While flying out of New York last week with the sun setting in the west, I was witness to the majestic spectacle of clouds reflecting the sun’s rays, and it put me in mind of that old Joni Mitchell song about recalling “clouds’ illusions” and how we “really don’t know clouds at all.” Which is to say, I suddenly realized how clouds don’t get the credit they deserve. We tend to characterize difficult periods of our lives as cloudy ones, or use the idea of a “dark cloud” hovering over someone as a symbol of problems they might be having (as was done in the “Peanuts” comic strip). Even I have been known to feel dejected on occasion by the prospect of a cloudy day. And then it hit me just how much we fail to appreciate clouds and what they actually do for us, just as we take for granted so many of Mother Nature’s other incredible creations.
Clouds are in many ways like the rainforest or the oceans, but even more important, they are the vehicle for moving water from ocean to river or from ocean to atmosphere, and then to land. This is known in technical terms as the water or hydrologic cycle and like photosynthesis, it is one of Earth’s many wonders and mysteries. The miraculous workings of such a system should actually be reason for us to celebrate the appearance of clouds on our horizon. Just think about this: not only do clouds move the water from the oceans to the reservoirs and aquifers we depend on for our drinking water, but they act as a sort of nontoxic atmospheric desalination plant, providing us with fresh water wherever it’s needed. In addition, they also act as one huge heat-exchange vehicle that cools down our planet.
So next time you find yourself complaining that it’s a cloudy day outside, try thinking instead about how it’s actually a healthy and wonderful day that’s helping to supply us with the water that’s so essential to our survival, just as a sunny day generates the energy our existence requires – and that all our technology couldn’t create a more incredible and perfect system. And even when you stop to admire “clouds’ illusions,” such as the magnificent way they reflect sunlight, let them be a reminder of the purpose they really serve in nature’s grand design – and for us not to mess with it, or mess it up, like we have done to so many other natural phenomena.