10 Reasons to Look UP!

Jet Stream Cirrus, Willamette Valley, Oregon

The act of looking and really seeing nourishes my soul.

In my later days, I have come to appreciate the difference between looking and seeing, or between seeing and SEEING, or between surface seeing and seeing into. A difference in degree of seeing can become a difference in kind of seeing.

This difference pertains to any subject matter. In my case, it pertains in particular to clouds, those elusive, captivating denizens of the troposphere, the bottom layer of the atmosphere, which is that scant 10-mile-deep sheath held closest to Earth by gravity.

I have lived consciously (to some degree) in a cloud world most of my adult life. The last two decades in retirement have been spent, among other things, still teaching meteorology, photographing and appreciating clouds. Instead of just seeing clouds, I am now SEEING clouds. The act of seeing nourishes my soul.

Someone could ask "What is it about clouds that is so special? They have been around all the time." That is just the point. For many people, and perhaps for most, clouds are a sort of visual Muzak, seen but not seen, as canned music is heard but not heard. To many, clouds are just a part of the visual background.

Here are "10 Reasons" I find compelling to engage in cloud watching:

1. Clouds and Cloudscapes are the greatest FREE SHOW ON EARTH. It costs not a penny to look up and feast your eyes on the view (or, if you are confined indoors, to look out and up and see).

2. Clouds are never exactly the same. They are never boring, despite the persistence of the same gray cloud-cover over Oregon during the wet season). By analogy consider a piece of music in which there is a basic theme (dah-dah-dah-duh). Based on this theme, the composer could write numbers of variations. Likewise, there are four basic cloud types (cumulus, stratus, cirrus and nimbus). Based on these, Nature composes endless symphonies of the skies which are mixtures and elaborations of the basic types.

3. Many skies are simply beautiful to behold. There is no other way to say it. Sheer beauty! The combination of form, position, gradations of light and shadow, and even color in the late evening and early morning hours is pleasing to the eye, and stirs an inner sense that causes one to breathe an inaudible, "Ahh, the Great Artist at work!"

4. Clouds are a "Billboard of Coming Attractions". Because weather affects human affairs in a myriad of ways, it is only natural to wonder what tomorrow's weather will be like. The occupation of weather forecaster exists because of this curiosity.

Particular clouds arise from causative factors. These factors produce tomorrow's weather. In the past, masters of sailing vessels became skilled observers of the sky and could read the billboard notice with amazing accuracy. That honed skill resides with only a few people today. However it is a challenge to develop the skill, and an immense feeling of satisfaction comes forth when a personally made forecast verifies.

5. Establishing a habit of observing the sky when you first get up and before you retire, and many times in between, gives one a sense of connectedness with Nature. This is important in an increasingly high tech society. We need to remember that our roots are in Nature, and we overlook this fact to our own disservice. An appropriate metaphor is the difference between rooted and cut flowers.

6. Cloud observing nourishes a global consciousness. The advent of weather satellites -- those meteorological eyes in the skies -- provides information about our current weather events that is utterly amazing, yet this information is taken for granted as we look at the weather section of the evening news. To be able to see by visual or infrared light a global display of cloudiness is indeed a triumph of technology and should be appreciated as such.

7. Planet Earth is unique because of the presence of water substance, and the fact that the 93,000,000 miles distance from the sun allows water to exist in all three of its states (gaseous, liquid, and solid). Simultaneously! Astronauts who made the trips to the moon were profoundly impressed by the beauty of the white/blue/green orb hanging against the blackness of space -- the home they had left behind and to which they hoped to return.

8. Water is a miracle substance. Simple H20 is anything but simple. It has remarkable heat properties. This particular combination of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen is the Staff of Life. Earth is a watery planet. Life depends on water. We are WATERY BEINGS. In the absence of water, Earth would be cloudless. There would be no precipitation. The planet would be a lifeless desert like Mars.

9. Cloud watching is an Antidote to Boredom. There are many bored people in this world. An effective antidote -- that is not an expensive prescription drug -- is the habit of systematic cloud observing. It is useful to have a reference Cloud Chart which shows pictures of the basic and unusual clouds, with names and descriptions. Reduce boredom by becoming acquainted with the day sky. Make observations at regular times and at times in between. Write them down in a journal or on the tablet of your memory.

10. Clouds are a magic show of the sky. Water substance is continually appearing and disappearing. Where does a cloud come from and where does it go? As a cloud physicist I know the sequence of physical causes that brings a cloud into existence and causes it to dissipate. There are only a few cloud physicists among the general populace. But all of us, lay and professionals, can look upon the process with awe and wonder. I do.

So, there is my case -- ten reasons for joining the society of Cloud Watchers Unlimited. There are no entry fees or annual dues. No officers. No governing Board. Nothing but good things will come into your life by joining. Just lifetime benefits. As they say, a win-win proposition.

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