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How to Build a Poem

October 6, 2019 | Uncategorized | No Comments

There is nothing quite like the feeling of having written a poem. To have put your frustrations, hopes, joys, and confusions down in words somehow unleashes a part of the soul inaccessible in quite the same way in any other medium.

A good way to begin is by reading the poems of others. A well-written poem can allow us to see truths otherwise not evident when the writer is able to tap into a deep well of wisdom which we right away recognize as universally true. I find inspiration in others’ poetry when it stirs me to put my own response down on paper when I recognize the part of me that the poem touched.

A great example is the late Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese ~


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


My first encounter with this poem was like a window opening in my heart. My life is so full of doing what I think I should be doing, in a kind of mechanical way, that the concept that all I have to do is be happy was completely foreign to me. And the idea that the world itself, nature, my surroundings, could be an agency of love, was also foreign, though I right away recognized it is true, correct, right. It is a way of knowing that you could never convince someone else of, especially a skeptic, but you nevertheless recognize as truth. Perhaps it is only true for me, but then, why does it have to be otherwise?

Try starting this yourself. Find a favorite poem and then pen your response to it, as you may have done in call-and-answer catechisms in church, or in school classrooms answering the teacher’s questions. How does the poem affect you? What does it stir in you? Where does it take you that you have never been?

The Latest News From Skyboy Studios

August 8, 2018 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

There’s been a lot happening lately that I haven’t had time to post about…so here are some of the things I’ve been up to.

I just finished and published my first book of poetry and stories! I’m excited enough about it to justify putting an exclamation point at the end of that sentence…and this one!!

Baker's Dozen: Gathering the Self
Baker’s Dozen: Gathering the Self

It’s something that has been gestating for a while…writings about the gathering together of the true and original self….a task all of us face in life, whether we will it or not. Thirteen stories and writings about darkness, despair, death, confusion and fear, and how the paths of self-discovery and truthful observation can lead us to discover who we are at core, and into awareness, joy, healing dreams and light.

You can find it on Amazon Books or on my website at Skyboy Photos … I hope you enjoy it! Feel free to review it on Amazon, as I would love to let more people know about it.


Next year’s Calendar is ready as well!  The Sky Stories: The 2019 Sky and Nature Calendar is now available on my website. Vivid images of our spectacular Midwestern skies combined with original poetry and stories will keep your eye on the sky without having to go outdoors–though you’ll want to head out anyway to see what’s going on! Sky and weather lore, seasonal changes, celestial events galore, the calendar is an almanac and companion for all seasons.

Sky Stories: 2019 Sky and Nature Calendar
Sky Stories: 2019 Sky and Nature Calendar



October Healing

October 8, 2017 | Uncategorized | No Comments

I love the month of October. It always makes me cry.
Maybe the sense of things soon to be out of reach, gone or blown away, but somehow still pregnant with presence, still here, waiting for us to just once, finally, come on, just notice.
The sense not so much of losses or leavings but of quickening change, of shifts in the underlying fabric of life, of things fading in their natural course and new things coming.

Perhaps it’s the crisp white-cobalt sky, the Maxfield Parrish blue, when the atmosphere has been cleansed of summer hazes and washes towards the crystal clear windows of winter.

Could be the feeling of being too late in the season, or yet too early, or too darn wet, or dry, or windy or cold or hot or all of the above, to begin endeavors of any consequence, and it’s best just to sit back and let the zephyr winds tumble and slide across the landscape upending every plan.

DCF 1.0

Regardless the reason, it always feels like a good cry, of healing and presence and comfort. October seems to put things into perspective and ready us for new beginnings.
So I’m paying attention this year once again to the sights and sounds and feel of this delicious month. Happy autumn!
DCF 1.0

Celebrate the season in greeting cards with one of our card boxes!
“October Healing”

Cloud Disguises

April 23, 2017 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Watching the sky is rewarding on many levels, and one of them is that sometimes it’s just a whole lot of fun! As Carl Jung said, there are no coincidences, so I think this is all happening for a reason.
Sometimes the sky makes stuff up.
So let’s lie down on the grass here and just look up and imagine we can make out all kinds of shapes and faces and creatures in the clouds.
This has to be something in the rabbit family, hare, bunny, or cottontail..or maybe a mamma rabbit with a baby?
And the tree in front of the building on the left — it looks remarkably like a fox! Uh-oh, there’s gonna be trouble…

Here I’m guessing sea horse, or perhaps a goofy Scotty dog looking back over his shoulder?
You’ve got to admit, it does look like something, but what is it?
Some are not so obvious, and most clouds just look like, well, clouds.  According to chaos theory, no two clouds are alike but they have certain characteristics in common, like the fractal nature of growth that evolves like the shape of a coastline…Wait! this blog is supposedly to be fun! The heck with theory!  Let’s just watch…
Near as I can tell, it’s Donald Duck, and I don’t think he has his hat on.
What do you see here?
Sometimes the sky gets it just right, though, and there no room for debate.

