This piece was originally published in the Winter 2015-2016 issue of Our Jackson Home: The Magazine.
In case you haven’t taken note, Jackson’s skies are pretty incredible. Particularly due to the way the sun sets in the evenings, our community has distinguished itself apart from others in the area for hosting some of the most arresting color shows and cloud movements. Whether it’s reflected through curious little wisps or cascading textures and patterns, the sky often transforms into something of a light box when the daylight begins to turn. And for some reason unbeknownst to me (Topographical layout? Weather patterns?), this is more so true for our city than those surrounding it; before moving here a few years ago for school, I spent my childhood about an hour up the road and never remember being captivated by how the sky layered itself from day to day. Even when traveling around the country to seemingly more glamorous landscapes, it has been difficult to recapture the mystique of what ebbs-and-flows over our heads in Jackson.
While aesthetically pleasing to practically every Tom and Jane, there is a certain kind of enjoyment felt when moments are had with a sunrise or sunset that requires a degree of mindfulness if we are to “milk it for all it’s worth.” It is here where our minds are forced to slow, along with time, while the senses are evermore sharpened; an innate quality surfaces in these spaces, fostering a strong sense of the present. John O’Donohue, an Irish poet who spent much of his lifetime engaging with the Celtic tradition’s culture and spirituality, often explored this sentiment in his creative writing as a way of both celebrating and participating with the natural world. In one of his last interviews before his death in 2008, O’Donohue noted that “Landscape recalls you into a mindful mode of stillness, solitude, and silence where you can truly receive time.” He goes on to recognize this careful recognition of time as a channel to that stronger sense of presence, a place that removes us from outside of ourselves. Although the lay of the land in West Tennessee and on the coasts of Ireland are not exactly comparable, both places share in the ability to accommodate for such a mode of enjoyment and reflection.
O’Donohue’s words come to mind when thinking of some of my more memorable Jackson sunsets and sunrises. These normally involved rushing outside with my roommates after either seeing flickers of color slip through the blinds, scrolling through a stream of photos on Instagram, or simply remembering that it could be that time of day again (the latter being the most gratifying). We’d scramble to find the highest point within a minute’s run of our apartment, which usually resulted in us climbing onto dormitory roofs or scaling pillars so that we could find an uninhibited view. Once we had faced any fear of heights and manned our posts, everyone would share thoughts on how the color gradient burgeoned that night or where the shapes forming were taking their imaginations, but eventually we would ease into a shared posture of quietness.
With no inhibitions or agenda, the hope was that we would sort of be swallowed up by the moment, so as to not lose sight of the natural grandeur before our eyes but also to avoid being held captive by our own preoccupations. After a half-hour at best—a few minutes at worst—we would tend to dramatize the experience, using as many superlatives as possible and blowing any visceral affects out of proportion. “Can you believe that just happened? Those last few minutes . . . unreal! How am I supposed to do anything else now? I’m not even the same person anymore.” Admittedly over-the-top, but we wanted to recognize it as an experience. An encounter that could cause for some kind of change or reappraisal of how we were receiving time so as to emulate what O’Donohue so reverently spoke of.
More than anything, our marveling at the sky (which honestly had to have come across as borderline bizarre to the average bystander) served as a welcomed interruption. It may be that my stories only point to a greater struggle of being able to slow down amidst the hustle and bustle of the everyday routine, or that my attachment to the area has left me naïve to the fact that the same sun is constant regardless of where you are. Yet I choose to believe in the mystique of Jackson one more time and in our sky’s ability to pluck us out of whatever current we are being swept up in so that time might pause. That which is overhead and the land it illuminates may appear more routine than we would prefer, but the moments that can surface in those subtle encounters are so worth waiting on.