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clear, pure green sky

“The green flash is a fleeting optical effect that can occur at sunset, just as the last portion of the solar disc dips beneath the horizon. It is caused by the varied refraction of sunlight by the lower atmosphere, which, acting as a giant lens, bends the light from the setting sun towards Earth. In the evening, because of the low angle of the sun, aerosols in the atmosphere tend to scatter the sunlight towards the red end of the spectrum. However, under certain mirage-like conditions, differently colored images of the setting sun become separated into bands; it is then, if we are very lucky, that we may see a final momentary flash of green as the sun disappears from view.” — Richard Hamblyn, Extraordinary Weather: Wonders of the Atmosphere from Dust Storms to Lightning Strikes (Newton Abbot, UK: F&W Media International, Ltd., 2012), 32.

And the other thing I didn’t remember from Little Town on the Prairie

So Laura said, “The sun is sinking, Mary, into white downy clouds that spread to the edge of the world. All the tops of them are crimson, and streaming down from the top of the sky are great gorgeous curtains of rose and gold with pearly edges. They are a great canopy over the whole prairie. The little streaks of sky between them are clear, pure green.”

Pure green sky? I was convinced that Laura meant blue and this was another HarperCollins typo, but it’s green in the Sewell edition and in the manuscript. I live in the land of big sky, and I’ve been watching sunsets lately with green sky in mind. I suppose the golden light could cause a green color, but I’ve not seen it. Maybe it’s a fall thing, not a winter one.

I also didn’t remember the earlier “fancy” description of the sky – the one Mary didn’t care for, comparing the sky to a king’s bed curtains being closed around his bed. Back in By the Shores of Silver Lake, Mary didn’t care for Laura’s description of the road breaking off at the edge of the sky, but it seems okay now for clouds to spread to the edge of the same sky.

Anyway, what I always notice in this chapter of Little Town in the Prairie is that Ma is going to make cottage cheese balls with onion for Mary’s last night at home. And Mary doesn’t like onion!

The last thing Laura “sees” for Mary on this last walk together is more sky: “The sun has gone through the white clouds. It is a huge, pulsing ball of liquid fire. The clouds above it are scarlet and crimson and gold and purple, and the great sweeps of cloud over the whole sky are burning flames.”

It’s often been said that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s talent for vivid description must have come from seeing everything out loud for blind Mary. But did you ever stop to think how short a period of time Laura did this? Mary lost her sight in the summer of 1879. She left for college two years later. A good part of one of those descriptive years was spent during the Hard Winter, when one supposes there wasn’t that much to describe, vividly or no. When Mary returned from college for good, Laura was married and no longer living at home. Of course Laura visited Mary on occasion, but “seeing aloud for Mary” was really only Laura’s full-time job for about two years.

Certainly Laura was quick enough to see “for two,” and the years she spent being Mary’s eyes helped hone an already-existing talent; it didn’t create it.

sky, clear pure green (LTP 10)