Cloud Disguises
“Cloud Disguises” Greeting Card

If that bird only knew the cat was above him he’d been more careful swooping on by!
I had just stepped out of a restaurant in Dallas with some friends into the daylight, I turned around and there it was. We were all stunned, especially by the eye hole punched right through the cloud.
Don’t worry, the mockingbird escaped.

Another sea horse, or dragon,  crashing through downtown Kansas City tossing buildings like matchsticks, with a monster friend tagging along behind.

The Macy’s Day Parade with cats and dogs ballooning past…

And elephants and elephants and elephants, oh my!

Remember that old Far Side cartoon where the cows are standing up smoking cigarettes until one of them shouts “Car!” and they all go back to standing like cows? I sometimes think the sky is like that: she’s up to all kinds of tricks while we’re not paying attention.

Not to forget the equine kingdom, whose wild stallions stampede across the plains and clop-clop right across the interstate.

"The Feeling is Mutual" Greeting Card
“The Feeling is Mutual” Greeting Card

Sheep or goat or grasshopper, this is a fledgling newborn trying her first few steps under the watchful eyes of the mother.

Other times the whole sky is one big face, with one big eye, lost in deep meditation…

Some clouds are a kind of Rorschach ink-blot test, and in five minutes your imagination will find fifty different faces!

Speaking of ink-blots, here is another incomprehensible shape. Bird skull? Chinese dragon? Chicken bone? Medusa?
What am I saying about the state of my psychology?!? As this goes on, I am less and less sure about what things are.

"Gentle Giant" Greeting Card
“Gentle Giant” Greeting Card

Perhaps with front paws outstretched, this is a guardian lion, watching over his people like Asgard from the “Chronicles of Narnia.”

"We Fit Together" Greeting Card
“We Fit Together” Greeting Card

And sometimes the sky decides to mimic people.
Here is a small dance troupe executing twirls across the stage as the day’s performance comes to  a close.

Lastly, my newest greeting card had a feature I only noticed upon looking at the photo later: an ancient face of wisdom as if in meditation, with its glowing aura radiating out across the heavens.

"Primal Meditations" Greeting Card
“Primal Meditations” Greeting Card

Don’t pass by a chance to check out the sky, no matter where or when. You may be pleasantly surprised. What do YOU see in the clouds?

As far as sky gazing goes, nobody needs a reason. It’s perfectly legal to stand still and look up into the sky (except perhaps in traffic), doing nothing at all but absorbing the grand beauty of nature in her most accessible view, the infinite view above.
But if somebody asks you why, you can use one of these ready-made reasons:
The Top Ten Reasons for Sky Gazing
19. If you’re not careful you’ll lose all track of time. (A good thing.)
18. It’s a chance to take a deep breath, pause and relax. Heaven requires nothing of you, thank heaven.
17. You get a sense of the vastness of the universe.
16. You can find shapes in the clouds, and then name them. I see a whale! I see a giraffe! I see a funny guy with horn-rimmed glasses on a kangaroo!
15. Unexpected occurrences can sometimes spontaneously appear. Check in often.
14. You can learn to read the clouds and predict the likely course of the oncoming weather.
13. You can spot meteors. The word “meteor” means anything that falls from the sky, including rain, snow and ice. That’s why study of the weather is called “meteorology.”
12. You’ll spot falling pianos before they hit. Which are also meteors.
11. If you enjoy being in nature and watching its changes through day and week and season, watch the sky! You can’t always get to the beach, or walk in the woods, or climb a mountain, but you can always get to the sky at least sometime during the day.
10. Visibility in clear air can be as much as 100 miles straight up. Where else can you see that distance?
9. Looking upward is looking inward, and a chance to breathe and relax into your body.
8. It’s always changing. It’s never the same.
7. It makes you happy to look upward. Social scientists have proven it. I think.
6. You can identify the cloud types you see. Puffy Cumulus, wispy Cirrus, leaden-sky Stratus, rainy Nimbus, tempestuous Cumulonimbus. Learning about the clouds will tell you much about the weather to come.
5. There’s always something new and interesting going on.
4. Visibility at night is, theoretically, infinity. Where else can you see that distance?
3. If you look up at the sky in a crowd, pretty soon everyone else will look up, too. Try it! It works. Start thinking of yourself as a Sky Ambassador.
2. It’s just big, that’s all.
1. And the Number One reason to watch the sky: It feels good!
Feel free to print off your Sky Gazer badge, below, courtesy of Skyboy Photos!semi circle
Happy sky gazing!

