When the Clouds Come Marching In

The open spaces of the Great and High Plains terrified some of the early travellers who ventured out past the edge of trees. Women in particular suffered from the big empty reach, where nothing poked up to allow the eye a place to rest. A few went back, and some went mad. Some people say that people of the plains get an outsized opinion of themselves since no trees or mountains loom up to remind people of their true place in the great scheme of things. Anyone who has endured storm season on the plains will likely disagree, be it the gigantic black towers of a thunderstorm or the bone-cutting wind of winter. The skies keep us humble. The winter skies, though, seem soft, even when they sting.

Thicken the clouds a little and you have my sky. https://tau0.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/washington_winter_plains.jpg

Thicken the clouds a little and you have my sky. https://tau0.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/washington_winter_plains.jpg

A few weeks ago, after the Blizzard of ’15, the skies softened in late afternoon. The sun emerged and a few winter cumulus began piling up to the east, a dark grey-blue that trailed hints of snow virga. Overhead, the cream and grew puffs drifted by, low but not quite touchable, quiet and almost spring-like. The world felt soft despite the swaths of cold white blocking the road. The sky rested, even though cumulus built. The Cu remained low, modest in their blue-grey heaps as they wandered toward the east. No wind moved, for once, and the air almost passed for cool rather than cold.

Clear skies returned not long thereafter, draped with the feathery white mares’ tails, the fallstreifen snow trails tens of thousands of feet up in the stratosphere. The morning and evening sun caught them, washing the evening and the dawn with heatless fire.

And then the cold fronts blasted through. First came the cream-grey, low, tree-grazing snow clouds that turn the night almost as light as noon, reflecting snow-light and town-light, so trees become black twists and brooms against a blackened-white sky. Then the north wind scoured the air clear, driving the last hint of moisture far from the Llano.

 

Wayman Meinzer's camera +cold front = magic at Palo Duro Canyon. http://www.tpwmagazine.com/archive/2011/jan//images/PaloDuro.jpg

Wyman Meinzer’s camera +cold front = magic at Palo Duro Canyon. http://www.tpwmagazine.com/archive/2011/jan//images/PaloDuro.jpg

And then there’s the Canadian River, a trickle this time of year as groundwater returns to the sands. We’ve had far more hoarfrost this year than usual, and some mornings the world has been befurred, first white then the most delicate rose and gold before the sun manages to burn through the ice-bearing fog. Buildings suddenly loom out of the world-swallowing white and pink, visible only when you walk into them (almost). The world loses its edges, covered in frost flowers.

And so the clouds drift in and charge out, low puffs, water-rich clots of creamy grey, painfully white snow-feathers, and hints of change lurking on the horizon only to vanish.

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