Early rising is synonymous, of course, with insomnia, and so it was that I suffered from a bout of deep exhaustion as I trudged up the hill this afternoon. I am not sleeping well these days.
But then, I came around a bend in the road and a heron emerged majestically from a hidden creek and flew beyond me, enormous wings rising and falling like a bellows, into the darkening sky. And I thought the cloud above me looked just like a tornado or a funnel, and it was then that my mind turned to John Ruskin, the famed 19th-century art historian, supporter of Romantics, general basket-case and conduit of great emotion, who I consider a kindred spirit of sorts.
Ruskin delivered a two-part lecture near the end of his life entitled “The Storm-Cloud of the 19th-Century” in which he proposed to bring to his audiences’ attention, “a series of cloud phenomena, which, so far as I can weigh existing evidence, are peculiar to our own times; yet which have not hitherto received any special notice or description from meteorologists.” Ruskin is deeply concerned about the changes he notices in the sky, changes that he is able to verify due to the fact that his diary used to be filled with descriptions of beautiful sunsets, clear horizons, and balmy weather. Now, his writing reflects a change in the heavens, and the advent of dark and stormy times. Ruskin writes at length about the onset of the plague-winds, and the clouds he is convinced they produce terrify and concern him. He isn’t interested in the science of these new clouds, or from where they came. In a sense, he is unnerved by their simple existence. He writes: “You know, if there are such things as souls, and if ever any of them haunt places where they have been hurt, there must be many above us, just now, displeased enough!”
It’s a wonderful piece of writing, in any case, and thoughts of lonely Ruskin kept me occupied until I made it home. You can download your own copy here, and begin obsessively recording meteorological phenomena, too.