Weather's Where You Find It

October 18, 2015 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Often when I tell people that I am a sky and weather photography fanatic, they want to know if I fly up in airplanes to take panoramic pictures. Or they wonder if I fling myself madly across the Central Plains in an outfitted vehicle for days at a time seeking super-cell thunderstorms.
Neither one. The truth is, I have found that by being patient and observant, and keeping a camera handy,  the weather will eventually get around to coming to me.
It doesn’t hurt a bit that I live in the heart of “Tornado Alley”, in Kansas City,  Missouri, home to some of the wildest and most changeable weather on Earth.

My first, last and only tornado Crystal Beach, Texas, 2001
My first, last and only tornado
2001, Crystal Beach, Texas

But the sky holds plenty of wonders for the alert observer pretty much everywhere. As proof, here is the one and only tornado I ever saw, on Bolivar Island off the Gulf Coast, near  Galveston, Texas .
There are some tricks to finding the most interesting weather, though, and here are a few that I have gleaned.
Remember,  there is a sky.
For  many years, I spent my days never looking more than ten degrees above the horizon. You could have replaced the great bowl of the sky over my head with a hundred-mile-wide bowl of oatmeal, and unless it happened to be raining oatmeal, I’d never have noticed. I was busy most of the time with my earthly occupations.
It wasn’t entirely my own fault. Nine times out of ten, a glance into the sky reveals nothing noteworthy. Whether a clear sky or cloudy, it can and often does look pretty uniform and monotonous, like the backdrop that “disappears” when seen at a larger scale. All the clouds look the same, and the eye soon loses interest.
1989-08-23adj My epiphany occurred in the garden one lazy Sunday afternoon. I happened to glance upward for some reason and found that a surprise cloud had suddenly appeared over the rooftop where there had been clear sky.  I ran for the camera.
Since then I have discovered that such breathtaking scenes are happening all the time. I just hadn’t been paying attention. So the first trick is to keep an eye skyward whenever you can.
Sunrise, Sunset
One of the best times to harvest remarkable scenes and unexpected visions are the transitions between day and night.
“Sun Down”

The low angle of light does the same thing for the sky that a silhouette does for a person’s portrait, increasing the contrast between light and dark, showing the contours and structure of the face much more clearly than direct light.  In the sky, lighting clouds  from the side with the sun near the horizon outlines their shape and defines distances in a way not possible in full daytime sunshine .
Add in the colors, as they evolve from blue-yellow through orange to the reds and crimson of a mature sunset, and as our mother star approaches the horizon from either direction, it can often make quite a stupendous show.
Just as often, it’s a bust.

The best displays at both times of day are usually when clear sky exists beyond the horizon. At sunrise, if clouds are approaching from the west, the sun has a clear shot to bathe them in crimson light as it rises up through a clear eastern sky. Same thing at sunset: a cloud layer drifts off to the east, exposing the setting sun, where it will shine on the underside of the clouds even when it is far below our horizon.
"Crimson Dusk"
“Crimson Dusk”

This is why Hawaii has such great sunsets, as the clouds usually form only over the mountainous islands, leaving clear skies all around.
Checking local cloud radar on TV or internet can help. Look for a morning with clear skies to the east, or an evening where clear skies are to the west or, as sometimes happens, a cloud deck is drifting off to the east after a storm just as the sun is setting.  Perfect!
When a weather system starts to move in after days  of clear skies,  the first faints signs are often high thin clouds called Cirrus.
Cirrus clouds, also called "Mare's Tails"
Cirrus clouds, also called “Mare’s Tails”

The name is from the Latin cirrus, meaning a curl, tuft, or filament, like a tuft of hair —and they often look like flowing hair or filaments of delicate thread.
I like to watch the very first clouds that develop, as they often create the most complicated patterns and mixtures, drifting across the sky sometimes for hours before yielding to the heavier, lower clouds that follow.
As the clouds begin to thicken, watch the boundaries between the Cirrus clouds and the mid-level Altocumulus layer that moves in. And then the boundary between Altocumulus and the next layer or type of cloud that appears, and the next, and the next.
Multiple Cloud Layers

