Sky Gazer and Cloud Gatherer

Clouds have always fascinated me. I can remember learning their names--Cirrus, Cumulous, Stratus, Nimbo-Stratus--in elementary school, and later lying on my back in our orchard watching Joni Mitchell's “folds and folds of angelhair” drift by.  Standing on a rock in the ocean, the celestial dome spreads in all directions; each one often revealing very different types of clouds.

Last Thursday, when a thunderstorm rampaged through the Lower Mainland, I watched the backside, where the sky to the northeast bubbled with Mammatus.

Derived from the Latin mammalis meaning “having breasts” -- Mammatus are pouches of heavily saturated air that often hang from the underside of a storm’s anvil cloud. Staring at this cloud mass, I became mesmerized by what I discerned as the face of a god.

If you look carefully just above and to the left of the light, you can see a visage that looks very much like Zeus. Replete with  wild hair and beard, he seems to have descended in a rush of wind from the heavens. Compare the features in Mammatus to the features on these Greek sculptures of Zeus and you’ll see what I mean.

Zeus 2nd Century AD from The British Museum
Jupiter from The Musee du Louvre

Zeus, the Grecian Sky King and Weather God, was said to wield thunder and lightening, carry a royal sceptre, and cavort with his sacred golden eagle, a creature symbolic of strength, courage, and justice. Indeed, from his castle atop Mount Olympus, Zeus/Deus, the father-god, presided over law and justice. Fathering many heroes through his escapades with both goddesses and mortal women, Homer dubbed him "cloud-gatherer". The mythology of Zeus is not lost on us in this century who still revel in the Olympic Games, created by his Olympians.

Later, below Mammatus, the sky severed and cracked to reveal a pale blue fissure like a portal to another world. 

I have become a sky gazer, discovering passion--joy and sometimes chaos--in the natural beauty of the celestial dome. Later still, on the same night Mammatus appeared, the sky to the west appeared like this:

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

... from Tennyson's "Ulysses" -- 1842


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