For many, clouds exist only as an indication of the weather, an ever-present guide quietly suggesting that perhaps you should take an umbrella today.
For others, they are a source of idle fancy and wonder. They gaze upon them and see projections of their own subconscious, foggy phantasms suggested in the shifting shapes.
In my own mind however, clouds have long played an important role in the bolstering of my creative spark. Ever since I was very small I would stare up into the sky and find myself lost in impossible postulation.
How would it feel to lay upside-down on the ground, only to have gravity perversely play with you, sending you plummeting into the clouds? What if those barely perceptible wisps of altocumulus were like ripples in the ocean, and the entire sky were just another layer of floating water? Would you land in the stratocumulus and trudge through the endless fields of white? Or would it be utterly formless, unable to support your weight and sending you hurtling back down to Earth?
For the longest time, I thought the sun itself was a shape-shifter; constantly changing its size according to the quantity of cover in the sky. How was I to know that these halos of light around both sun and moon were the result of the shy and elusive cirrostratus? A beautiful, retiring wallflower that stands well apart from her peers yet manages to outshine them all.
How truly fixed were we in time when we stood alone beneath the heavens? In every film and documentary I saw, the passage of hours would be represented by a stream of rapidly moving clouds; entire days passing in mere seconds as those slow, ponderous masses crawled like a spreading ink stain across the sky.
Imagine then the feeling in my gut on a blustery afternoon when I stood by myself in an empty playground and caught sight of the ragged strands of low-hanging fractus, racing in the breeze beneath a featureless and ominous blanket of nimbostratus. Was this a normal occurrence? Or was I suspended in a pocket of slowed down existence as life raced on about and without me, just out of sight?
But of all the intangible and angelic shapes that have possessed my mind and vision over the years, none has remained as solidly fixed in my heart as the monolithic cumulonimbus. Even to the most minor cloud enthusiast, there is an undeniable grandeur to these floating mountains. Such a variety of peaks and valleys, shades of blues, greys and purples is described by that single magical name that I could spend hours lost in pleasurable contemplation of its multifarious forms and incarnations.
I might dream of the singularly breathtaking cumulonimbus-arcus, bearing the visage of an oceanic wave that has taken to the sky; or of its unique cousin, the ‘roll’ cloud (known in Queensland as the ‘Morning Glory’). The sight of such phenomena transfixes even the most stolid of individuals, who must pause and lose themselves in wonder at its very existence.
I could recount my utter disbelief the first time I clapped eyes on the icy underside of cumulonimbus-mammatus, and how my reaction whiplashed in mere moments from intense awe mixed with childish wonder, to an overwhelming desire to eat a bowl of ice-cream. If you’ve not seen an example of these flamboyant and unlikely manifestations, look them up. They will astound you.
But it has never been these obscure and bizarre varieties of nimbus that have inspired my most lasting vision. It is the perfectly ordinary cumulonimbus-calvus that remains the star of my dreams. It may not have the physical presence of the incus, the arcus or even the capillatus, but its impact on me has been nonetheless greater.
It happened that I was sitting by the beach one summer afternoon and saw an almighty bank of clouds arrayed on the horizon. All the sky around was blue and bare, save for that unbroken line of mountainous white clouds sitting squarely on the water and rising up in jagged, lumpy peaks.
To my mind, it seemed that they had formed a ring around the world. A bastion of snowy white that hemmed us in and separated us...
… from what?
What lay beyond those pearly barriers? Common sense dictated that trying to swim beneath them would yield no result, and flying above as aircraft do would somehow keep me tethered to the everyday prosaic world. But what if I were to climb them? What if I were to convince the clouds to densely close and clump together and support the weight of my body, to hold so long enough for me to drag myself up and over?
To this day, I like to imagine what wonders I would discover if I could climb the clouds. What grassy green kingdoms, what undisturbed rivers, what parallel universes, or foreign forests of violet trees might exist in a world that we could reach if only we had the will and the wherewithal to ascend the clouds.
My entire life I have wished to explore those impossible worlds. And now with pen and paper, seated beneath the sky and gazing upward… I shall.