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Environment, Space, Place

Volume 2, Issue 1, Spring 2010

David Macauley
Pages 147-184
DOI: 10.7761/ESP.2.1.147

Head in the Clouds
On the Beauty of the Aerial World

The sky proclaimed Emerson is “the daily bread of the eyes.” Despite the apparent truth of this observation, we often fail to appreciate the complex canopy of air above and around us in considerations of environmental aesthetics and ecological awareness. I examine the sky and aerial phenomena that are bound to, closely allied with, or materially emergent from, this ocean of blue. In the process, I develop a perspective for thinking about some of the aesthetic characteristics and dimensions of this realm. I show that understanding and appreciating the sky must attend to features related to ephemerality, protean colors, the lack of a clear and definite frame, and other non-anthropogenic qualities. I pay particular attention to explorations of horizontally-mobile clouds and, for the sake of contrast, vertically-originating snow by painters, poets, and philosophers who are able to express imaginative components of these phenomena and to reveal or vivify aspects that complement or complete the more realistic descriptions provided by natural scientists. The always-accessible and ever-fluctuating beauty of the sky offers the potential for deepening our daily experiences of and encounters with the elemental world in which we are sensually immersed and physically embedded. It also helps to offer an indirect rationale for respecting and protecting this vital other-than-human sphere.

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