I Really Don’t Know Clouds
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
from up and down, and still somehow
it’s cloud illusions I recall.
I really don’t know clouds at all.
I first listened to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” when I was a teenager, and found it terrible. I had never imagined that a person could think about clouds so darn much.
Felkerino’s and my recent tour in Colorado has changed my sentiments toward clouds and the song.
When a person rides a bike up and down mountains in Colorado, it behooves him or her to give some serious thought to clouds.
Many a morning we woke up to sparkling sunny mornings and clear skies. As we rode our way through the morning the clouds would drift into the blue, as if they were having a pleasant meetup over coffee.
Sometimes a cloud gathering would not end peacefully. The sun would recede and the clouds grouped up, their fluffy whiteness turning to stern grays.
Having grown up in Iowa and even now in Washington, D.C., I can smell rain when it’s on the way. I can look at the sky, observe how the clouds curl, and know that rain will fall.
In Colorado it wasn’t so easy for me to read clouds. At times the clouds would roll in around us, but they would hover over a neighboring peak, emitting the occasional grumble. On more than one day, we skirted the periphery of bad weather with our fingers crossed that the peak could keep the storm at bay.
Is it possible for a mountain to hold back the clouds? I convinced myself that it was, despite having little understanding about weather patterns and clouds in the Rockies. To me, those peaks were as strong as Samson, holding off bad weather.
Until this summer’s tour, I had little appreciation for clouds. They were large masses that disrupted or blocked the sun’s rays and dropped the occasional rain shower. Cumulus, nimbus, and cirrus, so what. Sometimes they struck me as pretty and rarely I would look at one long enough for it to resemble an object or animal.
Touring in Colorado changed that. I developed a wary relationship with the clouds. Climbing so high in sparsely populated areas I watched their movements for hours on end. I saw how their personalities could change as the day went on and I respected their power and unpredictability.
It fascinated me to watch them shift from fluffy and white to masses of thundering coal. While disconcerting to view as we hovered around tree line trying to decide if we should stop to put on rain jackets, it reminded me of the ways the city insulates me from the full brunt of the elements. The elements are still there, of course, but harder to discern amid the city lights and buildings.
This year, one of my colleagues who is a HUGE Joni Mitchell fan, informed me that the song “Both Sides Now” is really not about clouds. Rather, the clouds are a metaphor for life and love. At the time, I had said that the whole cloud thing had not worked for me.
As we climbed away from yet another nasty looking landscape of gray and damp, I realized this trip had brought about a change of mind. I told Felkerino that I agreed with Joni Mitchell’s song. I really do not know clouds. I need more bike touring in the mountains and time outside the city to understand them.