A small “puff piece” (heh heh) written just after I drove from California to Florida.
Driving cross-country, you can’t help but notice the clouds.
As I cruise along, peacefully feeling the heat (it’s about 100 degrees outside) and hearing the wind whooshing through the wide-open windows, there is much more sky than I remember there being back in Los Angeles.
Most of the time, the clouds are those big, fluffy white ones: Always lovely to look at against the big blue sky. A few times on my long journey, though, I receive little gifts of cloud surprises.
In Arizona, I notice the famous mesas first, which I had expected. What I did not expect—and had never heard described in a book or seen in any painting—are the Magic-Mirror mesas I see in the sky: Perfect mesa-shaped clouds, but suspended upside-down exactly above each mesa on the ground. This sky-world lasts for only a few miles, but I thoroughly enjoy my short time traveling in the thin layer between worlds.
In New Mexico, I see a Chinese dragon, complete with bushy eyebrows and two pair of long trailing whiskers. He is not breathing fire when I see him, but the sky before his face is filled with small cloud balls. His head is tilted up toward them with a satisfied air, so one imagines he has just finished puffing them out.
In Oklahoma, the clouds make me hungry. Six giant identical wedge-shaped mason’s trowels descend gradually from left to right like stair-steps. Actually, the trowels themselves are hidden by the delicious mounds of whipped cream on top of each one, revealing the trowel shape underneath. I so want to ascend to the sky and eat my way up those stairs. I wonder what I would find at the top?
In Texas, a cute little baby brontosaurus stretches up his head and neck to eat a small cotton candy puffball floating before him.1
The morning I reach Florida, the clouds decide to show off: They line themselves up before me the entire way down the penninsula, glowing in the breathtaking colors of the Creation just like a Sunday School book illustration. And that same evening, as I finally reach my destination and the sun sets behind a cloud, I see something I had seen previously only in Art Deco designs: Green, aqua, blue, pink, and turquoise rays shoot out around the sun, separated by distinct lines, as if Mucha had painted the scene. The rays show for a good long while—half a sinking sun’s worth.
The perfect cloud coda to my journey.
But earlier that first afternoon in Florida, there’s a break from all this beauty. I see the only cloud formation that ever makes me laugh out loud:
Outside the driver’s side window, I cannot help but notice a giant cartoon-man’s head. It is in three-quarter profile, facing right, with his mouth wide open, and big, panicked, googly eyes. In front of his open mouth is his cloud hand, held in a loose open curve toward his face. Past his hand is a series of clouds streaked across the sky, each one growing larger the farther away it gets.
Can you picture it? The poor fellow’s sneezing fit goes on and on, despite everything he tries, and nothing can ever put a stop to it.
And that, my dears, is where we get clouds!
1. Yes, I know we call these dinosaurs “apatasauruses” now (apatasauri), and scientists of old had the round head shape all wrong—their noses are pointier. But I did not see a pointy-spade-nosed apatasaurus—I saw a very cute round-headed baby brontosaurus, just like I said.
(If you liked Clouds, you may also enjoy Tiny Town or Snowcaves.)