The Amateur Cloud Society That (Sort
Of) Rattled the Scientific Community
An improbable tale of how a British maverick harnessed crowd sourced
meteorological discoveries to reveal the poetic wonders of the sky.
…A cloud is only water, but arranged like no other water on earth. Billions of minuscule droplets are packed into every cubic foot of cloud, throwing reflected light off their disordered surfaces in all directions, collectively making the cloud opaque. In a way, each cloud is an illusion, a conspiracy of liquid masquerading as a floating, solid object.
But for most of human history, what a cloud was, physically, hardly mattered; instead, we understood clouds as psychic refuges from the mundane, grist for our imaginations, feelings fodder. Clouds both influenced our emotions and hung above us like washed-out mirrors, reflecting them. The English painter John Constable called the sky the “chief organ of sentiment” in his landscapes. And our instinct, as children, to recognize shapes in the clouds is arguably one early spark of all the higher forms of creative thinking that make us human and make us fun. Frankly, a person too dull to look up at the sky and see a parade of tortoises or a huge pair of mittens or a ghost holding a samurai sword is not a person worth lying in a meadow with. In “Hamlet,” Polonius’s despicable spinelessness is never clearer than when Hamlet gets him to enthusiastically agree that a particular cloud looks like a camel, then not a camel at all, but a weasel. Then, not a weasel but a whale. Polonius will see whatever Hamlet wants him to; he is a man completely without his own vision…