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Electric Sky

Waking Dream

  • You wake up from a nightmare and are facing your bedroom window. The starless city sky is particularly dark on this night. Then you see it. You wipe the cold sweat from your forehead and blink hard. It’s still there, like an electric sign of fluorescent colors you never knew could exist. After an indeterminate time of gawking, you realize, the light has no source and the cloud is near the zenith of the sky… What is it?

This is not a hypothetical scenario. When I saw it that night back in 2009, I was sound of mind and body, if not a little shaken from the dream that woke me. Darkness, dead of night and High Summer made for a likely concoction for fantasy to creep into reality. As far as I knew, a midnight rainbow had caught fire and I was the only witness. Whether I faded back into sleep, or the vision faded first, is lost to the gray between dreaming and wakefulness. I know that I dreamt in new colors that night. By sunset, the next day, I was member #29,346 of the Cloud Appreciation Society.

We live at the bottom of the airy sea in the troposphere. At around 33,000 feet, the stratosphere looms, followed by the mesosphere at around 250,000 feet, cold and almost devoid of moisture. Therefore, clouds tend to limit themselves to the troposphere. Then there are the rarified ones, nacreous clouds in the stratosphere, also known as mother-of-pearl clouds. Ever upwards, there are noctilucent clouds. They consist of ice crystals and catch the light of the already departed sun, a fluorescent ice-beacon reflecting and refracting the light of day from another part of the world. It is widely held that methane emissions issuing from everything from factories to livestock are responsible for these cloud anomalies. Like so many things in the realm of beauty, goodness has nothing to do with it.

Discovering the cause of my night-vision changed things. But just as the woods and the moon failed to lose their mystery as I came to learn more about them, the electric cloud I saw remains a wonder. That rarity was a catalyst for another way of seeing the world. Just as mushrooms and trees needed to be recognized and named for me, not unlike a person, my general recognition of clouds needed categorization. Sure, there are the three basics: Cumulus, stratus and cirrus. But there are so many species and varieties of clouds, even a newly minted cloud species known as, asperitus—meaning, roughness/harshness—that the Cloud Appreciation Society petitioned and succeeded in being included with the rest, the first new addition to the International Cloud Atlas since 1951. Naming things can generalize as much as it draws a person in. One can point and call it ‘asperitas’ and carry on under the assumption that enough is known. Then there is the curious soul who calls the cloud ‘asperitas’ and looks deeper after that naming. That undulating formation begins to take hold of their focus and reveals itself to be the very thing it is, always, absolutely, unique in itself.

Perhaps, somewhere across the globe, a noctilucent cloud is shining, looking down on that very asperitas cloud, while another soul, in another land, calls it beautiful.

Hayden Moore

November 1, 2021

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