Words about clouds are clouds themselves

It’s no secret that I have developed an obsession with clouds.

It’s not a scientific obsession like the one Richard Hamblyn describes in his book about Luke Howard—the Quaker amateur meteorologist who gave us words to name and thus classify clouds: cumulus (heaped), cirrus (mare’s tails), etc.

I love Hamblyn’s The Cloud Book with its beautiful photos and meticulous differentiations: Cirrus uncinus, Cirrus fibratus, Cirrus spissatus, Cirrus castellanus, and on and on and on—so many mare’s tails!

With Klaus Reichert, my daily photos are a sort of Wolkendienst (service or dedication to clouds). Like him, I’m fascinated by the infinitely varied and constantly changing forms that painters from John Constable to William Turner to Gerhard Richter have explored.

Yesterday I found Wendy Mark’s and Mark Strand’s 89 Clouds in my mail, a gift from my dear friend Alex Caldiero.

Wendy Mark’s monotypes are 10-inch squares at most. Mark Strand’s 89 thoughts about clouds are single, spare lines. Words about clouds, as Strand writes, are clouds themselves.

And, I think while reading, pictures about clouds are clouds themselves.

Clouds are thoughts without words, Strand adds.

It’s a beautiful book. And it accompanied me into my dreams.

I woke out of vaporous dreams at about 2:30 this morning. Lying there thinking about the coming day, I turned on my side and looked up out of the long, narrow, east-facing window that has always reminded me of Holbein’s painting “Dead Christ.” High mountains dominate the view to the east, although this morning, from my bed, I was looking at a scene just above Tower Mountain. Here you see the mountain and the long window during the day:

I was staring up into a dark sky when I saw a beam of light shine up through what I realized were thick clouds, light that gradually furled up through what looked like spiral in a seashell. The clouds shifted, opened, and revealed the half-moon—sharp and brilliantly white. Over time the clouds thinned and encouraged by a north breeze alternately veiled the moon and left it bright against a sky so black that it had the texture of velvet. As the clouds thinned further, the moon was clearly visible behind them even as they covered it. I realized that the moon was not only visible, it was making the cirrus clouds visible. Their illumination contrasted dramatically with the black sky, crossed it and marked it and colored it. I watched the light for half an hour till the moon drifted up out of the long window.

Utterly enchanted.

Here’s a photo taken a few hours later from our deck showing the light clouds and the mountain from which the moon rose sometime after 2 a.m.

Alex, thank you for the book and for the dreams it evoked. The 30 minutes that followed will lift my spirits for days.

About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at http://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/
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4 Responses to Words about clouds are clouds themselves

  1. Leopold Federmair says:

    Wörter sind Wolken, das empfinde ich oft so. Beweglich, veränderlich im Satzgefüge (Wolkengefüge), Illusionen (Joni Mitchell!), scheinbar reine Formen, haben sie trotzdem Substanz, die wir ihnen schenken, wenn wir sie betrachten. Beim Schreiben bin ich es, der sie bewegt.


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