CLOUD WATCHING

Is that an elephant on the left? A tea kettle? Or is it an accumulation of frozen moisture surrounding fine-grained particulates, suspended in the lower troposphere?

Is that an elephant on the left? A tea kettle? Or is it an accumulation of frozen moisture surrounding fine-grained particulates, suspended in the lower troposphere?

What you see in the shape of a cloud is what you see in your mind as an idea just begins to take shape. You can't touch it; you can't easily describe it to someone else. It risks changing suddenly-- even disappearing-- if you don't capture it's essence right now.

Does anyone even have the inclination, to say nothing of the time, for lying back on a grassy hill and watch clouds? There's seems to be so much that supersedes cloud watching these days: so many tasks, tests, and tweets, so many distractions, discussions, departures, and disinclinations.

Are the greatest cloud watchers of all --romantic, existentially minded teenagers -- even able to consider clouds anymore? Does it even happen at all? Even in summer?

It would be a shame to let it go.

Watching them from the ground, clouds are untouchable and essentially unknowable. By ourselves, we can't even prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they're really there. I say this not so much as a theistic challenge, but rather based on the lack of solid evidence we can gather. Ask the person next to you what he or she sees in the same cloud (assuming you've made a few minutes to lie back on a grassy hill somewhere) and you'll likely get a completely different description than what you have in your own head. Visual cues about of what a cloud looks like to you clearly cannot define universally agreed poetic meanings.

But maybe that's the reason people have stopped looking at clouds lately. With so much of society tied to endlessly measurable data, objects invested with purely subjective meaning become anathema.

That in itself should present a bright caution light. As we're all a product of culture, even a culture largely calloused to poetic, romantic thinking, it's essential at least to be attuned to how we all respond to various fractal inputs from the world around us. We see the same things, and still we come away from those things with wildly different perspectives. Where I see a dragon in a cloud, you may see the house where you grew up, branches of the old maple tree hanging close to the eaves above the front door.

The caution is that we're all starting to see clouds in isolation, if we even bother to see them at all. More to the point, without those shared cloud watching conversations we're no longer rolling over onto one shoulder to look at our similarly reposed friends, and say, "A house? Really? I think that part over there looks like smoke rising from a dragon's nostrils." You point at the spot in the sky; they try to follow your finger. You discuss it, perhaps even debate it, you share the moment cloud spotting on a hillside, with the whole Planet Earth beneath you to offer support.

In the exchange between you and your friend, something intangible yet fundamentally real becomes clearer. Even in a space that's fundamentally untouchable, you begin to appreciate something honest and true, even if you're only pointing to masses of condensed moisture in the sky.

All you have to do…is try.

--MS

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