We all love a bit of blue sky. At least, those of us who live in England. In hotter countries it’s easier to take sunshine for granted. Perhaps you remember the Fast Show sketch involving a tacky TV station in an indeterminate country: the weather girl pointing at sun symbol after sun symbol, declaring the weather to be “scorchio!” (and there it is never anything BUT scorchio). Yet here in grey old England, we spend a lot of the year underneath a thick ceiling of cloud.
Unusually, the past few weeks have been a rare opportunity to see consistent blue skies. We are actually having a proper summer. It has been scorchio. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to fully appreciate this as I work in a hot and stuffy building where decrepit rattling fans are the closest we get to air conditioning. Still, it has been lovely to drive to and from work under clear skies and to enjoy some weekend sun too. It’s also been a great time to take a holiday in the UK: you could end up with a better tan than if you’d been to a far-flung tropical island. That is, unless your UK holiday was, like ours, in the Lake District.
Now, I know that some of you live abroad and might not be familiar with the Lake District. It is a green and mountainous region of North Western England, with, unsurprisingly, a lot of lakes. The fact that it is so green and lake-y gives you a clue as to the sort of weather you might expect. It is the wettest part of England. As the Lake District website helpfully explains, this is because “the prevailing westerly winds cross the Atlantic Ocean, picking up large amounts of moisture. The air hits the Lake District hills and is forced to rise where it cools and the moisture condenses to form rain”. So whatever the time of year, you can expect some rainy weather. However, you can’t actually predict rain with any certitude or rely on the usually-accurate BBC-weather-forecast to help you plan your activities. The region has its own microclimate. In fact, each valley seems to have its own microclimate. This means that you have to dress for all weathers when you set off for a walk. It also means that the beautiful mountains and valleys that you’ve travelled so far to see, can be completely hidden from view.
With all this in mind, we didn’t expect a continuation of the heatwave. After two glorious days of blue skies and sun, the skies darkened and showery weather set in for the rest of the week. I would usually find this a bit depressing but against all expectation, I found myself beginning to appreciate the clouds and the way that whole landscapes would shift and change in step with the weather.
Veils of mist draped themselves over fir trees and swallowed them up.
Sailing boats disappeared in the shimmering vapour, only to emerge again moments later.
Mountains loomed into view and then were shrouded once more in silvery greyness.
There was a ghostly beauty in the thickening and thinning, the obscuring and revealing, the hints and glimpses, the not-quite and the almost-seen. There was beauty too in the intensity of colour shining out against the greyness.
Now back home again, the holiday over, I reflect on how the colour of the sky impacts on our mood and our thinking, our language and our psychology. Blue skies are usually equated with happiness, summer, lightheartedness, freedom, possibilities, hope, optimism and clarity of vision and purpose. Clouds are often used as metaphors for gloominess, sadness and confusion (being under a cloud, cloudy thinking, clouded vision). Yet they can also represent mystery, shifting states of being, and – in Scripture – the presence and glory of God.
I’m thankful for the reminder that a grey sky can be as stunning as a blue one; that change can be more exhilarating than stability; that mystery can be as beautiful as certainty.