Aside from astronomers and meteorologists, I posit that people in the Great Plains of North America pay more attention to the sky than most other folks. I base my opinion upon general observation of midwesterners and people who live elsewhere. I think people anywhere can appreciate the sky as much as we do.
We, who live in the Great Plains, reside in “tornado alley”, so we understand that some of our greatest threats come from the sky. The same goes for wintertime, the plains have a higher frequency of dangerous, frozen precipitation and blizzards than most other places.
Even when the weather is benign, the sky is all important, especially in the vast rural areas. Basically we have the ground and we have the sky. The ever-changing sky provides interesting views, day and night unhampered by smog or light pollution.
Observation of the sky is a primordial part of human behavior. The dome of the sky was and remains one of the ever-present, and greatest mysteries. Wherever and whenever humans have gone, the sky has been above us. The sky has been the backdrop of superstitions and religions since prehistorical times. The sky is the dwelling place of our gods and goddesses. Until recently, the sky was a place we could not enter.
Modern humans were not the first to understand that the night time sky was limitless. Ancient humans from everywhere on Earth pondered the vast skies and intuited there are vast distances. Astrologers and mathematicians eventually developed their concepts of infinity by studying the heavens. We can feel similar emotions when we set aside time to observe the darkest skies and let go of our opinions and beliefs while we sit and simply watch the sky.
Children who live in the Great Plains are more likely than kids in other areas, to lay back in a meadow or a backyard and watch clouds. Clouds have inspired more imaginationary visions and mental projections long before Doctor Rorschach invented his inkblot test or people started seeing Jesus on random slices of toast.
Have you ever seen a cloud that looks like an animal shape, or sailing ship, or some other familiar object? At night, have you bothered to locate the most arcane constellations? Do you speculate about the distances from Earth for the various stars galaxies, and the haze of the Milky Way? What about the Moon draws you to study the patterns of dark and light on its surface?
Sometimes the night sky can make you feel connected and grand, yet small and alienated at the same time. I suppose skywatchers have felt this unsettling emotion as long as there have been skywatchers.
Sometimes the ruler of the nighttime, the Moon, can be seen during the daytime. On occasion the Moon eclipses the Sun. These events probably provided the most consternation among ancient people, as much as these phenomena trigger inquiry within the minds of contemporary children.
The little three-letter word, sky, represents the greatest, largest place we can imagine. I decided to consult my dictionary for the etymology of the name. Our modern English word sky has many roots. The ancient Norse people called the cloud region “skuggi” or shadow. Traditional High German has the word “Scuwo”. Proto-Germanic culture had “skeujam” for cloud cover. Old Saxons had the name “scio”, while Old English used the word “sceo”. In Middle English their word meant both heaven and cloud.
The sky is no longer the limit. There are living, breathing human beings orbiting the Earth right now aboard the International Space Station. We can even find a map and graphic schedule on the Internet. If your timing is right, you can see it. The ISS is the brightest nighttime object, except for the Moon, in Space.
The sky can be thought of as our greatest natural resource. There we find the Sun, the actual center of our planetary existence and the ultimate source of all our energy. The precipitation arrives from the sky to replenish our water, and the atmosphere colors the sky with life-giving air that we all must share.
Sometimes, when I’m fully aware of the sky, I realize that we exist in Heaven on Earth.