeing those clouds, the earth, and light made me think of how small our view is standing on our two feet and looking up, and yet how much it still dazzles us.

A month or so ago I saw this photograph of Vadersolstavlan a 1636 reproduction of a 1535 painting. It's called The Sun Dog Painting, depicting halo displays of April 20, 1535 in Stockholm. There's just something about knowing that someone looked up into these beautiful skies and saw halos and sun dogs, and was moved to paint what he saw. I thought about the first 57 years of my life when I saw sunrises, sunsets, and rainbows, but never knew other phenomenon even existed. There must have been arcs and halos, sun dogs and crepuscular rays that just went by unnoticed. I do remember one drive across country seeing some clouds off in the distance, maybe it was in Kansas or Oklahoma, that were brightly and unusually colored. My then-boyfriend Michael D and I remarked on the crazy light green cloud, and wondered how such a thing was possible. It was in those early hippie days when we must have thought just seeing it meant we were special. It was there for us. You know how that is.

Now I wonder what it might have been like to have been observant all those years, but not having the internet at my fingertips. What if I did see halos and iridescent clouds, anti-crepuscular rays and circumhorizon arcs, how would I have even begun to research such things in 1965 or 1981? The first rainbow colored cloud I ever photographed was this one (above pic) taken from the beach house in Capitola in 2009. I called it a sun dog, and I have no idea how I came up with that term. It was really a beautiful circumhorizon arc.

I heard from Les Cowley last month, asking if my iridescent cloud photograph that he published on his website could be used by a professor who was writing a book "Setting Up a Weather Station and Understanding the Weather: A Guide For the Amateur Meteorologist." I said yes, of course! The chapter it will be in is on observations. This was the first iridescent cloud I ever photographed. I called it a sun dog too. This is the cloud that made me turn on the computer and research rainbow colored clouds. That's how I found Atmospheric Optics. I wrote Les Cowley, and he kindly responded and answered my questions. What is this crazy cloud formation? Help!

Ah yes, the Space Shuttle reminded me. It moves far beyond this chaos of wires and dangling sneakers, where cars and stop signs seem like quaint artifacts of a planet that forgets it's hurtling through space, and where the most spectacular tricks of light can go unnoticed even in our small slice of sky.


  1. thanks Robin, for reminding us that the world's a beautiful place if we just look around. I love how you show us, with photos and words the small creatures at our feet, and the wonderous vast sky above our heads.

  2. Keep looking up!
    I grew up on a farm with a father who always had one eye on the sky and the weather. For twelve years during my 30s and 40s I spent many weeks leading groups of people on walks in the British countryside - I couldn't believe how unobservant many folks were; many a time I stopped to put on my waterproofs as rain approached to be met with first, bewilderment and second with awe, as people seemed to think I had some kind of psychic powers!

  3. You're very good at showing, by your actions, how much we can learn just by watching. If we allow ourselves to do it, we can be in constant states of wonder, just by observing the world around us, and above us.

  4. Neat on the use of your photo. I love to watch the sky for clouds and what they might tell me about what is coming. It's one thing you can do over and over and never be bored by it

  5. Linda-- I remember watching the sun set with you and Jerome many evenings in the streets of Santa Cruz. I never knew how interesting the sky could be. What an endlessly beautiful show.

    John-- You made us laugh out loud. We have those psychic powers too. Roger and I were in a parking lot once in Grass Valley, CA, and there was the most beautiful display of iridescent clouds spread across a large swath of sky. We were shouting with joy and pointing up and just being exuberantly gleeful. NOT ONE other person in the parking lot looked up. Not one. How lovely that you grew up on a farm where you got to know the sky. A grand beginning!

    John-- I've discovered over the past few days that I can't stand the new iPhone we have because it makes me look down at it. There's no observing the world, when our eyes are on that crazy little screen.

    Rain-- It's an endlessly fascinating world out there. There's so much to learn and be enlightened by.

  6. Ooh, I hope you get a copy of the book. How neat is that.
    You do see more than I ever do but I am happy to get to see these phenomenons second hand.
    Perhaps without the Internet to answer you questions, you might have given up though I think some how, you would have found the answers.

  7. Arkansas Patti-- I was thinking the same thing, I need to request a copy of the book. I would love to know what's happening in your skies. I'm sure it's beautiful. I've learned to trust that beauty happens everywhere!

  8. Beautiful photographs. We can't see a lot of sky here in the mountains but we love what we do see, especially the sunrises and sunsets.

  9. I was convinced within moments of meeting you that, indeed, the way you see is special! :-)

  10. NCmountainwoman-- Around sunrise and sunset grand things happen in the sky. It's one of the best times to look around. So glad you liked the photos! Thank you.

    karmanot-- The way I see the world makes me want to spend a lot of time in beautiful garden sanctuaries with like-minded kind-hearted people. Simpatico.

  11. Fascinating to see The Sun Dog Painting. Congratulations on your photo being used in a book. The last photo is quite evocative for me. I can hear sounds as well as feel the air and feel my feet on the ground. Good to be so close to the ocean again. The ocean has been appearing in my dreams recently.

  12. Congratulations on your photo request and addition! That's so cool!

    I've been watching for sundogs and such since you started documenting these. I've actually seen a couple in the late afternoons.

    However, I'm afraid my part of the country just doesn't often have the right conditions for them. I think we probably see them most in the winter, and in the summer it's pretty much limited to traditional rainbows.

  13. Yes, it really is cool that someone wants to use your photo in a book. I would be so pleased I would stop strangers on the street to tell them.

    Wayne, sundogs are more common than most people think. All you really need is some thin clouds near the horizon as the sun sets. The problem for me most of the time is getting a good view that low on the western horizon.

  14. am-- That Sun Dog painting really knocked me out. I found it thrilling to know that someone was seeing halos and sundogs in 1535 and was just as moved by them as I am. We love being back here on the north coast. It truly is the place of our hearts.

    Wayne-- It really knocked me out to hear from Les Cowley about a photo request. It made all of my obsessive sky watching make sense! I remember when Roger and I were planning our move back to the coast, and I got worried about not seeing the splendid skies we saw in Grass Valley. Les said that those atmospheric optics happen everywhere. One of the most beautiful halo and arc photos I ever saw was taken in Alabama. It's an ephemeral play of light and ice. I always run outside when there's a thin layer of clouds on an otherwise bright and sunny day. It can be dazzling.

    Mark-- You made me laugh out loud. I do want to stop strangers on the street to tell them. Sometimes I just think to myself, "my iridescent photo is going to be in a book," and I smile giddily!

  15. Here's a comment from CCorax which blogger kept eating, so she emailed it to us.

    Beautiful post, Robin--both the photos and your wordcraft. I am thrilled for you that your photo is being used in a book! The book would be pretty cool to get our hands on; please post the information on how to get it, once it's published. Those amateur weather stations are worth their weight in gold. Did you know that Weather Underground uses data from personal stations to hone local forecasts to greater accuracy? It really does make a difference!
    And I have to comment on a word in your last sentence. It sure made me smile to read "spectacular" in a post about looking. Intentional etymological pun?

    My response:

    I look at the Weather Underground all the time, weather-junkie that I am, and it never occurred to me to wonder about all that amateur weather stations. Very, very cool. I would love to get a copy of the book. I will write the author today and ask him how we can get one (and let everyone else know as well). Thank you for your kind words about the post. Unintentional pun on spectacular!

  16. Wonderful cloud images; I read somewhere that they call those "opalescent" over in the UK.

  17. isabelita-- Glad you liked the photos. I've read that term "opalescent" to refer to iridescence as well. They're spectacular with any name!