Sep 11 2011

Into the Skies

Melissa Crytzer Fry

We Arizonans get a little excited about clouds since our skies are almost always draped in a dazzling sapphire robe, interrupted by nothing but blue. Some of us are so taken by clouds that we take photos of clouds every chance we can (me).

Sometimes the struggle between sunlight and cloud cover offers a sight worthy of pure silence. Click to enlarge.

Some of us (dearest husband, a trained National Weather Service spotter) become a bit obsessed with them, sitting in metal chairs next to metal flagpoles while lightning flashes all around during monsoon season – just looking. Ahem.

Hubby caught this beauty of a cloud last week. The pink of sunset cast a flaming glow to the pinnacle of this cloud formation, and if you look closely, you’ll see that rain is pouring out onto the mountain range below. Click to enlarge.

For me, part of the fascination with clouds is their versatility. No two clouds are shaped the same, and the slightest of changes to atmospheric conditions – and even the position of the sun – can change everything. In an instant.

An incoming storm painted the sky behind our house an angry yellow hue that was, indeed, worthy of respect. Click to enlarge.

Conversely, these little popcorn-kernel shaped clouds with their blue-raspberry backdrop just said, “happy” to me, as they danced in the sky. Click to enlarge.

There may be no oceans in the desert, but this sunset-painted cloud washed over the hills behind our house like a pink surf. Click to enlarge.

Clouds also have power. They can both cast shadows and reveal light. They can transform into funnel clouds. They can disappear as quickly as they’ve come. And – I kid you not – as I was writing this post, I was reminded of something else they can do: drop quarter-sized, damaging hail (Macho and Niña weren’t happy as those ice pellets ricocheted off of the five skylights in the house. The tornado warning was also lifted shortly thereafter. Tornadoes in the desert?! Was it something I wrote?).

Some of the hail that accumulated at our water collection tank just minutes after I typed the words "funnel clouds." Check out the video below.

For writers, for everyone. No matter where we live, I think we can all agree to the hypnotic, awe-inspiring effect of clouds. They evoke mood, tell stories, inspire, color their surroundings. Isn’t this what good fiction also does?

What do you imagine when you look into the skies? Do you see the sinister side of nature – the ability of those clouds to do harm? Or do clouds inspire you, illuminating your hopes and dreams?

How do I feel? (Thanks for asking). I smile when I look up into the skies – so massive, and such a reminder of my smallness in this world. And sometimes, when those clouds transform to an eerie shade of lemon or a shoe-polish black, I still smile – perhaps with a quivering lip and a pinch of apprehension – but with wonder and appreciation.


36 Responses to “Into the Skies”

  • avatar Julia Says:

    Wow, that video is great! It reminds me of hailstorms I’ve been in, scary! I’ve always feared the greenish hail-producing or pre-tornadic clouds the most! But there is nothing like the huge western sky to show the beauty of clouds, and your photos really capture that. As with your photos, I love the way my mood can shift depending on the color and intensity of the clouds…

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes, indeed, the west and its wide open spaces make the perfect setting for clouds (when we have them during our rainy seasons).

    And speaking of moods and correlation to weather. That’s why I moved to Arizona. After 35 straight days of no sunlight in PA (and I was 27 at the time), I thought: “Hey- I can live somewhere sunny.” So I moved. Best decision ever!

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    I love your cloud photos. So beautiful. There’s something magical about watching the sky change as cloud formations shift in the wind.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I couldn’t agree more. In fact, hubs and I were just out enjoying some more cloud action. Monsoon season will soon be coming to an end, so we gotta get our cloud watching in while we can!

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  • avatar Sue Mitchell Says:

    Beautiful photos and yes, clouds create so many different moods. I have also chosen to live in a place that’s usually sunny, but it’s the stormy days that I love the most, probably in part because of the contrast. Seeing that hailstorm in southern Arizona is amazing!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I think that living in sunny places makes us appreciate the weather we actually escaped. I know I appreciate storms and clouds much more than I did when I lived under the pitter-patter of lake-effect snow and rain from Lake Erie!

