Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Clouds: Appreciating the theater of the sky

"I've looked at clouds from both sides now / 
From up and down, and still somehow"

Bows and flows of angel hair,
And ice cream castles in the air,
And feather canyons everywhere,
I've looked at clouds that way.

But now they only block the sun,
They rain and snow on everyone.
So many things I would have done,
But clouds got in my way.

I've looked at clouds from both sides now.
From up and down, and still somehow,
It's clouds illusions I recall.
I really don't know clouds at all.
~ From "Both Sides, Now" by Joni Mitchell, Clouds (1969).

Clouds / thinking Joni Mitchell
March has been a rainy month throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Good news for the trees, plants and flowers, of course. Not so great for getting outside to work in the garden. But, it doesn't come as any great surprise since the winter months are when it rains most in northern California.  When it hasn't been wet, often, the skies above me have been filled with clouds.  Even a partly-sunny day is bound to have clouds.  When I think of clouds suspended in the Earth's atmosphere above me, I am reminded of the classic 1969 Joni Mitchell album, Clouds.

Clouds and their formations are fascinating to observe. They are grouped into three physical categories: cirri form, cumuli form or convective, and strati form.  However, I'm not here to give a science lecture.  Instead, to me, clouds are democratic ~ they come in all shapes and sizes ~ and while some appear puffy like huge expansive cotton balls, others look pretty darn threatening and ready to burst at any moment.

Clouds / puffy, democratic
During daylight hours, I can stand on our deck, face east and, simply, look up in the sky.  Oh, and be rewarded, too, with a theater in the sky. Sometimes, I can see an airplane in the distant flying into the clouds, wondering what its destination might be.

Like an artist applying a paintbrush to a canvas, the clouds overhead create an atmospheric illusion, a chimera in the sky. Never content with staying in one place too long, they glide effortlessly across the Bay Area sky, usually from my left to right ~ north to south ~ as I look up at them while facing eastward.  Of course, it's best when the clouds overhead don't appear too threatening.

There's a simple reward in observing clouds.  For me, it's found in making the time ~ and having the patience ~ to appreciate their beauty.  And, if I have my camera at the ready, all the better.

"It's clouds illusions I recall / I really don't know clouds at all."

Photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2010. All rights reserved.
Video of Joni Mitchell singing "Both Sides, Now" courtesy of YouTube.

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