I’ll admit that I’ve become obsessed with clouds lately.
Then again, take a look at the detailed things you can find among the clouds. Not just shapes, but all kinds of animals and people and ghosts. I can’t deny it, because I saw them.
We are living in a giant kaleidoscope, it seems. I know that I’ve already foisted cloud photos on you. Perhaps you’ve had enough of “my” clouds. I was ready to move on too, but then I found these new cloud menageries outside my window as the small jet in which I was flying traveled around a massive storm rather than through it. We were returning from Minneapolis after an intense weekend at the National Conference for Media Reform. After a weekend of intellectual endeavors, it was time for a spiritual experience. This is a different kind of memorable experience than I had on the trip to Minneapolis.
A fellow passenger and I were stunned by what we saw outside of the plane. We were 30,000 feet in the air and I started taking these photos through my tiny scratched airplane window.
As I looked, mesmerized, I started seeing all kinds of animals in the clouds, including my deceased dog “Puccini” in the scene below (or is that your deceased dog?). You can click on any of these photos to bring out the details. I can assure you that this will be worth your while, unless you are the unusual kind of person who already takes the time to stare at the clouds. Even if you do like clouds, these were special clouds, even for those of you who like to look at clouds while flying. These photos are not PhotoShopped; this is exactly how these scenes looked to my eyes during my flight.
There were dozens of animals to be seen, and people too. For the modest ticket price of a few hundred dollars, the plane was functioning as a time machine, transporting us back to our childhoods, to a time when we were allowed to look for things in the clouds for long periods, without being made self-conscious that we were “wasting” time.
Amazing as it is, trillions of tiny water molecules, each one the same as each other, can assume dramatic macroscopic shapes when gently stirred by heat and wind. How is it that large intricate patterns emerge? Why not just a big smear of misty air across the window? Order for free, Stuart Kauffman might say. Kauffman might remind us that we were witnessing a rather simple application of the subject matter of complexity. He would point out that it is actually common for billions of identical parts to self-organize, almost magically, into shapes and functions that are intensely surprising and compelling.
Finding a collection of ghosts living in the sky, or any other unpredictable scene, is thus quite predictable.
These particular ghosts seemed to be calling out to the passengers on the plane. Maybe they were trying to say that we needed to take the time to slow down our lives enough to appreciate the complex adaptive systems that humans are too. You see, humans are also self-assembled bits of common materials, just like these cloud people. The human miracle is in the exquisite manner in which trillions of relatively simple molecules are assembled. But who could have predicted that lots of water and some phosphorus, calcium, iron could turn into beings like us?
Carl Sagan wrote that we are made of “star stuff.” True enough, and this is a thought that is deep enough and powerful enough that that this single thought should be enough to compel us to stop long enough and ponder deeply enough to stop killing each other and to start honoring each others’ existence and sentience. But somehow, Sagan’s realization isn’t enough for to bring us peace.
We’re not only stardust, we are also water beings (we’re mostly water), so we have a lot more in common with these cloud creatures than we might realize. This is my anti-war idea, then: all of us need to look at the clouds more often.
As the plane finished moving around the storm, we spotted this vast fluffy flat landscape leading up to distant “mountain range,” all of it made entirely of tiny water drops 30,000 feet in the air.
That was it for cloud photography. Time to move on to other things, right? Not so fast . . .
Today, I continued to be mesmerized by the skyscapes. They were following me everywhere. This is a scene I noticed outside my window at work today. Is it really possible that water drops self-assembled themselves into something this dramatic? Yes, it’s possible, because it was happening all day long.
I put the camera away until a couple hours ago, when I was shopping at a Home Depot with my two daughters (they are 8 and 9 years old). When we exited the store, my youngest daughter (Charlotte) told the rest of us to look up to see how beautifully blue the sky was. As we stood there staring, other shoppers looked up too, with great delight. Even the Home Depot employee who was supposed to be gathering shopping carts stopped and stared at the deep blue-ness.
Truly, you’ll never seen anything more beautiful in the sky, even on the Fourth of July. Yet you’ll rarely hear anyone beckon to look at the sky because we’re all too busy and because skycapes are free–there’s no financial profit to be made by reminding people to look up.
Why am I finding clouds to be so compelling these days? It’s not just that I’m taking time to notice them. We’ve had an extraordinary season of cloud watching in St. Louis. I don’t remember anything like this before, ever.
It seems that we’re being used as an audience. We are being presented with a type of artwork that results when the vast energy of storms takes charge of the skies. That’s how I thought of skyscapes when I was in high school. I even wrote a poem about the sky as God’s canvas. I was already an agnostic back then, but I imagined that if there were a God, then He was an Artist who drew in the sky using a fantastic palate to create mesmerizing shapes and colors highlighted with occasional streaks of lightning. I was so proud of this poem because it captured the possibility of a God who was sensitive and shy, not the Biblical God who goes on rampages. The Catholic nun who taught my high school English class didn’t appreciate my impetuous pantheism, however.
On the parking lot tonight, the fellow who was supposed to be gathering shopping carts stopped for several minutes to look at the sky with us. He said, “Yes, it’s all free. It’s like He’s doing incredible artwork in the sky, if only we’d take the time to pay attention.”
About the Author (Author Profile)Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Majestic sunset over South St. Louis : Dangerous Intersection | August 30, 2011