Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Billowing Thunderhead, Ottawa, KS
Blossoming Magnolia, Greensboro, NC
Colorful Sunrise, Wrightsville Beach, NC

I’ve listened to stone sculptors define their art as removing all the extraneous material in the block until the desired form emerges. The process of creating a sky sculpture actually seems to work in reverse. Minute water vapor droplets in the atmosphere spontaneously join together in the presence of rising warm air that begins to cool in the lower pressure further away from the earth’s surface. And then the show begins to rapidly unfold and begin its ascent high into the heavens. Magnificent one-of-a-kind ethereal spirits rapidly take shape in the skies above at a moment’s notice out of seemingly nothing and they can billow up to thirteen miles in height.

I’ve also noticed that God is present in the clouds that drift throughout Biblical writings beginning with the pillar of cloud that leads Moses and the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage in the desert. He spoke to the people from a thick cloud over Mount Sinai. Later, when Solomon brought the Ark of the Covenant into the new temple, a dark cloud filled the temple with the glory of the Lord. The glory of God appeared to Ezekiel in his vision in a great cloud that had the brightness and color of a rainbow. A bright cloud overshadowed Jesus as John baptized him and the voice of God came out of the cloud saying that He was pleased with His son and we should listen to him. Soon after his resurrection, Jesus was taken up and a cloud received him out of the sight of his disciples. Finally, the book of Revelation reveals a mighty angel clothed with a cloud and rainbow arriving to announce the end of the present world and the Son of Man arriving in a cloud with power and great glory to usher in the new restored world.

Initially, I thought of these grand white sculptures in the same light as the Day Lilies in my backyard garden. These beautiful creations literally just have one day to blossom and display the peak of their beauty before they immediately begin to wither. They seem to have created the phrase, “Carpe Diem” or “Seize the Day”. And I was reminded of the new cultural happenings that occur when a “flash mob” such as a local opera company that spontaneously breaks into singing a rousing chorus with increasing intensity in the middle of a busy Philadelphia shopping center to delight harried holiday shoppers. Then there was the flash mob that broke out into a pillow fight in downtown Toronto to surprise passers-by. The flash mobs are quickly and silently assembled via electronic communications and then quickly disperse once they have made their point and captured people’s attention. Finally, I was drawn to the images I had captured of blooming Magnolia blossoms that unfurl their bright white petals in the rising sun’s warmth and then begin to wilt all too soon. The beauty of watching a developing vertical cumulonimbus thunderhead is the unpredictability of exactly what form it will take in each successive moment. It takes about one million cloud droplets to create one rain drop that eventually nourishes the parched ground below. Then as soon as the magnificent cloud reaches the height of its energy and grandeur, it begins its collapse and disperses just as rapidly until the sky is clear once again as it awaits the next flash sculpting event.

All clouds are white, but their density and our location can give us the perception of darker shades. Densely packed miniscule particles of water inhibit sunlight to penetrate it and the scattered light gives these clouds their characteristic white color. As a thunder head matures the water droplets combine to form larger drops of rain that are farther apart, allowing sunlight rays less reflectance and darker images. Bluish-grey colored clouds result when the shorter blue and green wavelengths are scattered and reflected by rain-sized droplets in the cloud. I still remember seeing an ominous green tinted storm sky as a youth in Kansas that apparently was caused by the short green wavelengths being reflected by ice in the clouds, capable of a severe thunderstorm generating heavy rain, hail, strong winds and tornadoes. And that’s just what we got in due course.

Conversely, a reddish hue occurring at sunrise and sunset is the result of scattering the long visible wavelengths of light like red, orange and pink. They become dominant in those magical minutes when the angle between the sun and the horizon is less than ten percent, just after sunrise and just before sunset. The reflecting clouds at that time can produce brilliantly colored images. I know I’ll capture a great image cloaked in brilliant rainbow colors if I see scattered low clouds on the horizon or a towering vertical cumulonimbus thunderhead building on the facing horizon during that short but glorious window of opportunity.

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