A Final Thought: I Really Don’t Know Clouds At All


By Mitch Allen

By the time you read this sometime in mid-May, I hope we will have experienced relief from the constant rain. But for now, here in early May, I have decided to build an ark, assuming I can find a place to construct it where it will not sink into Northeast Ohio’s soggy loam.

By comparison, my wife and I spent a few days at the end of April in Scottsdale, Arizona, where it was 92 degrees without a cloud in the sky. The brief break from the cold, grey wet was invigorating—the sun on my shoulders, hiking without a jacket or an umbrella, exposing to the eyes of strangers my pale, knobby knees in a pair of shorts.

But on the third day, my wife made an observation. She said, “It’s kind of boring, the sky I mean. It’s just endless blue. There is nothing to give it character, no shapes of animals or Winnie the Pooh floating among the puffy cumulus.”

She’s right, you know. Benjamin Margalit, Mimi’s photographer for nearly 20 years before retiring to Florida, once told me: “Photographers do not take pictures of things. They take pictures of light bouncing off things. Therefore, you cannot have a gorgeous sunrise or sunset without clouds. There would be nothing to create contrast, nothing to reflect the light to reveal those stunning reds, oranges and glimmering silver linings.”

Benjamin meant these words literally, but also metaphorically: One cannot have a beautiful life without clouds. Sublime joy exists only in its contrast to sadness. The melancholy of disappointment and the deep grief of loss serve as clouds that give joyfulness something to bounce off of.

Sometimes the clouds are so thick all we see is grey, like the countless days of rain and gloom in early spring in Northeast Ohio. But one day, when the late-May sun burns through the sheets of clouds, a fresh light illuminates the spring blossoms and bright green buds, creating a kaleidoscope of color that warms our psyches as the sun warms our shoulders.

I like Arizona when I compare it to winter or a wet Cleveland spring, but not when I compare it to a Cleveland summer bursting with a broad diversity of flora. By contrast, Arizona is scraggly—cacti and a few shrubs eking out an existence in the Martian landscape. That said, on our visit in late-April, the cacti were blooming, a sight so remarkable it seemed illusory.

When my wife and I first saw a large saguaro cactus blooming in front of our hotel, we laughed because it was clear someone had climbed up there and placed a bouquet of silk daisies at the top of the plant as some kind of joke.

But the joke was on us.

The flowers were real.

That became clear when we toured the 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, which offered blooming cacti and other beautiful desert flora around every corner, along with inventive overhead structures, modern sculptures, and artistic inlaid pathways. (I recommend a visit if you find yourself in the area.)

Still, a few weeks from now, the garden’s blossoms will wilt under the 110-degree heat and the only colors will once again be the blue sky and the dull green cacti dotting the orange-rock desert—no yellows, purples, whites, crimsons or pinks.

We returned to Cleveland to face another two weeks of grey skies and rain, including one day when I noticed my gutters were overflowing at the corner of the roof, the water bouncing off a rain barrel and splashing on our back door. In the rain, I retrieved a step ladder to clean the gutters only to have the ladder’s slender legs sink into the mud with me aboard as if I were caught in quicksand in an old Tarzan movie. “Tell my wife I love her!” I would scream until all that remained of me was a khaki pith helmet floating on the surface of the jungle quicksand.

Dr. Livingston, I presume?

When I finish my ark, I will do my best to accommodate two of every species on board, but there will be exceptions, including parasitoid wasps, which lay their eggs inside caterpillars so their hatchlings can eat the caterpillar from the inside out. That doesn’t seem fair, and I don’t want such a creature on my boat.

Then again, maybe the wasp has some redeeming characteristic I am unaware of, in the same way I was unaware that a saguaro cactus can suddenly sprout daisies.

The world is difficult to understand. It is strange and horrible, yet utterly beautiful, softened by rain, warmed by sunshine, and somehow—in its majestic wonder and confusion—ignited in glory by the presence of ordinary clouds.


Categories: Smart Living