When I was a small child I enjoyed looking at clouds, searching their numberless shapes for something familiar. I saw a lot of dogs, but maybe that’s what I was looking for.
I would view the sky from various angles, sometimes sitting in an outdoor swing, sometimes standing and leaning against the unpainted boards on the side of the barn. My favorite place, however, was lying on my back in the grass, especially during winter. There was no better venue for cloud watching than our backyard on a cold clear day. Sunshine and a corduroy coat provided a warmth that bordered on perfection.
I was seldom in a rush and rarely had anything that required urgent attention. I leisurely studied the fluffy cumulus clouds and their enchanting transitions of characters. What began as a dog pointing a covey of quail might become a charging bull. A cat might grow into a lion, or even morph completely into an elephant from the circus.
One time I saw Elijah in his chariot, but it wasn’t made of fire. It was instead the soft white and pale blue colors of billowy clouds in the sunlight of winter. Moses showed up on several occasions, or it may have been Charlton Heston. Sometimes I confused the two. Either way, he had no trouble parting the sea, nor using the massive walls of divided water to cover Pharaoh’s army.
Abraham and Isaac were together one time. Isaac looked especially relieved that his father had found a ram in the bush. I think I saw God once, but I’m not sure. I knew it was dangerous to look directly at Him, so the sighting lasted only a moment.
There were teepees and castles, flying fish and dolphins. There were assorted birds of almost every description, except that I never saw a whippoorwill. The eagles were most impressive, even more so when diving for fish.
I’m not sure how old I was when I realized it might seem odd for me to be stretched out on the grass. The artistry of the clouds became less intriguing. I didn’t plan to quit looking for stories in the sky. It just happened.
My wife, Jane, and I often walk the dirt road beside our home. We take our dog, Lilly, with us. She used to run ahead of us, and sometimes chased a rabbit into the woods. Lilly is 13 now and walks rather slowly. She still begs to go, but easily stumbles and often lags behind. Sometimes she stops and waits for us to turn around. We cut our walks short when she wants to go home.
Lilly has been part of our family since she was rescued by Michelle Gallett at Harmony Baptist Church. Someone left five puppies near the church. Michelle took them home, washed the fleas off, kept one for herself and found homes for the others. We know that our trips with Lilly down Coley Crossing must grow shorter, that our pace has to be lessened so she won’t strain to keep up.
At least one good thing has come from these slow walks. I’ve noticed the clouds again. I don’t find many clear shapes anymore. It seems that with age that would be easier, but somewhere between childhood and now my imagination lost some of its elasticity.
As a child I found something special in almost every cloud. I looked with simple faith, never doubting I would discover a remarkable formation. It’s much harder as an adult. I look now for shapes that are perfectly defined, whose lines need little interpretation. Grand expectations have been tempered with ordinary experiences.
I doubt that I’ll ever lie on the grass in winter again. We have wonderful neighbors who would no doubt stop to help me. The truth would be too embarrassing to share.
But I’ll spend more time looking upward on our unhurried walks with Lilly. I’ve come to realize that even the undefined shapes are quite spectacular, for I understand something now that escaped me as a child. I understand that in every cloud I see, there is always an image of God.
This story was written in September of 2017. Lilly died on October 24th. I haven’t yet seen her chasing rabbits among the clouds, but I’ll keep looking until I do.