My interest in clouds these days stems from an interest in where I live and in discovering a sense of place. In the four years I have lived in the Pacific Northwest, I have been aggressive about getting to know this place--it's waterways, native plants and animals, tides, patterns of sunlight, cloud patterns, and weather. I am making some progress, but four years isn't a long time to get to know a place so you feel native...or at least not clueless.
Transforming residents into real natives is one of the goals of the Northwest Earth Institute, a Portland-based organization with a lofty mission "motivating individuals to examine and transform personal values and habits, to accept responsibility for the earth, and to act on that commitment." If this sounds like a lifetime's work, it is, but the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) publishes a discussion course on "Discovering a Sense of Place" to help make the job easier. The workbook-size paperback contain of thirty seven essays by many of the who's who of today's environmental writers, geologists, ecologists, enthnobotanists, bioregionalists, conservationists, sustainability-ists. There are also poems, maps, and beautiful black-and-white spot illustrations. Its cozy format alone makes me feel at home.
I've been reading the essays for the past few months and though I have no plans to start a discussion group, I've been taking the messages in the book to heart.
The first message appears on the cover of the book. It is a quote from Gary Snyder: Find your place on the planet, dig in, and take responsibility from there.
Another is from writer-farmer Wendell Berry: If you don't know where you are, you don't know who you are.
And another is question number 16 in the course book's Bioregional Quiz: From where you are reading this, point north.
Many of you will be able to point north without really thinking about it and feel good (even smug). I cannot do this reliably yet. I am working on it, though. I have started traveling with a compass, the kind with the adjustable declination. Now when I am out cloudwatching I orient myself to true and then magnetic north and then look around.
This is what I was doing this morning when I took the photograph of the clouds and red barn. I found north. I watched the clouds. I discovered they were moving in from the southwest. I turned to face the southwest and felt the breeze on my face. I felt the sun--low in the sky to the southeast--on my back. A flock of Canada geese a hundred strong rose up from the field near the barn and settled loudly on another field.
This is where I live.