A cloudless sky is an ugly thing; plain and flat and monochrome blue it reveals everything and nothing, frequently succeeding to bore me to sleep. I pity those tropics and doldrum seas where the faintest wisp of white vapor makes headline news; I have heard tell of people in Australia who have driven across the country to see a puffy cumulus hanging in the searing sky.
I could gaze for hours at a summer sky when it is scattered with swathes of cirrus, cirrostratus and cirrocumulus; they appear as the swipes of a paintbrush on the canvas of the atmosphere – a painting by God himself. Angel’s hair, mermaid’s combs and virga are all the names of those drifting strands of falling ice crystals that hang suspended beneath clouds in the upper atmosphere – precipitation that never reaches the ground.
A day of turrets and castles and craggy mountain tops that expand constantly like bread in an oven yet shift their shape as smoke does – I love it when cumulus appears in the sky. Children and adults alike can imagine soaring through that land in the sky, that cloudscape formed from vertical spirals of rising air that raise the clouds into forests and hill ranges, imagining swooping between those clouds chased by sky-wolves and vapor-dragons.
Standing on the side of a hill at the break of dawn, watching the valley below drown in a sea of fog; that stratus-cloud that hugs the ground and is loathe to let go. Pretending to be an ocean it sways and pulses in slow-motion, its grey cloak-like form is mesmerizing to the eye and one marvels at how it smooths every contour and fills every hollow – such an experience is improved with the knowledge that all those below are waking up to a dull grey soup.
Clouds are a physical representation of energy and reveal the mysterious currents and flows of the atmosphere that keeps this Earth alive. Heat from the sun evaporates the water which rises above the land and cools into clouds that then waft themselves around, constantly sinking with their weight and draining their lifeblood into the soil below. They have strange ways and are forever shifting their forms, some clouds make it to over fifty miles high where they only reveal their shifty, waif-like presence in the death of day that is dusk. Some appear in the shape of a cresting wave, others in the shape of an upturned croissant, some glow with the colours of an oil-slick and others are smoothed and shaved by winds into the forms of enormous lentils.
Clouds have inspired countless poets and artists, classical and modern, they bring solace and joy and peaceful-thinking to many, they bring life and death at the same time and cannot themselves be destroyed. They showcase the awesome majesty of this Earth’s power, keeping us on our toes with maelstroms and tornadoes, hurricanes and summer storms that crack open the very fabric of the air with lightning. They are deadly but beautiful and never the same as they were yesterday, with multiple types that cover every inch of the atmosphere from those that caress the grass to those that tickle the edge of space itself. As Mr Shelley himself once wrote; ‘I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores, I change but I cannot die’.