The sky is low ~ the clouds are mean

When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about. ― Haruki Murakami

The week’s forecast promised nothing but grim. Day after day of rain. Heavy skies that reflect only muted grays and browns, the not-cold-not-warm-sensory-deprivation temperatures that dull the mind; outside smells of rotting wood and moldy cheese and inside your hands are always cold and you’re weary of the sound of voices–your own, the cat’s, the cashier at the grocery store asking how you prepare your leeks. In other words: Winter, Pacific Northwest-style. Just when my heart is beginning to ache for Spring. I braced myself.

There’s no forecast for the soul, no way to predict when heavy clouds will sit on your heart and steal your breath. Each morning, you wake and listen to weather building in your mind. Usually, there is a providence of ferry horns and train whistles to signal the arrival of ideas, an urgency of sirens because you can’t wait to pick up where you left off the day before, a racket of errands and chores you must shuffle so your words get the full attention of your brain-heart-hand connection.

But sometimes there comes a spell when you hear nothing. When you think you ain’t got nothing. No more words or no more will to drag them from the foggy corners. The brume descends and all color, taste, music vanish. Your runs are slogs, your swims are trials by sludge, your yogic breathing stutters, because even breathing is Just. So. Hard.

Yet, if you listen a little more carefully, you can catch the signs the other forecasters miss. The slightest slings and the most harmless arrows begin to land and wound. Your confidence becomes dissonance and your inner harmony is bested by the demons of dissension.

You know what’s coming. You don’t know how long it will last, so you batten down the hatches, hunker in your little lifeboat, tuck your head in your sou’wester. Chatter becomes cacophony, so you turn off social media to silence the din of voices, listening for the clarion bell that signals an All-Clear.

You are beginning to accept there is release in disquietude, that depression is not to be feared, but to be used because it brings a certain stillness. The tiny moments of grace shimmer in sharp relief against the tarnished patina of sadness.

And you keep writing. You let habit be the anchor. You start each day in doubt and bewilderment and through sheer force of will (or is it desperation?) you end the day with a sense of the fullness of life. Your life.

If you keep writing, the storms will roll through and scour out the mud and detritus and leave you clean and shining. You will land safely, bumping onto shore with a wobble and scrape.

One of the things I’ve come to appreciate most about living on a peninsula that looks like the tailfin of a whale is how quickly weather blows through. As it did this week. Storm front after storm front smashed across the peninsula at night. The wind and rain woke me in the wee hours, our upstairs corner flat shook; I imagined the neighbors’ trees crashing through the glass walls and roof of our sunroom. I groaned at 4 a.m. as I planned out my morning run, knowing the rain and wind would slow my forward momentum and chill me to the bone.

But the days were exuberant with sun. I drove with the sunroof open; I wrote in the sunroom for the first time since Autumn–the temperature approaching 70° even though it was shy of 50° outside. I hiked in shorts.

This Sunday evening, the lights flicker. The house shakes. The wind is so ferocious and the rain so pummeling, I laugh in wonder. The storm signals change, motion, rage and release. It pulsates with furious joy of being alive. I’m not too far behind.


I live on the tip of a small peninsula (Quimper) that’s on the tip of a large peninsula (Olympic) that reaches for another country (Canada) across a narrow body of water (Salish Sea). To get here from the Big Smoke (Seattle), take a ferry (Bainbridge or Kingston), cross a peninsula (Kitsap), a long bridge (Hood Canal) and drive a winding country highway (104) lined with evergreens (Douglas fir, Sitka spruce). As the crow flies, it’s about fifty miles from Seattle. As humans travel, it’s about 2 1/2 hours by car + boat. © 2014 Julie Christine Johnson

The sky is low, the clouds are mean,

The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
A travelling flake of snow
Across a barn or through a rut
Debates if it will go.

A narrow wind complains all day
How some one treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem.

Emily Dickinson

Rainboots on a sunny day © 2014 Julie Christine Johnson

11 thoughts on “The sky is low ~ the clouds are mean

  1. Lovely post – I particularly enjoyed your connections between weather and moods – I have often likened the inner psyche to a landscape….we need to get to know the inner swamplands of the soul so we can learn to back away and take another tack when we realize we are approaching the danger zones. And on the other side of the coin – have you ever noticed how some people just radiate the warmth of a sunny day on the beach or a roaring hearth….Thanks for your thoughts!


    • What a beautiful comment, Margaret, and such evocative images. It’s funny–I think I can emit frozen or furnace vibes, dependent upon the situation and where my emotional energy level is- it has very little to do with the person I’m with, but what the person inside (me) is feeling.


      • I am the same way, although it also depends on the situation……I have noticed there is a field of energy between two people that seems to combine the energetic fields of both – and that is what I respond to….


  2. I know you have struggled with quiet and stillness. It sounds as though you are becoming more comfortable there and I’m so glad. No forecast for the soul is a line I will not forget. You have more self-discipline than anyone I have ever known. You make me sit up and pay attention. I don’t want to be left behind.


    • I don’t know when I’ve ever been surrounded by so much stillness and not crumbled under the weight. It’s always been in my nature to be busybusybusy, pursuing change for change’s sake, to turn up the volume just one more notch.
      I thought through all these struggles that I was becoming weaker, but I’m beginning to realize I’m building a different kind of strength.

      I’m so glad we’re on this journey together, Margaret.


    • Patrick, I’m so glad I happened upon your blog post. It was one more nudge toward healing–this sharing, this community, the fellowship of writers.

      The Avett Brothers always say it better than I ever can:

      ..I went on the search for something real
      I traded what I know for how I feel
      But the ceiling and the walls collapsed
      Upon the darkness I was trapped
      And as the last of breath was drawn from me
      The light broke in and brought me to my feet
      I’m rested and I’m ready to begin..


  3. You capture perfectly the insidious, serrated serpentine movements of depression, its heavy smog filled breath whose poison snakes through your half-opened mouth, weaving its way down through your gullet to rest in the bottom of your sickening belly. And still we look the same, our outer appearances seeming to any but those who know us, to proclaim business as usual. Your essay here reads like a hymn, a prose poem, an injunction to rise from the bed, only apparent comfort in a cold, uncaring, empty, meaningless world and just try; begin by taking a breath, forget that it hurts to breathe, and then see if you can’t remember what you did the last time you woke up not-depressed; imitate what you did on that last, lost day. If we’re lucky we may taste contentment and its shy cousin joy, once again. Lovely post.


    • Bless you and your beautiful words, Edith. Isn’t that just what we do? Pull it together and pretend? I think one of the beautiful things about these descents is that, in my fragility, I treat the world with far more tenderness than when I’m ablaze with energy and confidence. There a certain mad sweetness and grace in depression. Never sorry to see it retreat, but I’m grateful for the active awareness of my humble place in the world.


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