High fliers

Each year the Lilliums in front of my verandah shoot up anew, aiming for the roof but not quite making it.  Still, at about three metres, their height is impressive and their bells bloom well above the verandah railing, allowing their heavy perfume to reach me at my desk, despite the dense greenery between us.

I went outside and walked around below them to look up into their throats — and only then did I notice  what was going on in the background.

High-flying beauty of a different sort was taking shape in the sky beyond. 

Delicately tufted white Cirrus clouds, the highest-flying of all the main cloud types, were streaking and flipping their ice crystals across the blue.  My Cloudspotters’  Guide tells me they typically form above 24,000 feet. These ethereal wisps won’t last long, unlike my fleshy Lilliums.

Hot and cold clouds

The skyscapes here are so varied that I could spend more time looking up than down — if I didn’t love the earthy minutiae like fungi so much.

The other night I caught this tail end of what must have been a stunning sunset, when I’d been on the phone!

Clouds make sunsets, and these were on fire.

But then, after the many late afternoon rain storms we’ve been having lately, I get some beautifully cool and complex layers of clouds — strips and stacks, ascending, descending, or going straight by.

What a world!

Flights of fancy

I am never a happy flier. I recently endured a five-hour flight to Perth from Sydney, and then a shorter return one of three and a half hours — don’t ask me why they can’t take the short route all the time!

However once airborne, so long as there is no turbulence and no odd noises, I do like to look out the window. I never, ever forget where I am, whereas my fellow passengers seem far more blasé, as if in a train or coach, on the ground, in their natural element, instead of thousands and thousands and thousands of metres ‘up there’, beyond even birdland.

On long flights the plane only flies low enough near the beginning and end for land to be seen as a photo map. I was lucky enough this time for the cloud cover to be thin and fragmented enough to reveal the snow-capped and dusted Snowy Mountains beneath.

For most of the flight it is cloud land, not earth land, that fascinates. On the early morning return flight we were flying east, so towards the sunrise, and I was struck by the way cloudland had a sunrise streak on its horizon — just like ours, and then a cloud layer above — just like ours.

As this was the first time in a while that I have flown Qantas rather than a very budget airline, I hadn’t experienced airline food for some time, and held an unpleasant memory of a rubbery textured vegetable protein slab like a Wettex  sponge. Having ordered Asian/Indian vegetarian options — and there are several — I was impressed with both the lunch and the breakfast I was served.

Later, well fed, sun up and back to the surety of which layer was what, I marvelled at the levelness of the upper horizon of this land, giving it such an appearance of solidity.  Why is it so, does anyone know?

Coal-powered clouds

Victoria’s Latrobe Valley is the state’s powerhouse, burning their abundant brown coal for 85% of that state’s electricity. I knew that, but until I went there and stayed to see it in different weather conditions and times of day, I didn’t know it made its own cloudscapes.

The eight little dots creating this amazing, yearning sort of cloud are the tops of the eight stacks at Hazelwood, their oldest power station. Here the output looks harmlessly white and fluffy, which is surprising, given that Hazelwood doesn’t use water cooling towers as the more modern stations do — but then, since Hazelwood was supposed to be dead and buried already, nothing should surprise about it.

That afternoon, Hazelwood seemed to be making the dark cloudscape that hung over the valley. That’s not true either, but it seemed more appropriate than white and fluffy.

Next morning, the Valley was lost in fog, but the many stacks rose above it, erupting like boiling lakes in a sci-fi film. The Valley being also home to huge pine plantations for the paper mill, the stiff foreground outlines of the young pines added to the strangeness of the scene.

Driving down into the fog was eerie, the sun a cold white dot, the town of Morwell as murky as I imagine 19th century London was.

And yet after my visit I know the Latrobe is nowhere near as polluted as my Hunter Valley, so all this is illusion — my imagination working overtime, my head in the clouds, as usual.

Special effects

Living on a mountain, my eyes are directed as often to the skies as they are to ground level.

Clouds fascinate me — and I’m not alone — as the wonderful Cloud Appreciation Society website shows.

I especially love it when massive cloud banks like this one, snagged on the mountain range, are lit by a sunset still existing somewhere over the horizon, but gone from here.

My place is almost dark, yet up there in the skyworld the clouds see further, chase the glow and capture it as a very special solar lighting effect.

Yet I have to keep my eyes on the ground as well. The constant surpises in nature here range from the sublime to the minute.

This almost translucent little beauty emerged to stand, solitary, simple and fragile, in the midst of the whole ‘lawn’ beside the house.

Two days later it is still there and still solo. To me it seems brave and hopeful, but then I’m a romantic.

