When we are children, we ask some interesting questions of our parents. I am not certain why, but over this last weekend I remembered one that I asked my father. This was more years ago than I care to mention, but I must have been about six or so. I remember looking out the window and then asking him, “Dad… where does the sky end?”
I cannot recall what prompted the question or where I came up with the concept, though I suspect that it may have something to do with all the reports in the news at the time of the Apollo and Skylab missions. I always did seem to have my head in the stars as I child.
The question itself though, thinking about it now that I am older, and somewhat wiser, is one that could be both a philosophical and astronomical question, but for now, I would like to look beyond the science of the question and look at the meaning that I saw as a child.
We all know that the “sky”, or what we perceive as the sky is nothing more than the affect of the sun’s light being defused by the various components of the atmosphere… oxygen, nitrogen, argon, etc… But when you are a kid, you do not know or care about all that. The sky is something that you see as full of adventure, a place where planes fly to far off lands or battle against other planes, where rockets stab the heavens to go even farther into the sky (for me, as a kid, the sky stopped somewhere past the stars.)
It may sound a little “Norman Rockwellian” but I can recall watching the clouds in the sky and thinking of the shapes that the clouds made. Sometimes animals, sometimes structures, there were even a few times I can recall seeing faces in the clouds thinking that God was drawing pictures for everyone to see. Then there were the nights… Not so much in Taft, the town where I spent part of my childhood, but in Bakersfield, there was a large field behind the complex I lived in. We all called it the “Greenfield”, simply because it was green, and there where no houses or anything there. In reality, it was the corridor for the high voltage towers that fed part of Bakersfield and then went on south to another community. This was where most of my adventures took place until I was about fifteen years old.
I would go out and lay on the grass at night or early evening, and just watch the night sky for hours, sometimes not getting back in until late. This was at the time it was safe to do things like that for a person of my age and not have to worry about anything bad happening. The sky was still pretty clear in the area I lived, back then, and light pollution was still quite low. I would see so far that I started wondering what all was out there, so, like most kids, you start imagining. Because of my mother, I had no illusions about what was in the sky. I understood at a very early age what stars were, and how far away they were, and that there might be other planets just like earth near those stars, but as a child, it is still hard to imagine the sheer enormity of the universe, so in my minds eye, these were all still part of my sky. I would think of the creatures that might be on those planets, and the ships, cars, planes and spacecraft they probably had. Then I would think of what would happen if I ever got to meet one of them someday.
The fantasies I had were only fed further when shows like Space:1999, UFO, BattleStar Galactica and syndication of Star Trek came to television. They fed my desire to imagine what else was out there. Then came Close Encounters, Star Wars, and the Trek Movies. If you ask anyone who knew me at the time, you would probably get a pretty resounding “Sam’s head was always in the clouds” from all of them. It should be noted that I have not changed much… My head is still out there, somewhere. I think if I ever do become completely grounded, then that is about the time I will be pushing up daisies.
So… to the original question that I posed to my father so many years ago; “Where does the sky end?” Unfortunately, he did not have an answer for me. While I loved my father a great deal, he was not the most openly imaginative person. At least not to me… this is not to say he had no imagination, we all do. Sometime we just never find an outlet for, or a way to express it to others, especially our children, in many cases.
Looking back, I do not recall ever asking anyone else this same question, though, as kids, our thoughts are traveling so fast that our mouths can rarely keep pace, and thusly some of what we say or ask gets caught up in the tides of time and drowns. Why this one question stayed with me, I do not know. Maybe the answer that I was looking for was more in what was not said than what was said. Is it possible that, without speaking, and my being too young to understand, that my father DID answer the question? We will never know, I suppose.
Where does the sky end? Why should it? If we look at the question with science, then the sky, as we understand it, only changes from atmosphere to space, but does not really end. If we look at it from the point of imagination, then why should it end? Why can it not go on forever, and take us to other worlds that are only limited to our imagination? I read books like Narnia and the Golden Compass, and I think of what questions inspired those people to write such deep stories. It had to start with something, and maybe it was nothing more than a question to someone’s father or mother, answered or not.
Where does the sky end? It does not… as long as you do not let it end.