A creative non-fiction essay by Paloma Patiño Hernández, Graduate of MA program, UAH and secondary school teacher

What is a cloud? Is it a grey or white mass in the sky, made up of very small floating drops of water? Or is it a visible mass of condensed watery vapour floating in the atmosphere, typically high above the general level of the ground? How many types of clouds are there? Do clouds affect our mood? I asked myself all these questions before starting my nature observation journal, and after more than two months observing and photographing the sky before my window, I must admit clouds are much more complex than I thought.

When I was a child, especially during the long summer days in the countryside, I used to lie down in the meadows of my village to look at the sky and I always imagined fascinating creatures and shapes out of the ordinary clouds above me. What I had never expected was that, not only one type of cloud existed, but ten basic genera, which were divided and subdivided into different species and varieties that created around 100 possible cloud combinations. Identifying the exact sort of cloud is an arduous task only professional meteorologists can do, but throughout my diary entries I have tried my best to distinguish the main types and features, and I have also established a personal connection with all of them in terms of mood and as, as a whimsical game, I came to see the clouds as fortune-tellers, foreshadowing how my day was going to be depending on the appearance of the sky.

During these two months, I have taken more than eighty pictures of the sky, showing a wide range of clouds, shapes and colours. Most of them were taken at dawn, as soon as I woke up and drew back the curtains; still in my pyjamas, camera in hand and ready to get my day forecast: will it be a fruitful day? Will I be overwhelmed with an excessive workload? Will it be a relaxing or a hectic day? Whatever the answer was, it had to be found in the sky.

The silver sheet of altocumulus clouds predicted a dense and strenuous day full of dreadful responsibilities and tedious obligations. On the other hand, contrails, induced by humans flying airplanes, encouraged me to carry on, as they reminded me that our life on  Earth  is  an  exciting journey

our parents booked for us, and we never know when, where or how it will come to an end. The scattered cumulus clouds that let the sun light up the hills before me charged my soul with optimistic and invigorating feelings, while the fibrous cirrostratus veil clouds drawn from a watercolour painting was the starting signal for a smooth and mild working day. Finally, the threatening layer of stratocumulus clouds could only presage a breathless oppressive day and the stifling feeling of being trapped in a whirlpool of ceaseless duties.

However, as spring days were coming, the sky offered us a kinder horizon embellished with some pearly brushstrokes of filaments of cirrus clouds over a magnificently cerulean background at sunset, thus unmistakably forecasting the beginning of a brand new season full of inspiring and thrilling moments. Now that the Cloud Atlas has been updated by the World Meteorological Organization and there are officially twelve new species of cloud, I do believe it is the right time to start paying some more attention to the prodigious protective cupola we have above our heads. Clouds are more than simply fluffy cotton balls hanging from the sky, but extraordinary elements of nature able to materialize in solid, liquid or gas states.

Clouds do not only protect us from the burning sun in summer, but they are also altruistic water carriers that spread one of the most valuable goods we have throughout the globe without expecting anything in return. And if we stop and reflect for a second, we will realize that all the superpowers humans have always dreamt of are encompassed in the clouds: they can appear and disappear; they fly above the Earth; they can both create life and destroy life; and they never die: clouds are immortal by simply adopting different forms and states.

These two months observing the clouds have helped me better understand why ancient civilizations conferred divine powers to nature and weather phenomena such as the sun, the rain or the storm, and I can claim that although humans nowadays try to drift apart from nature wrongly considering that we are superior creatures living in this planet, we cannot deny that we are part of this world and that we depend on it.


National Weather Service. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Louisville, KY, Weather Forecast Office: http://www.weather.gov/lmk/cloud_classification

World Meteorological Organization. The International Cloud Atlas: https://public.wmo.int/en/media/news/international-cloud-atlas