At the edge of the world

The view from the inside of a cloud does not extend very far.

Today, past the first dim line of trees, I see no mountain ridges or rainforest gullies or even eucalypt forest. They might no longer exist.

If the evidence of the eyes counts, the world might end 100 metres from my verandah.
I love this intimacy with clouds, this damply veiled weather; it has inspired a short story of that name, ‘Cloudland’.

But after all the rain we had, I really ought to be mowing. I can see that grass growing.

In areas like the orchard, soon the mower will have difficulty cutting through its density. Up here in summer, early morning grass can be too wet from dew to mow; it’s too hot by the time that’s dried off, so early evening is the only available time — if I’m not too tired by then, or have obeyed the beer o’clock call.

I did mow last evening, so my conscience is clear there.

Ah well, guess I’ll just have to stay indoors — and write! 

Cloud visit

cloud-visit-2The days veer between hot and dry with winds that would push a fire to an inferno, and cool and cloudy.

This particular day the clouds came so low they met the earth, and my mountain was transformed once again. These days of mystery and dripping moisture are probably my favourite weather here.

I love both the disappearance of distant views and the diamond delineations of the closer views. 

Everything is given the most gentle soaking that does no damage, yet still refreshes and fosters growth. The plants benefit and so do I.

Crescent cloud

crescent-1Clouds never cease to surprise me with their inventiveness, their capacity to confuse the senses and scramble their connections to the mind.

In one almost cloudless sunset sky recently, at a time when I thought I knew the moon was half-full, I briefly also thought I saw a huge crescent moon. 

Pink and perfect, it made me look twice and it made me rapidly sift through my frequently addled brain to check what sort of moon I had seen last night — if I had seen one.

A matter of seconds, but how refreshing to be challenged yet again by nature and its unpredictability.

Hurricane Hunter

This was the sky on Saturday 22nd November, late afternoon, looking north up the Hunter Valley.

It followed an extremely windy day we’d experienced further south, but this looked more like we were heading for a hurricane – or it was heading for us!

With violent storms repeatedly hitting parts of southern Queensland the week before, a taste of the same was only to be expected.

The sky seemed to be sucking the clouds into a darkening funnel to the east yet the unusual band of crisply serrated white peaks just above the horizon remained undisturbed.

They made it appear as if, once over that final hill, we would drop off the edge of the highway into a snowy alpine landscape.

It was so spectacular I took a moving shot, through a very dirty windscreen, then felt guilty for not doing it more justice. By the time we were out of the dips and had found a place to pull over, a different skyscape presented. The Valley continued, the snowy mountains were just clouds after all.

As it moved westward, the huge formation still seemed to be connected to the earth, sucking at its surface. From news pictures of American storm centres, it was easy to imagine Kansas Dorothy flying up that grey funnel – from land Oz to sky Oz.

Given that we were on the way back from a rally against coal power’s fuelling of more climate chaos – it was also easy to assume we were seeing an example of it.

Where land and sky meet

High mountains belong as much to the sky as to the land.  They often meet with clouds in secrecy, their intercourse hidden from us land-dwellers.

I can see the lower edge of the clouds almost boiling up the deep upper gullies, frothing and rolling, but I can’t see inside.

The ridge and its peaks remain under dense white cover, in an otherwise cloudless sky.

No wonder moss forests and Antarctic Beech live up there in this dedicated Wilderness Area, and it seems clear to me that it’s not a place for humans. Gods, maybe.

Cloud on a string

Very early one morning I happened to catch this connection between nature and man.

The heavy cloud was just cruising, waiting for the sun to warm it up, when a cheeky jet plane shot right through the middle of it and up into the real daylight.

There it shone, a silver streak that made my cloud look like it was wired for sound and sporting a long antenna.

Or else being towed by the jet – a cloud on a string.

Wary wood ducks

Walking inside a cloud makes for mystery, not clarity. At 3000 feet up, I get a lot of cloud visits.

My large double dam, slowly being throttled by reeds, was floating in the filtered light of thin cloud as I walked around it.

Through the reeds I spotted a pair of wood ducks. I crept towards them, but as usual they sensed me coming, and headed off into the mist.

This shy and very elegant native duck is my most common water visitor.

The male has less patterning on his body and a chestnut brown head, and if you look carefully at the peek shot of them amongst the reeds, you can see the black strip of mane at the back of his head – he is sometimes called a Maned Wood Duck.

The female is a softly spotted grey, with white stripes across her brown head, although you can’t see that in these misty pics.

Until they are grown up, the young ones of both sexes look like their mum.