cloud’s eye view

I’m on the quick-hop flight from Austin to Houston: toss the plane in the air, spend maybe thirty minutes at altitude, and drop back down. So we’re already descending as I look at the “ground” of puffy stretched cotton balls as far as my horizontal vision can see.

“Cumulus,” I think. “Not doing anything for anybody but muting the heat of the sun. Easy for flying, though they look showy.”

We skim the tops as we prepare to opaquely cross into the clear air below. There’re some bumps–clouds are not smooth inside–but mostly rocking motions for the perhaps five minutes we spend between.

I learned about clouds in fourth grade, and never again. That now qualifies as a really long time ago, but basic cloud categories and their qualities have stuck with me.

I wonder: I’ve been flying since I was six (fourth graders are about ten), staring out the windows in fascination at the miniature world below. Do I know clouds because flyers interact with them routinely, from ‘both sides now’? Or has it been residual wariness from the five tornadoes I was exposed to the year I was five?

Either or both ways, I like clouds. Like grass: a beautiful surface that holds unexpected variation up close.

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