As they move and mix, these different layers of clouds can yield beautiful scenes of art,  painterly masterpieces, cloud art if you will. The most creative part of nature is in the borders. The boundaries between any two different air masses are usually where all the interesting stuff is happening.
In fact, it might be a general principle of weather watching: watch the boundaries between things.  When weather systems, clouds, air masses or any two things collide,  interesting things happen in the areas where they meet and first display their individual personalities..
Expect the Unexpected
Something very strange appears over the city! "Cloud Ribbons"
Something very strange appears over the city!
“Cloud Ribbons”

And sometimes there is a boundary there in the middle of the air that is totally invisible, some difference in moisture or temperature or speed or altitude,  all of which appear to us as the same plain, clear sky. Suddenly an expected cloud is born out of nowhere, creating breathtaking and sometimes bizarre displays –literally — out of thin air. 
The lesson? Keep those peepers peeled!
Optical Events
Sun Dog
Sun Dog

Optical events includes the familiar rainbows, but those are just one of dozens of types of colorful displays. Many of them escape our notice because they appear in parts of the sky where nothing is going on and we are least expecting them.  They love to appear directly overhead, often close to the sun, and might only last for a few minutes before disappearing again like Leprechauns.

Most are formed from sunlight passing through ice crystals that make up the thinnest Cirrus clouds. Because of the six-sided shape of the crystals, optical events often are found in a ring around the sun, at about the distance between your thumb and extended little finger held at arm’s length.
Sometimes an entire halo forms, but more often only part of the sky will have the right clouds to bend the sun’s light, and the display is in parts and pieces. At dusk, look 22 degrees to the left and right of the sun, for “Sun Dogs” on either side of the halo circle .
And sometimes whole areas of sky will display iridescence, like this.

You can read more about optical events in my previous post,  “Weather Imps”.
Storms? Who needs them?
Storms and bad weather, of course, can make great scenery. But in most areas of the country, they can just as often be invisible above thick, uniform layers of cloud that mask the towering thunderstorms from view.  If you really want to see storms from a distance,  move to the American Southwest, where they’re more isolated.
On second thought: stay right where you are, and let the weather come to you!
"Cloud Disguises"
“Cloud Disguises”

Keep watching.
The sky is like a cat. It may be one moment stealthily stalking you from inside your just-opened  sock drawer and the next moment snoozing in the corner.  It’s never where you think it will be, or doing what you think it should be doing. It’s often annoying, sometimes contrary, always entertaining and almost everything it does is a surprise.
But  for the sky, as with the cat, that’s the most wonderful part of all.

The Clouds are in the Ocean

June 14, 2015 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Learning to read the clouds can be pugnaciously hard.  At least it was for me.
I’d look at a complex sky with two or three or even four cloud types at once, and it would be hard to tell which cloud was in front of which, what was larger and what was smaller. I couldn’t visualize the underlying causes of the bewildering shapes and forms that clouds like to take. They were often  breathtakingly beautiful, but I longed to know what was making them happen.
The breakthrough5384771_l stock came during a canoe trip down the Niangua River in central Missouri. Being late summer, the river was low enough to have numerous riffles, shallow flows ten or twenty feet wide but only a few inches deep. We had to get out of the canoes and drag them to the next deep water — the bane of summer canoeing.
Often the water would be coming from two directions, and the waves would organize themselves into a rectangular pattern of ripples. They would remain completely stationary as the water flowed across the riverbed underneath them.
DCF 1.0We stopped for a breather, and as I watched the rippling water cascading over the pebbles. I suddenly realized how similar it was to  a familiar pattern of clouds that I had seen in the sky.
It occurred to me that perhaps the same principles were at work in both water and cloud.
But I wondered: The waves on the Niangua shallows were on the surface of the water, the boundary between water and air. If clouds are also waves, what “surface” are they forming on? They’re right in the middle of the air! The atmosphere is all just air, from top to bottom, right?
Wrong. As I was to learn, the atmosphere might be air top to bottom, but in between many different layers of air usually exist: warm and wet, cold and dry, dusty, clear, etc . And though you wouldn’t think so, two layers of air with very different characteristics don’t mix together easily, so they tend to remain separate. The “surface” upon which clouds form is the boundary between any two layers of air.
Water has waves, and the sky has waves. The sky is just one big ocean.
Building a Cloud
The easiest way to build a cloud is to send sUntitled-1ome “juicy” warm and humid air upwards. It doesn’t matter how you do this. Anytime air rises, it cools, because the drop in air pressure lets it expand. The expanding and cooling condenses the water vapor into droplets which can be seen, much like an iced drink on a humid day will “sweat” on the glass. A cloud is born.DCF 1.0
In the case of the rhythmic rows of clouds as I had seen, the air is caused to rise between two layers of air flowing at different directions or speeds. The mixing at the boundary can organize itself into a wave, oroll cloudr rows of waves. When the front of a wave rolls downward, the air at the back is forced to flow upward — and that causes it to condense.
After my sudden insight, I began to watch the sky more with the concept of waves in mind. I found that a lot of previously puzzling behaviors and events became more understandable.
The weather is a wave
The concept of waves turns out to apply at nearly all scales.
The familiar weather map that we see with blue cold front lines and red warm fronts, is itself nothing but a wave. This might explain why these maps can bear such a resemblance to ocean waves.
Weather waveThis is a little different though, because rather than a wave forming between a higher and lower layer of air, it forms between two air masses side by side. Each one of these might be as large as a small continent. In this map, all the air south of the Low is part of a huge mass flowing to the right (east), and the air north of the Low is flowing left (west). The same thing happens here as happened above, with our layers of air.  A wave develops as some of the southern air mass begins to flow upward to the north and the northern air wraps back around to the south.10602792_s The resulting spiral or vortex is a wave, and represents where most of the weather occurs as the two different air mass mix.
A weather system is just a really big wave between two different air masses. The blue and red lines tell the boundary, where the meeting and mixing is taking place.
So next time you’re outdoors, keep an eye to the sky and see if you can spot the waves, elegant brushstrokes in nature’s way of painting.
"The Sea"

