At Cloud Level

Last week I loaded my four-year-old son into a child carrier backpack, reassured my six-year-old and eight-year-old that they were stronger than they knew, and trekked up into the high Uinta Mountains. At ground level I noticed every flower with a keenness that bordered on distraction, something I couldn’t continually give into without hindering my hike. Still, I preferred it to the alternative: looking around me to see the pines devastated by bark beetles, reproducing rampantly due to the ecosystem-altering effects of climate change. The dead and dying trees cut lacy black through my vision, leaned across the trail with their bark peeling away, leaving wood so smooth it appeared painted.

This isn’t to say it wasn’t beautiful. The grays and blacks and jutting ambers of the sap mushrooming over the lifeless trees stunned me with their intricacy. And yet they filled me with the horror of knowing that I still cannot yet comprehend how these changes will endure and broaden and claim our planet for another era. And so I looked up. I walked along a rocky ridge so near to the sky that I felt the sun’s tendrils snaking around my neck like a scarf, reddening my skin and peeling my lips until they nearly bled.

Photo by Fillipe Gomes on

There, I squatted in the paltry shade cast by a cluster of squat mountain junipers, felt the periodic winds, watched them stretch the wings of angling birds, breathed in the air. Far-off I could see the smoke of western fires crowning the lower ranges. I laid on my back. The sky had been stretched above me, a blue screen of sun and wind and birds of prey, but soon ivory clouds rolled towards me and feathered and morphed into a thousand pictures. There, on that ridge, the clouds felt as if they were swooping towards me, peeling from each other, assembling, splitting, sending waves of white and then diffusing like so much lace.

I felt that I could harden into the stones and compacted soil below me and let the clouds release themselves from the sky and claim me, and like the juniper drink in each cloudburst and stiffen myself into the sun. The great clouds rolled towards me further. More tiptoed towards them with much ado, sticking tiny tendrils forth into the azure, then licking the great mass of white and sliding forward, burrowing into its belly and turning it gray in an adumbrate of rain. And then my brain awoke and peeled me from the curved planet, ushered my children up to climb back to camp, and became human again, rather than a stone watching the earth turn.

Photo by PNW Production on

Published by ladymaenad

I'm an ex-Mormon writer, mother of three, and lover of science, literature, and art, chronicling the paths my life has taken and the interests I have developed.

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