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    Very interesting thoughts! I love that photo of the storm sky. It does look angry, like a villain character. It’s interesting you posted this. The other night, I walked outside and photographed the moon that was surrounded by clouds in a very dark sky. Yet tonight, the moon was bright and the sky was so different. Not necessarily about clouds, but your post made me remember how the moon and its surroundings changed in just two nights. And how it looks almost as if it’s a different time/place (like a different character).

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    Melissa Reply:

    I think that may be one of my favorites, too. We ended up having a nasty storm right after I took that photo! The moon shots sound wonderful – and yes, that’s exactly what I’m talking about: versatility from day to day of the skies!

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  • avatar Sara Says:

    I think I get the same feeling gazing into the clouds as being particularly immersed in writing. I really connect with the smallness you are talking about. It’s always a comforting feeling when I get that split second of awareness knowing my life is not all about me, thank god. And oh boy, if I’ve got some good writing going and it’s an overcast, chilly day outside…that’s perfect.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I’m the opposite, Sara! I cannot get writing on a gloomy day…

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  • avatar Erika Robuck Says:

    These photos are gorgeous, as always.

    Like you, I enjoy the feel of my smallness when I gaze upward. It helps me to take my life and challenges less seriously.

    I love low clouds that look like waves. It feels like being at the bottom of the ocean, looking up.

    Thanks for this beautiful and inspiring post.

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    I am also a cloud gazer, and I think they are one of the most beautiful creations in this world. I didn’t know your husband was a weather spotter. You two are quite the interesting pair. I might just have to write a novel about y’all! 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    I think hubby’s more interesting than me. He’s also a ham radio operator and a Mr. Fix It… even things that aren’t broken.

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    When we first moved out here my kids dubbed a blue Arizona sky with big fluffy white clouds like cotton candy (you know the one) a Simpson Sky…because it reminded them of the intro to The Simpsons.
    I still think of that when we have one of those lovely days.
    Your photos are beautiful, Melissa!

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    Melissa Reply:

    That is HILARIOUS. Yes, a Simpson sky, indeed. What I found most interesting about clouds (making the move from PA to AZ) is that the big fluffy clouds are almost always a sign of rain in AZ, but in PA, they’re just happy clouds in the sky. Conversely, you know it will rain in PA when the skies are cloudless and gray, and when the leaves turn upside down on the maples.

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  • avatar Milliver's Travels Says:

    Your cloud pix are GORGEOUS . . . and I loved the writing just as much (+ the humor). Loved your choice of descriptive words for shapes and shades of color, especially “little popcorn-kernel shaped clouds with their blue-raspberry backdrop” and “when those clouds transform to an eerie shade of lemon or a shoe-polish black.”

    My hubby is also a “WX” nut so I can relate. All except for the human lightning rod part. 😉

    A tornado warning in Arizona? Good grief, what next?! Though if your hubby’s anything like mine, far from being daunted (as I am when we have them here) he’s probably running around looking at his NOAA and listening to the scanner (my hub’s a ham so he also breaks out the radios) and feeling happily stimulated. What could be better than a good weather event?

    For some of us, anyway. 😉

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    Melissa Reply:

    Your husband and mine would get along famously. My hubs is a ham operator, too! And you NAILED the description of my husband when it comes to severe weather being a delightful event. He is obviously the one who took the hail video outside while I tried to soothe the freaked out cats. It sounded like someone throwing large rocks on the skylights. What fun!

    Thanks for sweet compliments about the writing and descriptions!

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    Milliver's Travels Reply:

    Hilarious! Great to know there’s a clone out there of my hubby. Right down to that adrenalin rush. They could drink beer, talk on their radios and be ahead of the game by knowing what the cops and fire department are doing to respond.

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  • avatar Marianne Smith Says:

    Captivating photos and video, Melissa! I’m a cloud-watcher, too. Sometimes I get answers from them, much like dreams! They’re one of my tricks for getting past writer’s block 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    LOVE it… Clouds as writers’ block antidote.

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  • avatar Nina B Says:

    Oh–that’s interesting . . . the whole glass half-full, glass half-empty aspect of it. I think of myself as a glass half-full person, BUT I guess I see cloud as sinister. Although when it’s really hot I guess I appreciate a cloud. Hmmm . . .