“The Sea”

Sunset in the Gulf of Mexico paints the sky and sea as one canvas.
Handmade greeting card, blank card or with inscription, from Skyboy Photos.

The Edges of Things

February 25, 2015 | Uncategorized | No Comments

I’ve been thinking about this concept for a while but never tried to articulate it, so here goes nothing.
It’s the edges of things, not the things themselves, that are that are the most interesting.
If I could draw this idea as a map, maybe it would look like this.
If you’re sitting inside the upper circle on this map, you’re yellow.  EvEdges-maperything and everyone around you is also yellow.  You never see anything but yellow, and even if you like yellow, you’ll admit it isn’t too interesting by itself.
Likewise if you’re in the lower right circle, it’s nothing but red, red, red, all day long; in the blue circle, well, people are pretty much done with blue, thank you. In these places, nothing happens that’s very different from anything else.
But when you get near the borders between the circles, things begin to get interesting.
Clouds as Boundaries
I first noticed this principle at work when I started watching the sky  and  the daily drama of the atmosphere. I was awed but puzzled by the strange shapes, textures and movements of clouds and weather. I could not imagine how some of these things came to be.
IMG_0209After studying and photographing these  unusual clouds for a few years, though, I began to start thinking of them not so much as things in themselves, so much as the boundaries between two or more other things.
Suddenly the strange and twisted shapes of the clouds started to make sense. They were being formed at the common boundary between two very different  masses of air, and their strange shapes were nothing more than the shape of that boundary.
The larger-scale weather of Earth is also a  perfect example of this. You could think of weather as what happens when pieces of Un-Weather meet.  (A fair-weather high pressure system is in fact called an anti-cyclone!)  Huge masses of air flow around the planet, each mass tending to be pretty much the same throughout, whether warm and dry,  cold and moist,  or any other characteristic. Inside any one air mass, the weather stays the same everywhere. Under a high-pressure dome, Kansas City weather is about the same as St. Louis weather is about the same as Omaha and Des Moines  and Wichita. Nothing much different happens. Everything is pretty homogeneous, pretty similar, pretty boring.
The excitement that we call weather comes when these large  areas meet and mix at the boundaries.  This encounter between the two creates something entirely new, and unlike either of the things that contributed to it.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that my Boring/Interesting map looks a lot like a weather map!
Edges Describe the Center
The intersection between two different things  is also where we can learn the most about each, more than we would ever find out by studying either one by itself.  Behaviors occur, events take place that could never be predicted by what we know of the contributing parts.
Things show themselves most clearly through their interaction with other things.
In the case of clouds, when properly read, they can describe the shape, extent and character of whatever weather is coming. They show us the boundaries of change.
This principle isn’t limited to the weather, though. I have noticed the same effect  in other area of life.
Mixing at the Boundaries
In politics, it might be fine to be a Tory, and if you are around Tories most of time, nothing much interesting will happen. People differ, of course, but in terms of your philosophy you would have more in common with your group than anyone outside. If you are a Whig, same thing applies within the party.  All the interesting things happen in Congress, where the boundaries between Whig and Tory are most sharply exposed, most clearly defined, and most interesting. It is also where each group learns the most about the other — as well as things about themselves they could not otherwise learn. (If they’re open-minded, anyway!)
In ecology, boundaries between ecosystems behave the same way. The deep forest is monotonously uniform, its diversification very narrow, as is the the endless prairie. But where forest edge meets prairie edge, interesting things can happen.  Plants grow there that are unique to the border habitat and could not thrive within either forest or prairie. This area can grow into an entirely new and different ecosystem of its own.
And perhaps this explains why one of the most interesting parts of any dwelling, architecturally, is the front door… the boundary between home and elsewhere, inside and outside. Memorable meetings, surprise encounters and lingering door-talk define this boundary between public and intimate.
Thoughts along these lines were what inspired my newest Greeting Card, “Borderlands”.


