Anne Notations

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Views at sunrise

From approximately 8:15 am until 6 pm or so every day, I work inside a cavernous converted factory with high ceilings and a hive of cubicles. I sit in a little office built inside the facility; while angled skylights admit diffuse light above, I have no direct view of the outdoors.

Being encapsulated in a windowless environment makes me appreciate my brief outdoor forays more than ever. This week, we had rain and gray skies from Sunday through last night. This morning's clearing air was all the more welcome when I set off with Daisy down the walking path for a daybreak stroll.

A long bank of cumulus clouds crouched on the horizon across the bay, their billowing crowns touched with the rising sun's rosy light.

I love clouds. I always have. When I was about five, I lay alone in our Elmhurst, Illinois, backyard on the warm summer grass and stared straight up at a towering cumulonimbus in the blue sky above. Snow-white and apparently dense as fresh whipped cream, it grew taller as I watched, churning with shadows and highlights – alive! Growing! I felt small... minuscule... alone, and afraid. I jumped up and ran in our back door to the safe kitchen, breathless and not entirely sure what I had run from except that it was far too big and spacious for a five-year-old to tolerate for more than a minute. I can still see that vertical cloud clearly in my memory.

Just as we humans sometimes perversely run toward what has frightened us, as a schoolgirl I was obsessed with meteorology. I read about fronts and updrafts. I memorized cloud names: cirrus, stratus, cumulus. More colorfully, I learned to distinguish a mackerel sky (altocumulus), the evocative mare's tails (wispy cirrus), and the descriptive if embarrassing mammatus that sometimes depend pouchlike from the undersides of cumulonimbus clouds before a storm. (I saw my first mammati only this past year. They are straight out of science fiction.)

Since we moved here three summers ago, I have taken more photographs some months than in the preceding decades of my life – and most of them have the sky and clouds in starring roles. Sunrise, sunset: It's a grand show that I can't get enough of. From the terrifying (but basically harmless) shelf cloud that seemed to reach down for us several summers ago ahead of a violent cloudburst, to the crystalline icy cirrus clouds of winter, to the architectural curl of a roll cloud this spring, each day here is a potential cloud lover's feast.

This evening as I drove home from the Pawtucket/Attleboro line on I-95 south, a sunset of sublime beauty formed, bloomed, and faded while I poked along in rush-hour traffic. Bands of horizontal clouds lay purple across an apricot sky that glowed like a candlelit pumpkin. Other deep-hued cumulus ridges with rosy highlights kept vigil on the eastern horizon. Oh, to have my camera with me!

Calm down, I told myself. Drink in the sunset. You are lucky to be out of the work-cave and on an interstate with clear western views. By the time I was winding south alongside Brushneck Cove on Seaview Ave., nearly home, the skies had darkened.

Sometimes you get to observe the break of day; sometimes nightfall. Each is fine with me, especially if there are a few clouds involved – and a camera close at hand.

Looking down at the sky – in a rainwater puddle on our street this morning.

Hey: Any of the above photographs are prettier if you click to see them larger.