This has not been my favorite kind of summer. The long stretches of hot and humid weather combined with an early incursion of hungry greenheads has left me afraid to go out of doors lest I melt or am carried away.
Apart from a few, brief days of relief, this has felt like the longest, most oppressive summer in years – a summer worthy of Daisy Buchanan’s wilted, breathy sighs and heat-induced immobility, a summer that brings the reality of global warming closer to home.
But there has been a silver lining: the clouds.
I’m no meteorologist, but I assume that the fantastic celestial landscapes –impossible confections of water and air and light – are the result of a carefully mixed alchemy of temperature, humidity, air currents, pressure, and so forth. It’s beautiful science. Whatever their origin, their presence frequently causes me to pull over to the side of the road to indulge in a longer look and perhaps snap a photo or two.
I have become a cloud collector.
Voluminous cumulonimbus, diaphanous cirrus, mysterious stratocumulus, linen-smooth altostratus – the variations of shape and texture are endless. My imagination is captured by sensuous curves, Spartan stretches of flat color, and intricately layered arrangements of fish scales and horse tails and undulating ripples that remind me of the patterns the receding tide leaves in the sand.
And then there are the colors: bright whites, glowering grays, backlit gold, and hazy bronze. Sunrises and sunsets fill the first and last hours of the day with a fantastic chaos of colors – red and orange, pink and purple, but there are few sights more striking than the sharp brilliance of sunlit foliage or buildings against a backdrop of deep charcoal clouds. Many is the time I’ve been stopped in my tracks by this lighting phenomenon – suddenly seeing the straight steeple and weathervane of the First Church or the freshly hayed fields just past Wolf Hollow in, literally, a whole new light.
Rivaling that arresting juxtaposition of dark and light is the tender, apple blossom pink of a gauzy cloud bank balancing delicately on the horizon across the sea from Crane’s Beach. Standing on the shore with my toes in the water, I feel somehow connected to that distant expanse of crystals and light. In the stillness, I swear I can hear a low thrumming under the steady lapping of the waves and I wonder if it is the clouds, murmuring to each other.
I imagine they would have many stories to share – cruising around the curves of the planet on the back of the trade winds, materializing and dissipating like a host of globetrotting ghosts. And with each new appearance, whether just beyond the reach of straining skyscrapers or low over the grazing fields of small-town cows, they stir up memories and provoke questions in the earthbound hearts of humans.
Consistently inconsistent, clouds offer a gentle reminder that tomorrow is another day and never shall one day be truly the same as any other. They invite us to pause for a moment, step away from our daily rounds, and lose ourselves in a moment of contemplation, letting our minds wander lazily across the sky.
Like snowflakes, each skyborne creation of mist and refracted light is wholly and dazzlingly unique. Like our days, each brings its own gift – shade or rain or the perfect accent to an otherwise endlessly blue sky. In our best moments we find a way to appreciate each changing element even when it wasn’t what we expected or hoped for.
After all, each cloud is beautiful in its own way, even the dark ones.
All images from my Instagram feed.
This piece was originally published in the Ipswich Chronicle as part of my bi-weekly column.