Photo: Clarence Lacy

After a long weekend, we all need a bit of recovery, especially after a long weekend filled with headlines about espionage and missile defense tactics.

I chose to relax on Saturday by looking overhead and watching clouds. No, I wasn’t looking for the rabbit-shaped cloud chasing a carrot or the hopping kangaroo (although, I’m not averse to the hunt).

Cloud watching can be relaxing and stimulating to the imagination. The activity can also be used to inform wind direction and impending weather events.  There are entire websites dedicated to watching and photographing clouds.

The term ‘Nephelococcygia’ – derived from the city in the sky in Aristophanes’ Greek play, ‘The Birds’ – means, “to discover shapes in clouds”. What is often considered simple child’s play is actually the observation of truly complex systems at work: the formation of cloud shapes, their distance from us, and their movement across the sky. We were taught to look up and expand our imagination, assigning a cognitive correlation between abstract forms and real-life objects and features.

Photos: Clarence Lacy

These puffs of condensation can take on four main forms: cirrus, stratus, cumulus, and nimbus. Magical images appear in the sky, dissipate, then reappear again. The longer we stared at the amorphous meteorological phenomenon, the more their shapes became something we could easily recognize and name. This was one of the first and most impactful interaction with landscape’s ephemeral quality – the fourth dimension’s effect on nature around us.

Clouds create a visual ceiling and a beautiful backdrop for photography. They can obfuscate, create mystery, and reveal a different perspective than originally imagined. For the designers out there: Have you ever notice how much better those daytime renderings look with a few clouds in the sky?

Sit back this weekend, put on some Carly Simon, and look up at the sky. On a clear day with a slight breeze (this weekend’s forecast for Los Angeles looks warm and clear), the pleasures and perspective of childhood can be yours again, one cloud at a time.


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