Clouds

Monday, August 25, 2008

Clouds are pretty. Why can't we leave it at that? Why do we have to go around naming them? Why do we have to tell children it's important to be able to recognize and label them?

I'll tell you all you need to know about clouds. If clouds are white, enjoy them or ignore them-it makes no difference. If clouds are dark (black or grey), you may get wet. If clouds are funnel shaped, seek safe shelter.

That's it. There are only these three necessary yet simple ideas to remember, but we try to make children learn various cloud types like cumulative nimble, curious stratus, and nimble serious. I am living proof that this sort of specific knowledge is unnecessary.

When I was in 4th grade at Westside Elementary school in Scott, Louisiana, Ms. Richard (that is not Richard as in Richard Simmons; it is pronounced like Re-shard, to shard again) gave us the daily science lesson. She stood at the chalkboard on the side of the room and taught us about the cloud types. As a ten year old, I had never really paid much attention to cloud types beyond knowing the white puffy ones were the best kind for spotting the shapes of sheep or dragons or ice cream cones. She told us the words for each kind and pointed to the laminated visual aid for each. Trying to remember words like 'cumulative serious' made my head feel dizzy.

She kept talking about clouds, but I started thinking about science tests and math (which was not my strongest subject). Each test had 20 questions on it. We wouldn't have a test just on clouds; we'd have a test about weather. If we had a test about a whole text book chapter on weather, how many questions would be about clouds? I guessed there would only be two questions about clouds. Even if the text book people thought cloud types were very very important, there could only be four or five questions about clouds. If I paid attention to the rest of the lessons about weather, I could get all the other questions correct. If I got all the other questions right and missed all the questions about clouds, I would still get (20 questions, 5 points apiece, 0 points for 2 cloud questions so minus 10 points from the total 100 OR 20 questions, 5 points apiece, 0 points for 5 cloud questions so minus 25 points from the total 100) a 90% to 75%. I usually did really well on science tests, so even if I got one 75%, I could still get an A on my report card.

By this point, the science lesson was over. Ms. Richard had hung each visual aid from the metal clips attached to the top of the chalk board. She said that later in the day when we finished our math work, we could go over and look at the pictures and the labels under each as a review on cloud types. I remember the pictures were pretty and the word labels were too small to see from my desk. We got out our math books (ugh! Math really made my head feel foggy) and started on the next subject lesson.

I remember later, glancing over at some kids near the side chalk board, talking quietly, pointing at the cloud pictures. I mentally shrugged and leaned back over my math work: those cloud names were useless to me.

I did not choose the career path of a meteor-o-logist (do they even study meteors?). Sometimes I check the weather forecast, but it's not because I care about what type of clouds we may be having. I want to know how hot/cold it may be and I want to know if it will rain. Let some weather professional figure out how to gather this information, and then just give it to me without all the scientific mumbo jumbo.

I think the weather professionals make it all up anyway. High pressure, low pressure, winds from the west:whatever. They pretend to 'understand' how clouds are formed based on the surrounding weather conditions. I have seen with my own eyes how clouds are made, and it's good enough for me.

Clouds are made one of two ways. The oldest way is from Cloud People. All humans have the ability to breathe out small clouds (we have all seen this when it is very cold outside), but Cloud People can blow out the large, sky filling clouds. Usually Cloud People are very shy, but I was able to get photographic evidence of a young Cloud Person in action.

During the Industrial Revolution, a new form of cloud production was invented: The Cloud Factory. We have probably all seen clouds billowing forth from smokestacks in the movies or on the news or someplace near where we live. What would take Cloud People days and days of intensive labor to accomplish could be done by a cloud factory in a fraction of the time. Cloud Factories began springing up all over the globe and have continued to do so until present times. Cloud blowing is now a dying art.

Cloud names remain useless to me. I have never once needed that information. I have never once looked up into the sky and said, "Oh no! It's a serious stratum! This was prophesied and Armageddon approaches!" I have never been held hostage by a crazy person who said, "I will set you free if only you can tell me the scientific name of that cloud formation on the left!" I haven't been on a game show, so I've never heard Alex Trebek or Regis Philbin or anyone else say, "And the final question, worth $10,000,000, is "Which of these three clouds is not a cumulative serious?" And, you know, if it's ever come up during Trivial Pursuit, it wasn't for the final pie.