by Nancy McDaniel

Clouds have always fascinated me. It doesn’t matter what I learned about them as a child in school. I believe they are magical. I believe they are somehow spiritual. I believe I can sit on them. I believe that they speak to me, as their shapes form, as they move toward me. Always toward me, never away.

En Route to Africa
I’m sitting in the American Airlines Admiral’s Club at Miami International Airport. I am waiting to fly to Africa, where, when there even are clouds, they are brilliant, as are the skies, which they inhabit. The floor-to-ceiling windows here at the Club cleverly cover up the ordinary hustle and bustle of the busy airport’s ground operations. The lowest windows are frosted, with squares and rectangles obliterating the view of the ordinary, the daily activity of the airport. I can see more extraordinary things — the magic of the clouds.

Like A Pale Mondrian
The top two sections of the windows are unevenly spaced with lines like a Mondrian painting, but clear so I can see the clouds and the sky. So blue, sky blue, so white, so puffy. It’s like the skies in that painting (whose name I can’t remember) by Manet, where it’s daytime with a blue sky full of clouds yet below it the streetlights are on as though it’s night. It’s the same kind of sky, but with no unexpected twists or surprises. It’s like a wonderfully designed stage set. But it’s not static; It’s always in motion.

The clouds move quickly. As they do, their shapes continually change. One moment, there is a towering pillar; The next it is a triptych of fluffy cones. I could watch them forever. Little wisps of white disengage, detach themselves from the parent clouds as though wanting to break free. To be on their own, to start their own new cloud colony.

Cloud Stories
All of a sudden, a giant columnar dark gray cloud approaches. Will it stop and deliver some needed rain? Or will it just keep moving? It’s like a whole soap opera: Clouds of Our Lives, All My Clouds. I do not fear them from this vantage point. I see them as benign and creative beings. They, like the moon, should have a face (and, to my eyes, they often do). They, like a tree, should have a soul. Actually, I believe they do.

Cloud Gatherer
In some Native American tribal beliefs, when a person dies, their soul becomes a cloud. And there is an ancient woman called a Cloud Gatherer who watches over these departed souls.

I’m not sure that I can believe in heaven, probably not, in fact. But I know that I can believe that my spirit, my soul – and those of people I love who have already died – becomes a cloud. I can believe that a chubby and cheerful white cloud can be my dad. I love the idea that when I die, my friends can look up in the vibrant blue sky and see me sailing merrily overhead. Fifteen or so years ago, the first piece of “real” art I ever purchased was a gray alabaster sculpture called Cloud Gatherer. She was carved by a young Native American artist. She drew me to her in a gallery in mid-town Manhattan in New York. Much as the clouds do, she entranced me. I looked at her from all angles. I put down my parcels and briefcase and sat on the floor and stared at her. I turned her around and looked at the beautifully carved hair streaming down her back. The gallery lady came over and told me the legend, which she represented. I smiled. “So that is why I am so drawn to her, ” I thought. After 30 minutes of observing intently, I decided she must be mine. I have never regretted the decision. She still speaks to me.

Clouds and Tuffets
When I looked out the window on my flight form Chicago to Miami, I thought, as I always do, that I could surely sit on a cloud. I could picnic and laugh and delight on a cloud. I’m not sure what I think that I would feel like: Marshmallow Fluff is too sticky and gooey, bales of cotton are too hard. Perhaps it would be like cotton balls that sit in a fancy jar on a vanity. You can squish them and then push them down and then they pop up again.

I used to wonder about the tuffet that Miss Muffet sat on. Was that like sitting on a cloud?

The lone dark cloud is hovering outside the giant window. It seems to be moving more slowly and it seems to be increasing in size. Is it reflecting my mood, my slight anxiety about my trip? Yet the sun shines brightly behind it, burning a hole in the cloud., chasing away my fears.

I remember the antique chairs with carving of the Old North Wind, the face in the cloud with puffy cheeks blowing hard and strong and savagely. Yet he always had an oddly kind and reassuring look on his face.

I guess I’m not meant to be a meteorologist. Can you imagine the weather forecast: “There’s a front coming in. Watch for the smiling face of Cumulus, the scowl of Nimbus and the whimsy of Strato-Caster. Or whatever.”

It’s a good thing I have no young children. I’d probably tell them that, yes, you can sit on a cloud. Of course you can. It’s like sitting on grandpa’s lap.