Growing up, my parents would tell me that I could move mountains if I worked hard and dreamed big. To this day I don’t know if they were hoping for a business leader or an explosives expert. Either way, that was before I ever saw a mountain. To my parents everlasting disappointment I soon settled for moving clouds. I found them much more cooperative subjects. (I believe this was when my parents changed tactics, and settled for trying to move me out of the house.)
If you move a mountain, what have you accomplished? The mountain is still there, it’s just in a different location, and likely in someone else’s way now. And for your efforts, you will undoubtedly find yet another mountain in your way also. But if you move a cloud, you will have the whole universe in front of you.
I have been a cloud watcher ever since I realized the limitations of staring at ceilings. The sky spoke to me early on, and while it didn’t yet make any more sense than anything on earth, at least it wasn’t trying to fill my head with things like algebra, world wars, and “Great Expectations”. But while the sky is interesting in its own infinitely mysterious way, it would be a whole lot less interesting without clouds. Clouds bring the sky’s magic down to earth, so to speak, in a free show that anyone can appreciate. Even if your imagination is for mature audiences only. No one has to know.
To lay on a grassy lawn on a warm summer day and conduct a parade of cumulous floats slowly across the sky is far more satisfying to me than moving mountains. And I don’t have to lift a finger to do it. I am no nephologist however. Nephologists are cloud scientists, people whose business it is to demystify clouds with scientific explanations. They might just as well de-mistify them while they’re at it, for clouds with either their magic or their water removed cease to be clouds in my mind. Of course, my mind is always in at least a partly cloudy condition, so I may be biased.
Instead, I’ll throw my lot in with the CAS, the Cloud Appreciation Society, a loose affiliation of cloud lovers whose business it is to fight ‘blue-sky thinking’ wherever they find it. It is a battle that only those with their heads in the clouds would consider, as the blue-sky thinkers have managed to convince most people that ‘being under a cloud’ is a bad thing. The CAS has countered with a phrase of their own, ‘A Day with Your Head in the Clouds Keeps Your Feet on the Ground’, but blue-sky thinkers just smile and point to the dark clouds on the CAS horizon.
Word has it that its illustrious founder, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, is finding running the CAS too much work, a concept guaranteed to set its 50,000 members running faster than a sky filled with cumulo-nimbus thunderheads. As author of “The Cloud Spotter’s Guide,” Pretor-Pinney has no doubt seen the dark clouds as well. It didn’t help when he decided to take on the formidable World Meteorological Organization on his own. As publisher of “The International Cloud Atlas,” the WMO, established in 1950, recognizes 10 genera of clouds, 14 species, 9 varieties, and dozens of ‘accessory clouds’ and ‘supplemental features’. It does not recognize either sheep or fluffy bunnies.
Pretor-Pinney, however, recognized in 2009 that the WMO had missed one, a rare, wave-like cloud variety that he called ‘Asperatus’. In what should be no surprise to anyone, the WMO forecast team never saw either the cloud or the storm that followed. But after eight long years of fighting Pretor-Pinney, they finally caved in 2017 and amended the Atlas, while ungraciously changing the name to ‘Asperitus’. Still, it’s proof enough to me that sometimes you can move mountains simply by watching clouds.
To my mind, Pretor-Pinney may have had an advantage that the meteorologists didn’t have. Cloud watchers are nothing if not contemplative dreamers, and clouds an ever-changing Rorschach test for their souls. Whether you see fluffy bunnies, fierce dragons, or a mushroom cloud surrounded by angels praying, there is much they can tell you about yourself. With so much free psychotherapy, that other elusive cloud, Cloud 9, is always within their grasp. Stick that in your bleeping Atlas, WMO.