Borne by soft southern breezes on a June afternoon, armadas of cumulus clouds sailed majestically across the sky.

Or on another day, it seemed as if across the azure vault cloud battalions marched east on a summer's zephyr.

Empires of the imagination, midair dreamscapes, massed shape—shifting wonders of neverending delight, the clouds have inspired poets and dreamers, philosophers and scientists, city folk and those living in wide open country. 

My dictionary defines a cloud as

'a visible body of very fine droplets of water or particles of ice dispersed in the atmosphere above the earth's surface at various altitudes ranging up to several miles.' 

Leave it to the lexicographer or scientist to make these wind—borne wanderers sound so mundane.

Making clouds even more enjoyable are their different types: the layered, horizontal stratus, the cotton ball piles of cumulus, and the tufted, wispy cirrus.  These are further defined by their relative altitudes, from the gentle stratocumulus below 6,000 feet to the majestically threatening cumulonimbus, towering 10 miles or more into the sky

Clouds at sunrise, clouds at sunset, set in colors from God's own palette ranging from the softest pastel hues of rose madder to dramatic violet to indescribable orange and crimson to colors that cannot be described.  You can photograph them or paint them, but you will never capture their evanescent beauty on film or on canvas.

Or clouds at night, moonlit vagrant ghosts scudding through darkling skies.

You can sit or stand to enjoy the clouds, but probably the best way is to get right down on the ground, lie back and appreciate their infinite variety.  Costs you nothing but some time that will be well rewarded.  Is that a whale?  Could be a face. Is that a horse?  Might be a cross.  Are those angel's wings?  That cumulonimbus looks like the gates of hell. 

Or just view the empyrean panoply as a whole, sky—borne sails aloft, filling with winds of whimsy, driving the ship of our imaginations across horizonless seas.

And if you are an inveterate fancier of these drifting embodiments of fancy you might want to take a look at the Cloud Appreciation Society website.  This British organization (why I am not surprised?) is dedicated to the proposition that

'clouds are unjustly maligned and that life would be immeasurably poorer without them... we pledge to fight 'blue sky thinking' wherever ever find it... and so we say to all who'll listen to look up, marvel at the ephemeral beauty and live life with your head in the clouds.' 

There are links at the site to galleries of beautiful cloud photos, to cloud art & poetry, etc.  Now for some reason this British society quotes the Frenchman Baudelaire for its poetic tribute to clouds.  Seems obvious to me that, if perhaps they thought Wordsworth's 'I wondered lonely as a cloud' not quite up to snuff, that Society president Gavin Pretor—Pinney should have considered a quote from Shelley's 'The Cloud' whose third stanza reads:

Over earth and ocean, with gentle motion,

This pilot is guiding me,

Lured by the love of the genii that move

In the depths of the purple sea;

Over the rills, the crags and the hills,

Over the lakes and the plains,

Wherever he dream, under mountain or stream,

The Spirit he loves remains;

And I all the while bask in Heaven's blue smile,

Whilst he is dissolving in rains. 

So take a break from the latest news, the blogs, the stress and the strain of life, and lift your head up to the skies, where the clouds await your eyes.

John B. Dwyer is a military historian and frequent contributor.

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