Monday, 10 August 2009 - 9:34 pm

Touching sky

Today, we stood on top of the world. It took us most of the day to get there, between waiting for the ice to unstick and getting around obstacles on increasingly steep and hairpinning roads, but it was worth it. All the terror of trying not to look down the sheer faces of rock and dirt, and having one of the offroaders shunt the campervan up a couple of stretches… even that was worth it.

We all stopped and clambered out of the vehicles when we broke through the cloudbank and the warmth washed over us. I had forgotten how bright the sun can be. Suddenly, there was white in the world again, painfully pure to eyes used to stains. We squinted and shaded our faces, as if we’d been living in caves all these months.

The clouds were too close for comfort, so we didn’t linger there on the roadside for long – condensation was a worry. Dale mentioned the idea of seeing what it looked like from the very top and we were all quickly infected with it. Those last treacherous stretches went by at a reckless pace as we strained for the top, to see more and more of the world above the bomb’s mark. More of the old world, where it’s holding its head above water.

I don’t know how long we stood up there. It was off our path but no-one cared. We should have pushed on to the ECC, but instead we lingered and looked. For a little while, some of us cried.

The clouds aren’t orange on top. They’re pale – not quite white, somewhere between yellow and green perhaps. And above them, the sky… I don’t have the words. I’ve been compressed under the cloudbank for so long, I had forgotten how good it felt to be able to breathe. To look up and feel like there was room to stretch and stretch, room to run as far and as fast as I liked, room for as many possibilities as the human brain could conceive. I have missed that fearless expanse and its freedom.

And colours, so many colours. Delicate eggshell, dipping into violet and and the blush of midnight blue on the horizon; beautiful, beautiful blues while red and gold fall under on the other side. Below them, cluttering up our sight, there’s green here too. Thick and rare and living. We couldn’t see the dirt for the fallen leaves, or west for the trunks of trees. None of us minded. It’s been so long since nature got in our way that it makes a nice change.

We all wound up standing in a huddle when the sun went down. So painful to look at directly but still a wonderful sight. I had my faithful Dillon under my arm, leaning on me, and Matt beside me, fingers linked through mine. The siblings hung onto each other on his other side, and Thorpe and Dale stood behind, tall enough to see past us. Dan stood beside Dillon and placed his hand over mine where it rested on the kid’s shoulder. I looked at him and he nodded at me solemnly, as if he approved of all this and it was somehow my doing. I don’t know why, but that little gesture lifted me.

I wish that Ben could have seen this. It would have burned him, so badly, but I think he would have liked it. I think it might have lifted him, too.

My feet were tired by the time twilight was making it difficult to see, but when I turned around, I couldn’t move. I looked up and up and my throat closed over.

It’s not just the sky I’ve missed, or the sun: it’s the stars, too. And there they were, pricking out their tiny holes in the oncoming dark. Stars. So far away, but not too far to reach us here. I wanted to reach back, I wanted to let them know that we’re still here. We’re still a part of that vast universe, even with our scars and struggles, even hidden away below the cloudbank.

I think part of the tears was relief. Knowing that all of this was still up here, that not all of the world is broken, sullied, poisoned and dying. Ours isn’t the only mountaintop breathing above the clouds – there are others, tiny islands in the sea of acid water. Pockets of clean rock and plants clinging to life. There might even be birds and animals up here.


There was no rain for us today. There was no hiding. It’s warmer here but there’s still a nip of winter chill; we didn’t care. We’re sleeping outside tonight, bundled in our blankets with the stars for a cover over our heads. It’s strange, like living in a memory but without the sepia tones.

I don’t think any of us will sleep much tonight. I can’t stop gazing up, counting the stars and wishing that I knew their names. I want to see the dawn and the sun rising again, just to know that it does.

Now I know why the birds sing when the sun comes up; I feel as though I might burst if I don’t.