First published in The Emporia Gazette March 28, 2006


You can listen to this on the Kansas Public Radio Web site.

Air date: May 10, 2006


stormy sky



The Kansas sky is such a drama queen. She’ll do anything for attention.

One day, she’s a sleek debutante, showing off a sapphire-colored silk gown. The next day she’s a crazed, wild-haired woman chasing us with a band of psychotic clouds.

Queenie is all over the behavioral spectrum, especially during these springtime months.

We observe our matriarch in her dressing room, changing from solid blue to frilly lace to dowdy gray. Sometimes her outfits are bridal white; half the time they’re black as night.

She wields incredible power.

The queen rescues us from winter with a sun so warm that it tickles our skin. Her spring rains color the grass green again and she flirts with flowers to make them bloom.

When she’s depressed, Her Royal Highness casts a pall over the land. She wraps the sun in a ratty chenille bathrobe and smothers our light.

And on her angriest days, the queen is a killing machine.

angry sky

In her fury, she thunders and stomps and reaches down to earth with electrical claws. Her palms sweep the ground, leaving wreckage and twisted trees.

But when she’s at the top of these mood swings, it’s her sparkling hours that make 7-year-old girls skip on the sidewalk.

On cheerful days, the entire neighborhood turns out to play. Dogs tug at their leashes. Joggers seem to hang in mid-air stride. Car windows are open and music dances down the street.

While the Kansas landscape is serene and immobile, the air is alive with color and animation. Above us is where the action lies: the sky is the prize.

Seventy-degree days draw me out onto the front porch. My feet push against the railing as I balance on the back legs of a lawn chair. I’ll pretend to read a book, but I’m really out there to watch the clouds.

On clear afternoons, I find myself staring as far into outer space as my eyes will take me. I try to reach the back end of that box of blue. I know there must be black on the other side, but I can’t quite see that far.

With no landmarks in the sky, it’s impossible to know how far we can see. Are those clouds to the east casting shadows on Lebo? Or Beto Junction?

Only when the blue air is freckled with cumulus, can we even begin to guess the size of the sky.

But how many clouds can fit over the space that is Lyon County? And how big is a cloud? Is it the size of a city block? Or as large as square mile?

There’s always something going on up there. The map of the sky continually redraws itself.

Cross-country jets leave razor-thin trails which bloat, then dissolve.

Cumulus follow each other across the sky like words on a page. Lonely, uncertain clouds are lost in the whim of wind.

Before our eyes, the sky transforms, becomes a new character. Thunderheads build and darkness overtakes the day. The tempest whips us with rain and hail.

“Look at me. Look at me,” the drama queen shouts.

And we can’t help but look. Each morning, a new sky jumps out to surprise us; we live our lives between danger and delight.

Spring is both tranquil and turbulent. But no matter what happens, we always return to a clear sky, a clean slate.



dramatic clouds



 Copyright 2006 Cheryl Unruh

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All Content Copyright 2006 by Cheryl Unruh
Text by Cheryl Unruh | Web Design: Dave Leiker
Photography by Cheryl Unruh & Dave Leiker