Readers all--I've just come from the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association conference in Portland, OR, where I delivered a 5-minute "Sideways" pitch to a room full of wonderful booksellers, librarians, and bookstore owners from Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana. (In fact, I delivered 4 of the 5 minutes of my comments because I mistook the 4-minute warning signal for the 5-minute signal and stopped abruptly. Oops!). The fifth minute follows the bold face, uppercase type about half way down.
According to the national weather service a “cloudy” day is one in which 7/8 or more of the sky is covered in clouds.
By this definition, the city of Olympia, WA—where I moved to 11 years ago is cloudy for a whopping 228 days of the year.
I assumed that people living in such a cloudy city would talk about clouds fluently and fondly the way they talk about salmon runs, tides, double carmel lattes, and IPAs.
Yet I never heard anyone talking about the clouds. Sure, they talked about the rain and the gray skies—but not about the clouds.
Was everyone talking about clouds behind my back?
I began asking around. I designed and posted an online “Cloud Survey” to find out what my friends and acquaintances knew about clouds. Sixty-seven people took my survey. Most of them could name two or three clouds (thunderheads, mare’s tails, cumulus, mostly). Most could recall childhood memories of spotting shapes in the clouds. Only a few could identify the clouds from the photographs included in the survey, explain how clouds formed, how they floated, or explain why they were white or pink.
They didn’t know much about clouds at all. They were just like me.
My survey respondets also expressed their embarrassment about their ignorance. How had they forgotten whatever they might have learned about clouds in school? Why, as adults, had they lost their curiosity? Why didn’t they look up more?
Again—they were just like me.
I felt embarrassed by my near-total ignorance of clouds as well. Embarrassed, but also intrigued, and inspired to do something about it.
Long out of school and two years into my life in the Pacific Northwest, I began my journey into the clouds.
I am not a meteorologist. I have never taken a class in atmospheric science. I cannot claim to be a lifelong cloud watcher.
If you are wondering how such an unqualified person could written book on cloud--I have a little secret. The clouds are everywhere and you can learn about them—whoever you are and wherever you are.
You just have to look up and follow your curiosity.
I wrote my previous book, Rare Bird—the story of an endangered seabird called the Marbled Murrelet—the same way: By following my curiosity and not letting the fact I didn’t know anything hold me back.
A Sideways Look at Clouds is structured around the ten key words that define a “cloud.” A visible mass of water droplets or ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere above the earth.
These words form the ten main chapters; each chapter pairs an exploration of the ten words with explanations of the one of the ten main cloud types cumulus, stratus, cirrus and the rest.
A SIDEWAYS LOOK AT CLOUDS contains stories about what I learned over eight years of looking at the clouds around the Pacific Northwest and from what I learned from:
· Textbooks in Atmospheric Science, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy
· Professional meteorologists and graduate students with questions.
· My husband my very own in-house “Dr. Science.”
· Children’s books on weather and the atmosphere
· The Cloud Appreciation Society—a web-based organization of 43,000 cloud lovers worldwide who share their cloud photos, poems, songs, art, and news about clouds.
· Art Museums in Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, San Francsisco, and Washington DC
· Open fields, rain forests, prairies, mountains, and the Pacific Ocean
· Wilderness Skills Classes offered by the Mountaineers
· A 17th-century Chinese Painting Manual
· One early-morning swim in the fog
· Listening to the rain on my roof day after day after day
· Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”
· A house fly
· The movie Soylent Green
· The view out my window seat on airplane trips
· From the linen department at Bed Bath and Beyond
· And from looking—really looking at the clouds for five minutes every day from my front yard.
My learning curve was steep and bumpy. I have done the hard work for you—by creating a gradual, and hopefully delightful and memorable learning curve for the lay reader. My book is a blend of science, natural history, memoir, and lots of humor. A Sideways Look at Clouds takes readers on the scenic route into the clouds. It will inspire them to chart their own idiosyncratic route into the clouds.
If you want to learn how clouds can deepen your sense of awe in the natural world, can bring you abiding joy and even solace--you and your devoted readers will love A Sideways Look at Clouds.