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  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    I love cloud gazing! When I’m flying in a plane, I always sit by the window because I love going through the clouds, flying above them and staring down at them. I remember when I was a kid I wanted nothing more than to be able to lay on one and fall asleep! I think clouds are all about dreaming and endless possibilities. They remind us that the sky’s the limit (to use an appropriate cliche!)

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ha… I go through the same thought process when gazing at clouds from a plane window: they look so inviting and soft, don’t they? As usual, YOU are queen of the metaphor: yes, clouds show us that the sky IS the limit when it comes to our creativity.

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  • avatar Mahesh Raj Mohan Says:

    Those are some awesome clouds, 🙂 I always am awed by clouds. When I was little, I used to pretend that’s where Yoda lived after becoming one with the Force(in my own continuing adventures of the Star Wars saga, acted out with my action figures ;-))

    I do miss the awesome big-sky sunsets of the southwest/midwest; they can be breathtaking. And look at all that hail!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ha. You’re a big Star Wars fan, huh? Love it!

    I think I take the big-sky phenomenon for granted, living out in the wild west. But not anymore! Yesterday, the skies opened on me during my run (see Twitpic photos at right). Woo wee – now, being THAT close to thunder, lightning, and giant, pelting raindrops… a newfound respect was developed, indeed!

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  • avatar Stephanie Alexander Says:

    One thing I’ve noticed since I moved back to South Carolina is the size of the sky. In the DC area everything is so hilly and wooded, it always feels closed it. Here, you can always see for miles, especially from the many bridges over the rivers. I love it, and seeing the sunrise in the clouds makes my EARLY school wake up worth it. 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    You make such a good point; one of my future blog topics is going to be about “perspective.” I find, in this wide, open, big-sky space, that I have a hard time coming up w/ a sense of scale regarding things on the ground. One would wonder how you could possibly mistake a jackrabbit as a DEER, but I do it constantly – and I think it has to do with the size of the shrubs and the amt. of sky!

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  • avatar J. Thomas Ross Says:

    I live in NJ. We have more days with clouds, but I find them continually fascinating and photo-worthy, always changing, and invariably beautiful. My husband shakes his head each time I take out my camera. He’s really glad it’s a digital camera and he doesn’t have to pay for developing all those photos!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ha.. My husband shares your hubby’s sentiments re: the advent of digital images. You should SEE how stuffed my iPhoto folders are. In fact, I just added another 25 photos during this morning’s hike!

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  • avatar Patrick Ross Says:

    Once again, beautiful photos, a great post. I do miss those Arizona sunsets, and your storm picture reminded me of what we would call monsoons (I’ve seen another term used recently, haboob, I think?) where it could be midday but the sky would turn black.

    For me, I now as an East Coast resident realize my emotions are tied to clouds, or more accurately the sun. You told Julia above of your need for sun, and that is true for me. I actually use a special light in the winter here to combat SAD. And I should have brought it out last week, when the sun vanished for several days during flash flood rains here. Ugh.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Boy do I feel your pain. Though I was never diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, I’m pretty sure I suffer from it. My moods are hugely affected by lack of sunlight (my dad is the same way). I’m JUST like you, which is why I moved FROM the East Coast to the west.

    The haboob, as I understand it, is the giant dust cloud that rolls in (our county has been sending many haboobs north to Phoenix the past few months)! We’re still calling this crazy weather the “monsoon,” though – and speaking of those midday black skies… Have ’em right now!

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  • avatar Milliver's Travels Says:

    Patrick, I have one of those lights too. The lack of sunshine here in Ohio is savage during the winter.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I feel your pain… remember, I lived in that very overcast part of Ohio for years… went to college there, too. Gloomy!

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  • avatar kelly garriott waite Says:

    I absolutely love your site, and so I’m passing on the Liebster award. I’m guessing you have more than 200 followers, but I wanted to send my followers your way anyway.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Thank you for the wonderful honor and kind compliments about my blog. Your support is wonderfully appreciated, Kelly!

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  • avatar Lori Parker Says:

    Will someone please explain to me how Arizona Highways does NOT want that golden cloud photo gracing it’s cover? Do they prefer mediocre sales? Sheesh. That’s a beauty, Melissa. I love the lone saguaro that looks like it’s pushing up the cloud. I’d put that on my dining room wall for sure.

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