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Clouds remind me that magical things in life can come out of nowhere

Tamar Charney

I'm weirdly into clouds. I'm not a meteorologist or a climate scientist. I don't even know that much about clouds. I just really like them.

Whenever I'm outside or near a window, my eye is drawn up to the clouds overhead to watch their ever changing shapes. They morph and shift, billow and blow. They slide and rotate, they elongate and dissipate. One minute they look as if they could be grabbed; the next, they disappear into thin air.

I love the different forms they take. There are the puffy cotton ball-like clouds against the blue sky — those iconic cumulus clouds. There are curlicue cirrus clouds wafting high above made of ice. Then the stratus clouds turning the sky into hazy gray mush or descending into an eye level fog. There are the rolling lumps of stratocumulious that cover the sky or at least a good portion of it, the bumpy altostratus and altocumulous clouds, and the terrifying towers of storm clouds.

Sometimes the clouds mix and mingle, and it is hard for me to tell who is who and what is what.

There have been times I've lain on a beach staring off only to find myself unable to figure out if I'm looking at water and sand or clouds and sky. There are those other times when the clouds look for all the world like mountain ranges. (Where I live in Michigan, that's the closest to a mountain range I'm going to see.)

Like a lot of people, I've been into clouds since I was a child. I loved to imagine them as animals in the sky. I loved getting lost in daydreams, staring at them out the windows during a boring class at school or on a long road trip. And early in life I became a fan of the ultimate front row seat for cloud watching — the window seat on an airplane.

From a plane, clouds look like something you can jump into and have a lovely soft landing — like falling into a down comforter, or perhaps like something you could bounce around on like a carnival bouncy house.

A few years ago, I started a photography project about the varying moods of a bay on Lake Michigan. After a few months of shooting, I started to realize that the images I was capturing were really pictures of the clouds, not the lake itself. It was the ever changing colorful landscape of clouds in the sky that created visual interest and emotional tone.

It was a moment when I realized how much clouds color our experience of the world. A sky of bright white fluffy clouds make a lot of us feel cheery and energetic, while a sky covered with dark gray clouds can make things feel subdued and sometimes even gloomy. And the rain or snow they bring can change the course of our day by making travel a mess, ruining plans for a hike or a picnic with friends.

/ Tamar Charney
Tamar Charney

Watching clouds is a solitary activity for me, even when I'm surrounded by people. If you have a drink or a meal with me in an outdoor café, my eyes will periodically turn to the sky. Every once in a while, I might point out an interesting shape or comment on a particularly beautifully lit one. Mostly, I just privately enjoy them. Like a vase of flowers, a piece of art, or a passerby in an amazing outfit, clouds are one of those lovely things to be noticed and appreciated when I'm out and about.

Clouds can also transport me away from the duller parts of life, away from boring situations and away from day to day stresses and worries. They get me out of my head and into a dreamscape, a magical looking landscape that floats above me where I can imagine the constraints of everyday life don't apply. A place that looks like something from a fantasy, but is unfathomably real.

/ Tamar Charney
Tamar Charney

Clouds induce a state of wonder because they are constant shape shifters and simultaneously so solid looking. I can't quite process how something can look grabbable, but then turn out to be nothing more than moist air.

It is a reminder that magical things in life can come out of nothing and out of nowhere. Much like water vapor can create illusions when it shows up in cloud form, we humans can morph and change and present as something that really isn't there. We can take different forms depending on where we are in the world and who we are with.

Much like clouds, we are all shifting and changing, solid one moment only to dissolve in the next. And who knows what form our lives will take next?

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Tamar Charney is the Managing Director for Personalization and Curation. In this role, she creates and executes new editorial strategies for programming a unique and customizable mix of the best international, national, and local public radio news that is blended with hand curated podcasts. Previously, she held the title of Managing Editor of NPR One.