I like the idea of the boundary as a place unto itself,  unique, separate and different from any of the lands being bordered but sharing parts of each.  Like the skin of our bodies,  the boundary is the place where we learn the shape of the world by touching against it, and learn about ourselves as it touches us back.
On the most intimate level, the borderlands are where we live. I like the way they invite us to step across, grow into new territory, and make it part of our selves.

Tales of the Unexpected

October 4, 2014 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Five Puzzling Pieces
Every so often, something happens in the sky that I can’t explain.
Not that I can explain everything that happens with the weather, or even very much of it. But nothing in the course of my amateur studies, or my sky and nature photography, has led me to understand what was happening in these five uniquely baffling events. They remain my favorite special mysteries.
Lady Fingers
When I stepped outside to get the mail shortly after dawn, the sky was featureless, a few clouds, bright sunshine, calm winds. I came back in, brewed coffee, and went out twenty minutes later for another look.
I got the giddy, disoriented feeling you get when you walk into the wrong movie at the Multiplex.1996-10-19 = 14.45 = nnwadj A brand new sky had replaced the old!
Long lines of cloud had suddenly formed, or moved into place, I don’t know which. They hung motionless, barely moving, stretching across the sky in wide parallel rows. To the northwest, the lines abruptly ended and joined into the side of a larger cloud that extended off to the horizon. It was like fingers stretched out from the palm of a giant floating hand, reaching toward the other end of the sky.
I was stunned by their sudden presence. But as I  watched the bands of cloud more closely, I was even more amazed by the gyrations going on inside each column of cloud.
Most clouds form from the bottom, mushrooming up and out of a flat cloud base. These looked like they were forming upside-down.  I saw that new cloud was forming along an invisible line on the top central ridge of each row, then flowing out and away from the ridge  down toward the two edges. I watched the turbulent tufts of cloud flow wetly around and down the sides of these long shapes, as if someone was dumping frosting all along the tops of a batch of Lady Fingers.
The “frosting” — which did indeed look like sloppily poured icing, dripping and gooey — ran from the ridges down towards an abrupt edge on the side of each finger. In between the fingers of cloud, the sky remained crystal clear, with a sharp division between cloud and open sky.
1995-10-19 = 14.49 = nnwadju
Despite all the turbulence within each long tube, the tubes themselves barely moved. The whole sky slid by majestically toward the southwest, each finger of cloud boiling with turbulence,  for about another hour.
Then they gradually dissolved back into the featureless cloudiness of earlier, a little thicker but totally featureless, as if — as if the whole thing had never happened. Was it all just a dream?
The Ring
This strange apparition, late in the afternoon of a calm cloudy day, almost escaped my notice. I had no reason to think anything unusual was going on and hadn’t paid attention to the sky in hours. The first mistake of sky-watching!
Despite the absence of storms or heavy winds, this huge roll cloud had somehow appeared out of nowhere, and attracted my notice only when the red glow of sunset shone back onto the wall behind me.
At least I think it was a roll cloud, a type of cloud formed in the same way as a smoke ring, but as if the smoker was blowing straight down onto a flat surface. In the case of roll clouds, a downdraft of air falls to earth and flows outward from the center, the cloud rolling as it moves, like a spinning rope, or the movement of a rolling-up pant leg.
But such roll clouds are usually associated with massive weather systems or blowing out in front of intense storms. This one simply hung there placidly, barely moving. As the setting sun sent a sharp wedge of crimson light across the cloud, I could make out wisps  of rain or snow spinning off from the rope and caught in the evening glow.
Perhaps this spectacle was simply a milder, localized version of the usual storm roll clouds. Whatever it was, I spent twenty minutes watching it roll on over the land as the sky darkened, murmuring “My Precious…my Precious!”
The sign of Four
