Cloud Dance

Learning to love the mystery

You must not blame me if I do talk to the clouds.
—Henry David Thoreau

The North Cascades are capricious. These mountains hide themselves in veils of cloud for days at a time and then coquettishly reveal their sensuous lines to us dusty pilgrims. A little bit here. A little bit there.

After decades of observing this numinous cloud dance, one learns to go with it, to appreciate the rituals of sun, rain and cloud, and eventually—if one hangs around these hallowed mountains long enough—to savor the poetry of the unseen.

These cloud-swaddled mountains remind me of Radio City Music Hall. When the clouds lift, it’s like the curtain going up. And the show is always spectacular. True, sometimes intermission lasts for a week, but hey, all good things come to those that wait.

Of course, sometimes the clouds are nowhere to be seen and the sky is an open book of blue. I have no quarrels with this. But honestly, the true essence and beauty of these mountains is revealed by the swirling mists that frame and accent the peaks and pillars, disclosing and concealing, constantly changing, highlighting first this summit and then that one.

If the North Cascades were a film, it would be directed by Ingmar Bergman, not Steven Spielberg.

To connect with the muse of the dancing clouds you will need to spend some quality time at select locales. There are many of these places that offer stimulating vistas of varying distances. The Black Buttes on Mt. Baker are a great place to watch the cloud dance. High Pass, near Winchester Mountain, is another. Lake Ann. Heliotrope Ridge. You get the idea.

But, of course, in addition to your hiking gear, you will need patience; not necessarily easy to come by in our Instagram age.

It is vital to ease into the slow lane, just for a while. If this is difficult, bring a book with which to occupy yourself while waiting for the dance to begin.

But ideally, you should sit and watch the sky. The anticipation of seeing the unseen is good for the soul. We have become wired for instant gratification, but those schematics can be modified. And, let’s face it, delayed gratification can be very sweet indeed.

Clouds, of course, come in many forms. Particularly beautiful are lenticular clouds, lens-shaped clouds that form above high peaks. When conditions are right, they will sometimes stack up above Mt. Baker’s summit. Lenticulars have been confused with UFOs on occasion due to their flying-saucer shape—although I suspect alcohol might have been involved in those cases.

Sometimes. at the end of the day, if the light is just right and your shadow is cast downward onto clouds from a high place, it will be surrounded by an aura of rainbow colors. This is called the Brocken Spectre and it is something to see.

So don’t dismay when clouds gather. Enjoy the mixture of opacity and translucence and savor the shifting skyscapes of our wondrous corner of the world.

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