May 12, 1999


The best time to view cloudscapes is when the weather is changing. Just before the weather turns bad or just after it clears enough to go flying is the best chance to view one of nature's grandest shows. Saturday, you may recall, was a day when the weather came in alternating waves of sun and rain. It was always changing, and it made an interesting day.

I spent several hours on top of broken clouds, looking down at the earth peeking back at us, and looking out over the uncharted mountains and valleys of the cloudscapes below us. The luckiest student flew just after the worst of the rainstorms had passed, just as the day was ending.

The clouds weren't broken or scattered, the standard descriptions for cloud cover, they were fractured. They floated a few thousand feet off the ground, scattered in fields as though they had been violently pulled from one big ball of cotton. Some other clouds threaded around hillsides, clung to hilltops, or laid tight in the narrowest valleys.

There is a reason for each individual drop of mist of each cloud to be right where it is, but I could make no sense of why some hills or valleys had fog and so many others did not. To the eye, questions regarding the mathematics of the universe were irrelevant. The low sun in the west would break through the clouds above us and cast a yellow light into the some of the fractured clouds below, lighting them like fire.

It was a good thing that I got all my sightseeing done on company time, because last Sunday was Mother's Day, and Mother is thrilled by yard work, not by airplanes. I offered my best complaints as I went about the honeydo list, but it was all for show. One cannot surrender a day at the airport without at least the formality of a protest.

Our yard work is only a shadow of the days of market gardening two acres, but the experience was just as satisfying. In the still morning air, the fragrance of the apple trees lingered and drifted slowly. Our year- round birds made their usual songs, and the robins, killdeer and others have been around long enough now that their songs are getting familiar too. The orioles have been back for almost a week, and they are welcome because they sing their cheery song at all times of the day.

It is the arrival of the catbird, tohee, and wood thrush that marks the beginning of summer for me. Perhaps I am just crazy, but for me, the song of the wood thrush is not just pleasant, it is euphoric. Each autumn I savor every serenade, hoping that it won't be the last, and each May I wait to hear its song again echo through the woods. I was delighted to hear all three of them as I worked along through the early morning.

My red bird stayed in the hangar this weekend, but I had a satisfying time with all the other birds.

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