I long to reach out and know the texture of cloud, aware it would be the hazy kiss of fog – but frigid – yet wanting it to be something more. In my youth I often soared up here in moonlit fantasy, perched on the rim of the watertower at the edge of fields near our neighborhood, the cool night air of Venezuela full of the promise of flight and the possibilities of imagination. As with this current passage, I was not, in my adolescent reverie, buffeted by icy wind, but part of wind, surfing it and creating it with my motion, a coccoon of calm wrapped around me, formed and released continually. I commune now as much with those distant dreams as with the present reality just outside my window.

From the vantage point of earth, one looks up and imagines familiar shapes in clouds. Look! There! A horse! Elsewhere, a laughing face above you morphs into an alligator, then the state of Louisiana. These forms flow slowly above you, carried along by the planet’s ceaseless energy. Relative motion is seen from the corner of your eye, in reference to the swaying branches of trees. Direction doubted, then found again. Speed that is impossible to accurately gauge by eye from the ground.

But up here, in this moment, your flight defines speed for itself, the clouds themselves all but motionless. If you look carefully, tiny wisps can be seen to move, but your own speed does not allow you to tarry long enough to perceive that all, even the biggest, is in fact in motion. You behold a seemingly solid wonderland through which you race, and you can almost believe it persists in reality far longer than in your imagination. I hold these beautiful shapes lovingly with my gaze but briefly, then look for more.

Inevitably, however, the complex topography shrinks to a texture less intimate, the relative size of my porthole view diminished by the unembraceable extent of the greater horizon now visible. My imagination pulls back inside the plastic and hovers here where I am, held by the hissing roar of jet flight, contemplating what is before me, and seeking a new way to relate to what I see that might yield some of the recent wonder now gently fading.

It occurs to me to think on how all this “cloud” came to be up here. I have struggled with the numbers, that these visions of translucent solidity represent many tons of water. Water. Which lies heavy on the land, sinuously seeking that common lower level it itself has defined by the shorelines of its dominating oceans, themselves fully water down to miles of crushing depth, where the weight of that water would implode our frail bodies. We who are mostly water, and count ourselves heavy. Yet here, an equal distance above that equilibrium plane of ocean surface as the deepest depths are below, are tons of water, floating around. In air.

Yes, the fallacy lies in the word “water”, as this is technically vapor, but the paradox will not be so easily dispelled as by positing that matter can have any of the three distinct and defining states of solid/liquid/gas. Ice, too, will laugh at your “understanding” as it floats on its own liquid incarnation. No, it is not the physics, and not the numbers of tons, that inspire my contemplation. It is the process. The cycle of cloud. My eye is drawn down to the distant ground, where another immensity lies in open camouflage.

Perhaps “rock”, if I may be allowed such a dismissively catch-all word, is the prevalent material of this planet, with “air” second over still-abundant “water” (at least as measured by volume). But the fourth mass is also the first to transcend that elusive, defining boundary of “life”. That being plants. Only a third of this orb is dry rock, and even some of that is again covered by frozen water. But of that which is not, save for some admittedly enormous deserts, almost all is covered by plants. Below me, patterns of green and yellow lie like paint upon the forms of red and brown and yellow earth. Whether “flat” grasslands or soaring jungle, plants are everywhere, as crowded together as their design permits. The more I look, the more I realize just how much “plant” is out there.



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