|Storm approaching O'Fallon, Illinois, by Evie Levine|
Years ago, when my column took up a full page and I ran a jokes at the end, sent in by readers, I received a chuckle from someone who identified himself as a "nephrologist."
I quickly checked the dictionary, and was charmed to discover, I thought, that this meant he makes his living studying clouds. I was compelled to ask him about it, and he set me straight. A nephrologist is a kidney specialist.
Oh. Not "nephologist"—one who studies clouds.
That's life. You think you've got someone dreamily gazing at the heavens but, on second glance, it's another wage slave poking into somebody's lower back.
Yet there are a few of us who make our living thanks to clouds. In May, the New York Times Sunday Magazine ran a charming article on the wonderfully-named Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the equally-delightful Cloud Appreciation Society. I haven't joined yet only because I can't decide if membership is quaint or strange.
What is it with clouds? In the photograph above, snapped Wednesday morning by my cousin, Evie Levine, there are the appealingly weathered farm buildings. And the windblown, bright green mid-summer corn, with its yellow tops. But it's the cumulonimbus clouds, low, grey, louring, that make the picture sing, that adds the drama.
Maybe the allure is that clouds can alternate between being so placid and puffy, white, motionless, floating above us, then suddenly turn turbulent and roiling, dark, threatening. Maybe that's why they're so fascinating. Or maybe because while they look like they're floating, they're actually falling, at a rate of about eight feet a minute, according to my 1926 copy of "Fogs and Clouds" by W.J. Humphreys, which has been sitting on the shelf for years, just waiting for this moment.
Maybe that's it—placid and turbulent, both aloft and descending. They're just like people.