If I hadn’t glanced up into the sky at the moment that thisIMG_0165 — thing — passed over the roof of the house, I would’ve missed it too. A  strange filigree like fine lace, inside the cloud, was like the “negative space” in an artist’s drawing, a shape made up of all the areas outside the actual drawing– as if the clouds and the air between the clouds were reversed on a film negative.
But this was just the beginning. For the next couple of hours, these impossible-looking clouds kept forming and reforming, shape-shifting  into contorted lacework patterns both strange and silly looking.
IMG_0225adj nmb1adjHere you see it had formed itself into a spiral shape like an elephant’s tusk, where work had  been done on an elaborate scrimshaw carving, the whole tusk hanging embedded in a larger cloud.IMG_0209
Then again this shape rapidly evolved to a new shape, and a new shape, and through a series of the most bizarre clouds I have ever seen.
Cartoon characters, or strangely drawn animated animals. Here, to the right, what is this, some giant bird? A reptile?
The tall ungainly cloud  to the left looked like an Ent from The Lord of the Rings … or some weird sand-storm creature from a forgettable B movie with Brendan Fraser.
It wasn’t until near sunset that the sky finally settled down, the clouds slowly going back to what they had been doing,  and by nightfall the sky was covered with a uniform even sheet of clouds.
But I thought I sensed a cosmic chuckle, still lingering in the air.
Wrapped in a Ribbon
In the most seriously scientific way I ask, what’s up with this? A completely bland and uneventful day suddenly spawned this strange single snaking line of cloud. P-13-bg
There must have been some boundary between different air masses that was quite invisible  before this appears, some difference in moisture or warmth or pressure between two pockets of air. Whatever the cause, the fat, dense ribbon of cloud then began growing clouds straight up along its length, like a theater curtain rising instead of falling.
This single sharp demarcation of the sky divided the local area into Left Kansas City and Right Kansas City for about forty-five minutes. Then gradually the line became more diffuse, the boundary dissolved, the local municipalities took over again and the awed citizens enjoyed the remainder of the day under beautiful fair-weather skies.
The Golden World
Not the strangest but perhaps the most spiritually satisfying event I ever witnessed, this one came at the end of a cold, wet fall day.
The afternoon was miserable. The city had been huddled beneath a gloomy overcast for the previous two days, and it grew steadily colder and darker. I had given up all hope of getting sky pictures, because the sky was a brown-grey dome of muddy cloud, the same tone from horizon to horizon. But I drove to the top of a nearby hill anyway, to try photographing the city itself from above the depressing mist. The distant houses and buildings looked waterlogged, so many pebbles at the bottom of a lake, their lights glowing bravely into the soupy air.
I set up the camera and huddled shivering on the hillside, snapping useless soggy pictures. Nothing worked. What was the point? After an hour or two, I was wet, cold, and miserable, and ready to head home.
Then a few moments before sunset, unexpectedly, a circle of sky began to slowly dissolve. The patch grew thinner, lighter. Then as I watched in amazement, the clouds inside this round opening began rolling themselves into long thin lines, stretching across the entire opening in neatly packed rows. It was as if God had suddenly reached over and opened a window, then adjusted the Venetian blinds for me.
I stared through to the vast distance above. The tall clouds were receiving their last red glow of sunset, hanging contentedly in the sky far above the city, the hillside, the photographer, and the grey and dismal world below.
I realized of course that they’d been there all along. I could only give thanks for their welcome appearance.
I couldn’t help wondering how I might have felt earlier, huddling in the rain, if I had somehow known there was another world hanging there within my reach but temporarily inaccessible, and whether I might have been just a little bit comforted by the knowledge.
But perhaps that’s not the way things work.

If you have any insight into these mysteries, and what meteorological wizardry might have been going on, please comment and let me know. They have baffled me!
“Sky Ribbons” and  “The Golden World” are two of the images from my catalog of Sky and Nature Photography.
Go to Skyboy Photos to choose your own greeting cards and prints. Happy Sky Watching!

