Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cloudy Thinking

After the hot, dry springs of the last few years, we currently seem to be experiencing the right weather for the season. High winds, a mixture of sunshine and bursts of pouring rain - even hailstorms - are typically what make April ‘the cruellest month’; but this rapidly changing weather offers us not only the sunshine and soaking that we need for the fruit and vegetable crop to come on, but a feast of visual entertainment above our heads every day.

Lucky enough to live on a hill and have a ‘big sky’ above my garden, I stood at my back door yesterday evening for half an hour and watched rolls of harmless, fluffy white cumulus clouds on the distant horizon quickly obscured by waves of fast moving cumulus gongestus, sailing eastwards whipped along by the westerly wind and showering rain on the landscape. Ahead of them to the east, I could see the ridge at Netherfield still bathed in brilliant sunlight and behind them to the west, a blanket of low hanging stratus clouds tinged strawberry-orange by the setting sun. Directly above me, towering charcoal-grey cumulonimbus clouds had dramatically formed, darkening the sky and depositing ten minutes of heavy stormy rain that I was grateful for on behalf of my vegetable garden and allotment in this time of drought. This variety performance ended when the wind dropped and the skyscape returned to the benign scene of cotton wool clouds in the distance with the odd harmless cumulus humilis whizzing by to remind of the stronger currents higher up.

Clear, blue skies are thought of as perfection – “there wasn’t a cloud in the sky” – and the cloud is much maligned. This country has a rich and varied cloudscape and we should embrace this ever-changing canvas rather than treat clouds as a blot on our lives. This is a view shared by Gavin Pretor-Pinney in his 2006 book The Cloudspotter’s Guide, which is a lot more humorous than it sounds. Pretor-Pinney also set up the Cloud Appreciation Society, an organisation dedicated to fighting ‘blue-sky thinking’. As you would expect from the co-founder of The Idler magazine, his book is a paean to gazing upwards at ‘nature’s poetry’ and an antidote to the dynamism of the modern go-getting world.

I do like to watch clear evening skies sometimes in summer, but if it wasn’t for the jet planes gliding towards Gatwick with their lights winking there would be nothing to look at. I would much rather be trying to spot which cloud looks like a dog or a dinosaur with the kids, or taking inspiration from the beautiful wispy patterns of a high-blown cirrus sky. There is an unfolding drama above our heads and it’s free; watch the skies and enjoy some cloudy thinking.

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