As a grown-up I have always lived in cities. Not quite true, but close enough for jazz. For a little riffing on the topic. I always accept what is. Again, take this with a grain of salt—but it has more than a few grains of truth in it.
From Denver (full of big tall buildings, with the mountains to the West) I moved to Toronto. Here we are surrounded by condominiums and houses, and my view is obstructed in every direction. The morning sun clears the condo to the east no earlier than 11. The setting sun is blocked by the homes to the west of us, on the other side of the street, all of which have back decks overlooking a ravine. And there are no obstructions between those lovely wooden decks and the colour-streaked sky at the end of an afternoon. We have often committed the sin of covetousness because of those decks, that view.
At any rate, we seldom see the big sky. So when we are exposed to an expanse it lives in my memory as little else does these days.
Occasionally we go north of the city. Not very far, but north just the same. Once we are well established in the rhythms of Highway 400, the entire sky opens up, and I have never seen it when it was empty of clouds. The most beautiful, bountiful clouds float to the right and left of the car. This is a time when I am grateful that I gave up driving. Settled in the back seat of someone else's vehicle I can devote my attention to the clouds. They are the clouds of childhood, forming pigs, elephants (not much difference there, in cloud-language), chickens, cups, tables. Or just flat-bottomed, fluffy-topped collections of water that bring peace to the heart. The expanse of sky is endless. No one has mucked it up with tall buildings. It is just, even in this day and age when the goal seems to be to destroy anything natural—it is just sky, just clouds, just what it is.
Years ago my husband's aunt and uncle owned a cottage on the shore of Lake Ontario outside Bowmanville. Behind the house, across the road, was a bird preserve that was actually owned by the St. Mary's cement company, whose towers and docks were farther down the shore from the cottage. The rumour was that St. Mary's, holding on to that real estate until they needed it for expansion, was currying favour with environmentalists in the meantime by letting birds live rent-free on the land. Nonetheless, the lack of development across the road lent a quiet, rural character to the cottage.
For half a dozen summers we would spend a week or two at that cottage, just the two of us or sometimes with another couple. When you walked the 20 feet from the edge of the flagstone patio to the lakeshore, you saw sky. For 180 degrees there was only sky and water.
Others might mock our ideal vacation, which even I admit lacks excitement. Here's what we did: we sat in chairs on the flat stones of the patio and we looked at the lake. If the sun became too bright for our eyes we turned the chairs around. We read. We stood and walked to the water's edge (the lake too cold for swimming even in August) and we stared at the emotionless water and the flat blue sky. We read, we basked, and in the dome of the endless sky we healed from the onslaught of our city life.
We drove or cycled daily to the farmer's market at the far edge of Bowmanville and we bought local produce—corn, corn and tomatoes, corn and tomatoes and zucchini—and then we ate.
Big sky country is Montana. They clutch the title to their cowboy hearts. But big sky country is wherever you find it. Too long without its balm and we are all diminished.