Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cloud Watching

As I was sitting here deciding what to write about today I glanced out the window of my studio/office and the puffy cumulus clouds outside caught my eye. Today, we have a tropical sky, puffy mid level clouds on a royal blue background with just a hint of the summer haze that is the normal around here. This is the kind of sky that I used to see when growing up in Florida and it brings back memories of spending time on a summer afternoon lying in the plush green St. Augustine grass in my back yard looking at the clouds in the sky.

My thoughts usually ran in one of two directions. The first would be to trace the shapes of the clouds looking for faces of people and animals. Sometimes I would see the outline of a Native American in the plains, or a soldier in a field. Sometimes the sky was filled with creatures from the sea, fish and sharks and when a cumulous started building off in the distance, an octopus. There were plenty of octopi in the summer skies of Florida because as the afternoon wore on, there was usually a mid afternoon shower. The sky would become an ocean and I would become a scuba diver swimming amongst all the mysterious and slightly dangerous marine life. I imagined swimming around mounds on the ocean floor twisting around rain shafts that were transformed in my mind to beds of kelp. Always by my side would be my trusty spear gun to ward off all oceans’ bad guys. Yes, there were bad guys for one of my favorite prime time TV shows was “Sea Hunt” starring Lloyd Bridges as ex-Navy frogman Mike Nelson. That show filmed external shots in several locations in Florida; Silver Springs, Cypress Gardens, and Tarpon Springs. When I eventually had my chance to scuba dive for real, I was amazed at how close to the real thing those imaginary dives through the clouds really were.

Other times, I would imagine flying a jet plane through the clouds, soaring and diving over and under the cloud formations, seeing the green earth way down below and the blue sky spreading from horizon to horizon. Sometimes I would wind my way through the canyons and arroyos formed by the clouds as they built up to their afternoon crescendo and began dumping rain in shafts. In my mind it was fun to sprint through those rain shafts twisting and turning in the clear air framed on top by the cloud base and the bottom by the earth. What fun, I thought it would be to skim across the face of the clouds in smooth air playing hide and seek with other pilots in their jets. When I finally got my chance to fly a jet for real, this time I was amazed at how different the real experience was. There were no g-forces in my imagination but in reality they made twisting and turning a rough and tumble experience. As for smoothly skimming across the surface of a cloud, glinting in the sunlight; I quickly learned that clouds, especially cumulus clouds mean turbulence. That can make for a rough ride indeed.

Back in the early 50s, prime time for my cloud watching days, the radio stations were playing what is still one of my favorite songs; “Ghost Riders in the Sky” by Vaughn Monroe. It was a big hit when it first appearing on the Billboard charts on April 15, 1949. It lasted 22 weeks and peaked at position #1. Whenever I heard Ghost Riders while cloud watching, I could visualize those cloudy draws filled with cattle with fire in their eyes, hooves of steel and hot breath coming from their noses as they labored across the cloudy countryside driven by those cowboys condemned forever to be driving them across the sky.

Even today, when I look up at the sky filled with clouds not made up of water vapor and air, but instead, filled with the creatures of my childhood imagination, I can still hear Vaughn’s clear baritone ringing out “Yippie yi Ohhhhh, Yippie yi yaaaaay, Ghost Riders in the sky!” Oh MY!

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