Lara learns the truth about clouds
When I was small, I was fascinated by clouds. What were they made of? Cotton candy? Wool? Could you touch the clouds, break off a fluffy piece with your hands? How did they feel, how did they taste? Those were some questions I asked myself. I could just lie down and watch the clouds drift across the sky, pushed by the wind, tickled by skyscrapers, in all shapes, sizes, and textures. I’d say, “Look, a cloud ship!” or, “Up there, a cloud elephant!” I wondered if fairies sat on them and looked down on us. For all I knew, God could be using them as his pillows!
My father had often read me a book called Wolkenbrot (which means “cloud bread” in German). It was a picture book about a small boy who would gather clouds that were caught on trees and ask his mom to turn them into bread: one cup of flour, some water, two eggs, and one cloud. Eating the bread allowed him to fly! In the book, clouds were something that you could touch, carry, and eat. It used to be one of my favorite stories, and on a misty day my dad would say, “Let’s go outside and see if we can find a cloud stuck on a tree! Then we can ask Mom to bake cloud bread!”
As I got a little older, I started to doubt the magic of clouds. Can one really eat them? I’ve never seen a real person fly. But that didn’t stop me from daydreaming and wondering what gave them their shape, what made them float . . .
One day, I was sitting in my school classroom. I think it was in Grade Two. We would now learn about clouds! Expectations ran high. All my classmates were just as excited as I was, waiting enthusiastically for this lesson. Some were drumming their fingers across their desks, others tapping their feet on the floor. One or two giggles seemed amplified by the silence we fell into when the teacher arrived. She smiled at our excitement. We held our breath as the lesson began. There was nothing on the cold, smooth surfaces of our desks to distract us.
When our teacher finally broke the silence and asked us how we thought clouds were made, I promptly raised my hand so high I almost fell off my chair, begging to be noticed. A bunch of other kids were in the same position. One after another, we excitedly explained our theories. She had opened the floodgates, and we just couldn’t get out the words fast enough. Our teacher didn’t scold us for our theories, but we did gather some amused glances from our classmates. Then she drew in large strokes on the whiteboard what we had been trying so hard to understand. Something that seemed mysterious finally became clear. Though it was not really magical, it was still something fascinating that made us feel important: we’d learned about a pivotal and complicated process of nature. My guess is that a lot of parents got a lecture on clouds by some very proud young scholars that evening.
I’ll admit, I was pretty disappointed when I found out that clouds weren’t made of a solid, fluffy, soft, or sweet substance. However, I am also really fascinated by what it takes for clouds to form. The sun’s heat turns water into steam. It rises. The air cools it down, far above the ground. The mist thickens, gets more compact, becomes the substance we call clouds. But wait—it doesn’t end there. Wisps of clouds gather together, each becoming part of a larger whole. Everything keeps getting heavier and heavier. Big and grey. As the world comes closer, clouds get warmer. Droplets part, mist turns to water, and rain falls back to earth. Sometimes, when it’s cold, there is snow. When it’s freezing, hail. If it’s warm, it will drizzle. The water is back where it started, in rivers, oceans, or lakes. The air warms it up again, the water rises . . . Endless cycles. Do you see how it never ends? The permanence of this mesmerized me. I mean, it was there long before my great-great-great-grandparents were born and will be there, if all goes well, long after I die. This was one of the most interesting realizations I made.
Clouds—water in a cycle, with no end. Not sweet. Not home to small winged beings. Old. New. So much to see. So much seen long ago. That’s what I think of when I look up to the clouds now. No one knows what exactly happens up there. We can just guess. Write what we think might be. That is what my dad and I did when we tried to imagine what the world might look like from the perspective of a raindrop called “Anton.” Are our heads in the clouds? “Yes,” my mom would say. Could well be.