Mickey Mouse and the Clouds

   When I spend days writing about clouds, water molecules, and atoms being mostly empty space, I usually need to walk away from my computer, take a few deep breaths, and try not to slip off the globe and out of the universe. Sometimes I go outside and look at the sky. Sometimes I take a brisk walk or I yank a few weeds out of my garden. After writing aboutMickey Mouse and fog, however, I drove downtown to my pottery class to sink my soul into mounds of solid, wet clay.  I found myself at a traffic light--the only one in our town where you cannot turn right on red. The light was long and I had time to stare at the car in front of me, the one that was not inching forward to turn right on red.
  On the back of the cloud-gray car were the silver letters spelling out its name: Stratus. The name has always amused me because I believe the clever people at Dodge (the experts in subliminal advertising) want the name to sound like “status” and “stratosphere,” which it does unless you know your clouds. Stratus is the lowest form of clouds and, when thick, can make driving hazardous. In which case you would buy a Cirrus—named after the highest and fastest type of cloud.
   While I am thinking about this, I noticed the decals adorning this particular Stratus: They are Mickey Mouse decals—one green full-body Mickey and four Mickey Mouse models of water molecules. What were the chances of this? I’d say zero in a zillion, but it happened. There I was looking at Mickey Mouse chasing water molecules in the fog, which is not something Walt Disney, Dodge, Minnie,  or any respectable meteorologist has ever asked Mickey to do.
    Woo-woo coincidence? Response from the universe? Writer losing her grip? I went to my pottery class and spent three hours kneading and shaping five-pound blocks of clay into bowls. Then I went home and showed my well-grounded husband the photograph of the Mickey Mouse in the stratus on the Stratus.
  “What do you think? Do you not think it’s weird that I had spent the whole day writing about water molecules and fog and then pulled up behind this car?”
   He studied the photograph but didn’t say anything. I thought he was trying to figure out a nice way to tell me that I needed more sleep. Instead, he shook his head and said, “You're right. That is definitely weird.”
Next blog: Pithier comments on my attempt at being an Intentional Naturalist in the Methow Valley. 

Clouds with Back Bend

Photo by M. Ruth
   The sky this morning looked as if it had been watercolored. The clouds looked soft, watery, and out of focus. I squeezed my eyes shut and opened them again, but the clouds were still fuzzy. I am not sure why, but I know these were stratus clouds mixed in with some stratocumulus that were blowing in from the NNE. I spent about an hour taking photographs and then decided to spend the rest of the morning at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. 
   I dare to say there isn't a better place to get more sky in South Puget Sound. It had to keep reminding myself that I was not inside some celestial dome with clouds stuck on, but standing on a flat piece of earth with clouds moving overhead in a parallel plane. As I walked I had to keep detaching the earth from the clouds at the horizon to ruin the illusion that the two were actually meeting. 
The earth and clouds here occupy parallel planes like two slices of sandwich bread with you in the middle.
   I took several still photographs of the clouds, some with flocks of Canada geese.
 Some without.
  The mix of cloud and blue sky seem changed every few seconds. As I was walking, I was twirling around, trying to take it all in, taking pictures, walking backwards, taking more pictures. No matter how many photos I took, I just wasn't getting enough of this dynamic sky into my camera. I needed a fish eye lens, but didn't have one.
  So I decided to try something a bit unconventional (below). Turn down the volume on your computer (it was a windy day) and click on the arrow below to watch a horizon-to-horizon, north-to-south 20-second video clip.
 I was pretty sure no one saw me doing these back bends (or heard me groaning at the end). But I was being watched. One of the refuge docents pulled out her spotting scope and focused it on a lone snowy owl. It was beautiful--a juvenile with dark bars across its breast--resting on a hummock. While my tiny Canon Elph does well by clouds, its zoom lens turns a decent-sized snowy owl into a piece of popcorn (below). It's the really tiny white dot, but a confirmed snowy owl sighting--my first.
A snowy owl resting on a hummock at Nisqually NWR.
  More on the snowy owl and its journey from the tundra in my next blog.

Thrush music, hark!

   I was working at my kitchen table yesterday morning, reading some of what I have written about clouds over the past year, red pencil in hand. It was shortly before 8 o'clock. I noticed the light outside changing and stepped barefoot onto my back deck to take a good look at the sky (above). At this hour, with the near-solistice sun so low and muted, it was difficult to tell blue sky from gray cloud, white cloud from white sky. I couldn't discern what was in front of or behind what, what was solid what was space. There are maps like this where the shading along the borders between land and water are supposed to suggest three dimensionality, but somehow do the opposite so that Puget Sound or the Chesapeake Bay look like peninsulas.
   While I was out trying to make sense of what I was seeing, I heard what I thought was a Varied Thrush. It is a bird I first heard in California's redwood forests, before dawn, while I was searching for Marbled Murrelets. The thrush's song intrigued me; it sounded like a flying sauce taking off. It was buzzy, wobbly, and not melodic--so unlike the Wood Thrush that sung its graceful and liquid song in the Virginia woods behind my house. I have heard Varied Thrushes in late winter in our neighborhood in Olympia, though I have never laid my eyes one. 
    This morning, however, the bird seemed to be calling from my back yard. I ran on tiptoes inside to get my binoculars and, after a few buzzy calls, I saw a robin-sized bird in the top branches of the bare maple tree, it's golden breast catching the first light of the day. I would like to tell you it sang for me, but it didn't. It flew off--a dark silhouette against the eastern sky.
    I do not have the kind of camera that can capture a decent photograph of a bird unless it is sitting absolutely still and no more than four feet in front of me. But the Internet is full of wonderful, high-quality photographs of birds. This one (below) looks most like my Varied Thrush.  
Photo taken in Colville National Forest (copyright Lori Aull). Used with permission. Click here to see more of her work.