Zen of Lightning

September 15, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments

The story goes something like this:
The acolyte, sitting in meditation in front of the master, breaks the  long silence with a question:2000-09-11 = 20,01 = ne
“What is the sound of the void, Master?”
To which the master replies,
“What is the sound of the void, Master?”
The young monk, perhaps thinking the master is absent-mindedly repeating his question, replies, “I simply wondered what the void sounded like, so that I can recognize it when I encounter it in my meditation.”
Without a word, the Master suddenly reaches out across the room and smacks the pupil soundly on the back of the head.

Kansas City, September 1, 2014
Kansas City, September 1, 2014

For some reason this apocryphal Zen Buddhist tale always  comes to mind when I think of lightning. Lightning is like mother nature’s painful but ultimately educational smack to the back of the head.
Direct and immediate, it brooks no delays and allows no  obfuscations. It happens right NOW! It has your full, undivided attention. You understand in a blink that nature’s power is limitless and her control of things is pretty much complete. It is a manifestation of The Way Things Are that you might as well cooperate with.
“Popping Clouds”

But like the master’s blow, by the time it happens it’s too late to prepare for.  You realize it’s been busy preparing for you.
Before the lightning ever strikes, the strong electrical charge tunnels a path of ionized air through normal air, seeking for somewhere to land. Once the ionized paths through the air and rain and mud and ground have been established, the charge instantaneously leaps across the bridge. An electric fury hotter than the sun  travels through a tube no bigger than your little finger and cracks into the earth below.
Healing spark
“Terra Firma”

Like the Master’s smack to the back of the head, though, lightning brings about an eventual benefit despite its violence. The powerful spark travelling through earth’s atmosphere is strong enough to fuse atoms into molecules, forming nitrogen from the air into minerals and compounds that can fall out of the air. These minerals are what plants use as fertilizer: nitrates. Without lightning in the atmosphere millions of years ago, plants would would never have begun growing on our young planet. And without plants, there’d have been no animals, and there would be no us.
Thousands of lightning strikes are happening all over the earth just now, every second, enough that even today, with plants able to make their own nitrates, lightning still contributes about as much nitrogen to the soil as does all the vegetation on earth.
 Scary Fun
“Lightning’s still the biggest thrill of all…” says Merle Haggard.
“At The Firefly Ball”

Lightning bugs. Lightning Hopkins. Greased Lightning.
Lightning might scare us, but there’s no denying that it electrifies our spirit. We enjoy the sheer adrenalin rush of a good storm…especially when we’re safe and protected from it.
One of the things I enjoy is taking photos of lightning, because few things leave such a feeling of intense excitement as nature’s own celebratory fireworks.
Capturing Lightning
To photograph lightning, you will use a lot of film, so it’s a good idea to keep several rolls on hand. Then let me give you a few tips on how to….
Wait, I forgot, it’s 2014, nobody uses film these days! Well, I can say this: no one is happier than the lightning photographers of the world. The techniques are pretty much the same, just cheaper….
Kansas City August 27, 2004
Kansas City August 27, 2004

But before I say anything about that in this blog, stop reading and go google everything about lightning safety that I won’t have time to cover here — and my internet liability insurance isn’t up to date, anyway.  Take your photos from indoors!
That said, once you’ve found a vantage point, set up the camera on a tripod, and use a remote shutter release to shoot the pictures. Set the lens to a wide a field of vision. Focus the camera, which in darkness may mean learning to set your lens barrel on infinity focus by hand and disabling the autofocus.
Kansas City August 8, 2007
Kansas City August 8, 2007

Now, set the camera to manual function. Set the aperture to a small opening (f22 or higher), set the time to two or three seconds, and set the sensitivity to very low (i.e., ISO 100). Set the camera drive to take continuous shooting (pictures one right after another) rather than single-shot. Then take a test picture.
The resulting image ought to clearly show clouds, but only dimly. If it’s too bright or dark, adjust the time exposure until the background is dimly visible. If your test pictures looks good, shoot a few more pictures to make sure you are catching the correct part of the sky. Then once you’re sure the tripod is stable, lock down the shutter release to take continuous photos.
Go get a cup of coffee.
Kansas City 2004
Kansas City 2004

Don’t take too long, though. Come back to make sure the camera is still pointed in the direction of the lightning, as the storm is likely moving. Stop every so often to view the camera display and make sure images are being recorded, then keep shooting. Don’t waste time viewing pictures to see if you caught lightning, you’ll have all the next day to do that!
Happy hunting.!
Here is our newest Greeting Card in the Skyboy Photos catalog, “Ancient Spark”
Lightning Strike
Our newest image: “Ancient Spark”