Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:



Blazing clouds in the southwest looked as if they were filled to the brim with Orange Crush. The twilight sky glowed like a neon sign in the wilderness.

I was sitting on my couch on a January evening until the light outside of the kitchen window grabbed my attention. When the sky screams in orange, you can’t help but respond. I stepped out onto the back porch to breathe in the color.

With trees and buildings in the way, I didn’t have a clear shot with a camera, but others did. Facebook immediately lit up with sunset photos. Kansans, east to west, marked the moment that the sun set the clouds on fire.

In Kansas, we wake each day underneath this one big sky. No matter where we live – in the city or country, in the rolling hills or on flat land – and despite any differences in our social and political views, we share the same heavens. Perhaps our common ground is the sky above us.

In honor of Kansas Day today, I’m paying tribute to my personal obsession: the sky. More than anything, what makes Kansas feel like home to me is our dome of reassuring blue.

Staring into the sky, we notice all the nuances of color – that the sapphire blue lightens toward the horizon, how it becomes more saturated as we look into outer space.

Sometimes clouds divide the sky into sections. In one area, the blue has a yellowish tinge, in another a grayish tone. Those blues clash, as if they don’t belong in the same sky.

Blue is a day-long monologue, and clouds are the commas that make us pause along the way. Cumulous, just passing through, add cadence to the atmosphere, a trail of thought set in meter and rhyme.

Clouds offer a quiet grace, billows of water droplets gliding on a river of air. They sail without engines, without sound. And unlike our vehicular movements on this chessboard of earth, clouds move freely in any direction, wherever the wind takes them.

One of my favorite encounters with clouds was during spring break, 1980. The March day was grimly overcast in Kansas and I was traveling alone from Kansas City to Austin to visit my brother. I had flown in small planes before, but this was my first commercial flight. Wide-eyed and gripping the arms of the seat, I prayed that if death came it would be quick and merciful.

The fear tapered after take-off and soon we entered a fairytale world of clouds.The plane buffeted as it hit each cloud puff, like the soft impact you feel when your boat intersects a wake.

With clouds inches from my face, just on the other side of the plane’s thick window, I could see nothing but wispy fragments, white on white. But the view got even better when the upward-angled plane finally broke through the cloud line. It was an entirely different day up there.

Rising above the clouds was pure metaphor. And now I know for sure, that despite the oppressive clouds of a vanilla sky, the blue holds steady, the sun always shines.

Gazing into our Kansas sky brings me peace. Azure blue is my security blanket, a color of comfort.

Some states have mountains which cut into air space. But the relative flatness of Kansas allows the sky that much more room to work. We have the fullest experience of atmosphere possible, 180 degrees of playful light.

Our blue sky is more familiar than family. It is perhaps the most common scene in our visual storage banks. Postcard blue is the color we’ve seen nearly every day of our lives. And the sun setting on the prairie is our kiss goodnight.

There’s no sky like our sky, no end to the day like a Kansas sunset. Maybe I’m holding onto an image which is nothing more than air, but that’s all I need to feel right at home.

Copyright 2013 ~ Cheryl Unruh


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