Friday, September 23, 2011

Ominous skies

Driving around yesterday with a camera, I saw this sky over a field in Canaan, Connecticut. It reminded me of one of John Ruskin's nutty but prophetic essays, The Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century. Ruskin noted, "In many of the reports given by the daily press, my assertion of radical change, during recent years, in weather aspect was scouted as imaginary, or insane. I am indeed, every day of my yet spared life, more and more grateful that my mind is capable of imaginative vision, and liable to the noble dangers of delusion which separate the speculative intellect of humanity from the dreamless instinct of brutes: but I have been able, during all active work, to use or refuse my power of contemplative imagination, with as easy command of it as a physicist's of his telescope: the times of morbid are just as easily distinguished by me from those of healthy vision, as by men of ordinary faculty, dream from waking; nor is there a single fact stated in the following pages which I have not verified with a chemist's analysis, and a geometer's precision."

He also says, in a letter to the editor of the St. James's Gazette: "I have been a very constant though not a scientific observer of the sky for a period of forty years; and I confess to a certain feeling of astonishment at the way in which the "recent celestial phenomena" seem to have taken the whole body of scientific observers by surprise. It would even appear that something like these extraordinary sunsets was necessary to call the attention of such observers to what has long been a source of perplexity to a variety of common folk, like sailors, farmers, and fishermen. But to such people the look of the weather, and what comes of that look, is of far more consequence than the exact amount of ozone or the depth or width of a band of the spectrum.

'Now, to all such observers, including myself, it has been plain that of late neither the look of the sky nor the character of the weather has been, as we should say, what it used to be; and those whose eyes were strong enough to look now and then toward the sun have noticed a very marked increase of what some would call a watery look about him, which might perhaps be better expressed as a white sheen or glare, at times developing into solar halo or mock suns, as noted in your paper of the 2d of October last year.

He goes on to blame industrialization for the spread of the Storm Cloud, or "plague cloud" as he sometimes calls it.

Maybe he was on to something.
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