Cloud watching. It’s timeless, it’s simple, and it might just stop you in your tracks. Is it groundbreaking? No- but perhaps that is part of what makes it so unambiguously phenomenal. The sky has been swirling and changing above us since the dawn of time, as our fast-based culture has developed beneath it. What can we learn from cloud watching? I talked with Gavin Pretor-Pinney, the founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society to deepen my understanding of this niche-pastime.
Gavin started this group in 2015, which now has over 52 thousand members. He originally started this online community because in his own words, “Clouds get a bad press”. The average person usually brushes them off, believing they are nothing more than obstructions between us and the sun, but to folks like Gavin, they are much more. “Clouds are the most dynamic, evocative, and poetic aspect of nature, and so someone needs to stand up for them!” he continued. Gavin describes clouds as “expressions on the face of the atmosphere” and punctuates the importance for us to be able to read the significance of these expressions.
With all of the wonder and beauty in cloud watching, I became curious as to why we often take this daily phenomenon for granted. The answer may be that we become blind to things that are always present, or that our constant rushing leaves little time to appreciate the omnipresent beauty above us. They are the constant backdrops to our lives, and so we tend to forget that they are there.
Cloud Watching and Community
I continued my search by also talking with Joseph Mock, President of the Cloud Watching Club of Louisiana State University, to learn more about how people are coming together for the love of clouds. Joseph explained that The biggest benefit of cloud watching is for stress relief. College students tend to be under huge amounts of stress, stemming from their school work, jobs, and other obligations. “Cloud watching provides them with a relaxing way to forget about their stress for a short period and to appreciate the things that they often miss due to their busy schedules.” described Joseph.
Clouds in Our Daily Lives
The fascination with clouds may symbolically relate to our thirst for change as a society. Clouds are in a state of constant change, yet are eternal. These whimsical mounds overhead have been around throughout human existence and long before, so they have a contradictory quality of being both ephemeral and enduring.
For many people, cloudy days represent negativity and can be cognitively linked with sadness. How can we try to switch this perception? When we disregard the negative stigma in such a fundamental aspect of our surroundings, we can view the world through childlike eyes again, finding the beauty in the simplicity of each day.
A few things to keep in mind as you start intentionally watching clouds
- First, pick a time during the day with the best weather. It can be really hard to fully appreciate the clouds in uncomfortable temperatures. Joseph from LSU learned this the hard way during their first meeting which was held on a September afternoon in the Louisiana heat.
- Find a nice open area, preferably a field, that is free from tall buildings and trees, which can make it more difficult to watch the clouds.
- Gather together! Undistracted conversations under the swirling clouds with a few friends, or a loved one can bring child-like joy in cloud watching.
- Consider bringing a notepad to keep track of all of the cloud shapes you were able to spot, as it is fun to go back to past notes to see what that particular cloud watching day was like.
- Remove all distractions. Turn off your phone and use this time as a brief meditation with nature. Sometimes our head in the clouds helps keep our feet on the ground.