our Jim Conrad's essays from a perspective of primitive natural philosophy

An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of September 1, 2013
issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center
in the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County,
southwestern Texas, USA

random cloud

Late each afternoon when my brain has frazzled and I'm tired I step onto Juniper House's shaded deck, lie on a bench, and read books on my Kindle. Before reading I might close my eyes awhile, listening to birds or silence. The other day when I opened my eyes a random cloud was passing over. It looked so pretty I took its picture, and that's it above.

Moments after the picture was taken, the cloud had changed shape and was dissipating. This got me to thinking about the whole matter of looking at clouds.

I remember as a young child seeing lone, white clouds in the blue sky and being deeply touched by the simple colors and forms. One just looked, one's heart melted with joy, and that was enough.

Years later my playmates and I learned to interpret clouds, to see white poodles, clown faces, shapes of continents, etc. Cloud looking was a socialization experience; it showed us who had the most vivid imagination, who would say crazy stuff just for the effect with no interpretation behind it, and who might actually come up with profound, cloud-inspired insights.

Then came years of hardly noticing clouds at all. Sometimes clouds would be noticed -- thunderheads on tropical beaches, during tornado warnings, when crossing the desert with clouds towering above like wrathful prophets -- but, during those years, hour after hour, day after day, eyes were on floors and sidewalks, the road ahead, pages and screens, people's faces, and not much more.

Nowadays I'm thinking that as one grows older clouds deserve attention again.

For one thing, there's the way clouds form, express themselves, then vanish without a trace -- all with exquisite grace. They suggest a pattern for one's late years... an example of slipping into nonexistence beautifully.

But, there are patterns beyond that to think about. For instance, this week I decided that both a cloud's appearance and disappearance are somewhat illusory. That's because molecules of water forming the cloud are always there in the sky, not just when they condense into clouds. However, only at certain molecular densities, air pressures and temperatures do the molecules align themselves so that electromagnetic energy with wavelengths in the visible light range reflect from them into our eyes, causing our brains to interpret that stimulus as seeing a cloud.

When the cloud vanishes, the water molecules remain, and nothing fundamental really has changed. Moreover, if instead of light rays our eyes detected radio waves, which are much longer than light waves, or X-rays, which are much shorter, we'd see no clouds at all, but the sky would dance in entirely different ways.

A random cloud in the blue sky with its grace and perfection teases us into a spiritual frame of mind. The spiritual question a random cloud poses is whether we shall identify with that temporary alignment of the sky's water molecules causing our minds to behold a cloud, or do we identify with the content of the whole broad sky, so pregnant with things other than water molecules aligned a certain way, and with things detectable in many ways other than by light waves of particular wavelengths?

And, what would it be like to spiritually identify with the overarching blue sky at least as ardently as with its random clouds? Facebook Icon.