Posted on December 7, 2010
Winter in the Northwest is traditionally a time of clouds. Like bird watchers in the summer, we cloud watchers find our heyday during the season of storms and atmospheric ferment. In these days of economic disaster what better strategy for forgetting earthbound cares than to gaze toward the skies?
When I was in my Junior year of college, I was still undecided what I wanted to study. For a bit, I considered meteorology. After all, it’s a field in which my father had been trained, and growing up under his tutelage I was kept informed of the collision of the fronts, the moist breath of the fog, the tower of the cumulus and the feathery loft of the cirrus. Nowadays my wife and I joke about the “upper level low-lying stratus deck.” I never pursued meteorology academically, as it turned out. I quickly discovered it was all math, a subject for which I’d never been enthusiastic. Math, after all, is only an artificial, secondary expression of the poetic forms expressed by the clouds. That’s where the magic is for me.
So I became a cloud watcher and a cloud photographer. I know a little about the physics of weather and, from that perspective, why some clouds look the way they do. But I also believe cloud forms relate directly to emotion, that the flow and turbulence of the atmosphere parallel the flow and turbulence of water and furthermore, to patterns of mental process within our own psyche. After all, we are, in large part, fluid. Our physical motion is constrained by the same forces that move and constrain the atmospheric gasses and the motions of flowing water. In the clouds we see dance. The experience of motion, modified by the forces of momentum, inertia and gravity lay the grounding structure in our consciousness for the later arrival of verbal language and thought. Consider also that from the earliest days of human existence, our survival must often have depended on an evolved intuitive ability to read the message written in the clouds.
In our culture, we speak derogatorily of someone whose “head is in the clouds.” But angels sit on clouds, so why would we think less of someone whose head occupies the domain of the angels?