Clouds Enjoyed from Prison

Anticrepuscular Rays, Hanau, Germany

Miracles can become commonplace when they happen all the time.

Life is a miracle. Clouds are a miracle in the sky. The invisible becomes momentarily visible in widely differing forms, then drops back to invisibility. This is all a consequence of the play of the indispensable substance, water, in its triad of forms --gas, liquid, solid.

I have come to know a remarkable woman, Donna C. We share a fascination with clouds. There is a difference, though. I am a free man. She is a long-term inmate in the women's prison in Frontera, Calif. Her crime. I don't know. Further, I don't want to know.

We have corresponded for years about clouds. Cloudwatching is her passion. It is her freedom in a bound environment. It is her avenue to sanity, to balance, to hope.

I asked her to write me an essay on cloudwatching that I could share with class members at the Residential Estates. It might help me persuade them that cloudwatching is a great antidote to boredom.

Listening to the letter brought tears to my wife's eyes. I hope it will do the same for some of you:

I have been watching the sky all my life. I have always been aware of the world's largest canvas directly over my head and its everchanging use of color and matter, clouds, rain, sunrises, sunsets, wind, etc.

I have always preferred the outdoors to being trapped inside. I have spent most of my days outside, exploring parts of a ranch which has been in the family for generations -- more than 2,000 acres of heaven on earth in the rich Salinas Valley, know as the "Lettuce Capital of the World." It is an original Spanish land grant.

When I came to prison in 1984, the sky took on new meaning to me, it was my direct link with my family, 400 miles away. When I would look at the sun or the moon, or even the cloudless sky, I would know that the same sky covered my loved ones and they were looking at the same moon and the same sun.

I realized that the sky was one thing no one could take away from me. And believe me. everything else has been taken away. It is a case of not appreciating something to its fullest until you lose it, or almost lose it.

I was fortunate to read an article in Smithsonian several years ago about Jack Borden, a sky advocate in Boston. His goal in life is to educate people, especially school children, about the value of the sky. His organization is called "For Spacious Skies." He, in turn, introduce me to John Day, and my horizons (literally) were broadened considerably.

I am now considered the expert here at the prison. Even if people don't ask me questions about the clouds, the weather, etc., they comment on the fact that I am always walking around looking up at cloud formations and drawing the attention of others to the sky.

I walk 12 miles each day, rain or shine, and I make an effort to always see the sun rise and/or set. Just yesterday I walking early in the morning -- at 6:30, the second the doors are unlocked and we are set free.

I passed two women going to work -- they are currently working on top of a roof, even close to the sky -- and I commented on the beauty of the sky. The sun was just rising and there were wispy clouds on the horizon, changing colors before our very eyes from rosy pint to mauve to lavender to gray-white.

One of the women said, "Thank you. If it weren't for you bringing my attention to it, I would never see the beauty right over my head."

At this time of the year we are locked in our cells during the sunset. I am fortunate that my cell faces west so I can see the sunset from my top bunk. Sometimes the sky is so radiant that I have to share it with my roommate. She has to stand on a chair in order to see out the window, but it is definitely worth it.

The sky has become so important to me, even more than before, as I am, in a sense, stripped to my bare essence. This morning, as I was walking, it was very special. This prison is nestled in a valley. It is normally filled with gray/brown smog and the hills are not always visible.

But we had a short-lived Santa Ana wind yesterday, and it cleared the air. This morning each ridge was visible in the mountains to the west, and on the east there was snow on top of Mount Baldy. To the south I could see ground fog rising from the stream that meanders through a park approximately five miles from here.

The fog is there on many mornings and it follows the path of the stream, zigzagging back and forth between the oaks and the sycamores. It was so clean and pristine that I could not contain myself. I had to raise my arms over my head and give thanks for the beauty that always surrounds us, regardless of our circumstances.

 Donna C., November 1998

Note from Cloudman 2002:

Donna is no longer in prison and is enjoying her new life. We continue to correspond and she still loves the beauty of the sky.


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