Calling all daydreamers, art appreciators and scientists alike! Did you know that a cloud can weigh over a million pounds, which is equivalent to about a hundred elephants? Did you also know that there are ten main cloud types but dozens of species and varieties, including the Horseshoe Vortex and the UFO-lookalike Lenticularis? And that NASA has specific rules for launching depending on what clouds are in the near vicinity?
If you and your family are looking for a feel-good, earth-appreciating, meditative-inducing outdoor activity together that every age can enjoy, may I suggest donning your NASA intern gear, grabbing pen and paper, stepping out into the wild blue yonder and looking up. Look up and observe the fascinating mash up of art meets science, where masters of daydreaming can get blissfully lost in the wonders of meteorology and vice versa. Look straight up and become joyful cloud collectors one and all.
The clouds above are endlessly beautiful, powerful and fascinating, but often times overlooked in today's head-down, focused-on-screens society. Recently, I came across the book The Cloud Collector's Handbook by Gavin Pretor-Pinney on Amazon. The simple but eye-catching cover of painted clouds in a sunset-orange-and-pink sky caught my eye, as did the notion of collecting these ethereal expressions in the sky.
With a little bit of research I learned that there was an international Cloud Appreciation Society and a Cloud-a-Day app, founded by Pretor-Pinney. With a bit more investigating, I learned there were fascinating connections to clouds and NASA launches, to clouds and ancient philosophy, to clouds and culture in the forms of plays, poems, songs, novels and more. Suddenly I was seeing clouds like never before, as mysterious mood lifting magicians born of art and science alike. So I purchased the Pretor-Pinney book and got right to collecting!
The book came at a perfect time, when we were in the first throes of quarantine and itching to get out and about but safely. The first weekend in April, my 12-year-old daughter Sydney, 10-year-old-niece Emma and I ventured outside into the warmer weather with bubbles, walking sticks and my new cloud collector's handbook. We meandered slowly through the side streets of our Metro Detroit suburb, navigating around other walkers and bicyclists, blowing bubbles here and there, and religiously looking up and discussing the endless sizes, shapes and depths of the clouds. We quickly and easily spotted the popular Stratocumulus, low, lumpy and grey, and documented the date, time and location as well as weather conditions. A picture is also recommended for documentation so my budding photographer of a daughter snapped one for our archives. Our first cloud was collected, as well as the coinciding ten points the handbook assigned to it, and we were hooked!
The next day was sunnier with slightly warmer weather conditions so we set out to hunt the good once more, and we collected the round, floating heaps of cotton puffs that are Cumulus for 15 points, and then Altocumulus, the pulled apart cotton balls with sky-blue gaps, for 30! Our collection was off to a great start that very first weekend and we've been on the hunt for these fickle shape shifters ever since, slowly but surely filling up our handbook and making some sweet and easygoing memories along the way.
Another fun step in the journey could be to create your own cloud collecting handbook, starting with the basic ten clouds. A brief description and drawing can be found in many different places on the internet but thoughtco.com has a great summary as does weather.gov. Kids can get creative with their descriptions and artwork, incorporating anything from shading to painting to glue and cotton balls. Or perhaps they start with a blank page and sketch a cloud in real time. And don't forget the idyllic childhood pastime of spotting animal shapes in the clouds. The options are endless and no money is required to kick off your own collection.
Whether you fall into the category of daydreamer or scientist, we are all on a similar mission, to look up more, to appreciate the beauty and the world around us, to lift ourselves and each other up and to unleash our collective positivity and creativity. So heed my call far and wide. Join me in the carefree joy that is cloud collecting. Stop and smell the roses, sure, but never stop looking up.