Thursday, March 31, 2011

Happiness in a Cloud

Here in the Seattle, I chuckle at the newspaper forecasts, since like the proverbial Eskimos who have a dozen words for snow, we have an equally ample vocabulary for that wet stuff that incessantly batters the roof.

"Showers turning into rain," was today's forecast.  "Rain at times," which translates to "rain at ALL times," earned two days this week. When the weatherman's especially frisky, he predicts "chance of sun," or the ever-optimistic "Rain with sunbreaks."  That means that if you keep your eye out, you'll get a chance to run outside for a quick Vitamin D blast in the ten seconds before the sun is again obscured.  The word "drizzles" does not exist; instead it's "partly cloudy."

Right now a blanket of gray hovers above us, with lighter and darker shades woven within it.  An article in yesterday's New York Times Science section comes to remind me that I ought not be glum, and instead should start admiring the moving show above me, cast in silver, pewter, or as Pantone suggests, flint gray, frost gray, feather gray, chateau gray, smoke gray, steeple gray...

Admittedly, the whole thing looks like one big shaded low ceiling, which would be perfectly fine--occasionally.  But clouds, when they're distinct, have a lot to offer, their negative reputation notwithstanding.

The article describes a new book by cloud-spotter Gavin Pretor-Pinney that validates my fascination with these amazing entities.  He says clouds are "magicked into being" by natural forces, but I usually think of them as God wielding an enormous paintbrush on the blank canvas of the sky. Pretor-Pinney's Cloud Appreciation Society boasts more than 25,000 members in 87 countries, and awards its adherents 10 points for sighting a normal nimbostratus rain cloud, up to 40 or more for rarer formations.  What you win for collecting all these views is unclear. Heh-heh.

Cloud Society advocates have "had enough of blue-sky thinking," and of "people moaning" about their fluffy friends.  For the record, I do not "moan" but simply prefer clouds that are actually discernable rather than one heavy, smothering mass. (OK, I do moan about our blanket.)

But whenever and wherever the sky boasts beautiful clouds, I'm the first to extol them, and always run to get my camera to capture their ephemeral magnificence.  Many of my best cloud shots are from visits to Hawaii, and in this post are a few I've taken there over the last few months.

Pretor-Pinny did express a worthwhile sentiment for those of us who grumble when sunshine is a mere memory: "Happiness does not come from wanting to be somewhere else.  Happiness comes from finding beauty and a stimulation or interest in the everyday surroundings in which you find yourself."

Because of that, and Jewish tradition, I thank God every morning, even before looking outside.  And tap people, not periphery, for joy, as it says in the song: "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray..."

The reason the Israeli flag is blue and white even relates to the sky.  The blue color, called "tichaylet" in Hebrew, is biblically-rooted, and inspires one to look to his world--to the sea, and from the horizon upward, to remember the source of it all.  We're presently not sure which animal  originally produced the dye, but some researchers in Jerusalem have isolated a sea snail found off Israel's coast, and have started producing special garments which include a thread of this hue.

There's also the biblical story of Moses leading the Jews in battle; as long as his hands were raised skyward, focusing soldiers on God, the Jews prevailed.

So wonderment at clouds isn't so trivial after all.  If nothing else, we're reminded how small and inconsequential we are, and how subject to God's elements we remain.  It's amusing that even the website of Pretor-Pinney's society is "powered hosting."  It seems even techys who rarely venture outdoors are giving a lot more attention to clouds.

All photographs copyright Diane Medved, 2011


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