Since moving to the country, we have become fascinated with the sky.
Living in the city, buildings and trees interfered with a view of the sky. We could see pieces and portions of sky, clouds, the moon and the stars, but now that we live in open country we have a less interrupted view. So we find ourselves studying the sky a lot.
Many years ago, I took a sailing class which included a three-week seminar on marine weather, and the instructor gave excellent lessons on how to "read" the clouds to determine the weather. We talked about mackerel skies and mare's tails. We learned that mare's tails are the long wisps of moving air currents with precipitation contained in them, indicating the oncoming cold front and pressure drop preceding a storm. We learned that mackerel skies are the clouds from a vacating storm breaking up into small pieces, looking much like a school of mackerels.
We learned about cirrus and cumulus clouds, and the giant anvil-shaped clouds among the cumulus clouds indicating forming thunderheads, but we never discussed things like I see now clouds in the form of fish-boned skeletons or giant back spines. I am guessing those are airplane vapor trails at high altitudes broken up by high wind currents blowing over the top of the high air-pressure bubble that regularly forms over this big valley.
I wonder sometimes what that instructor would think of the shapes my daughter and I sometimes see among the mare's tails, things like the giant dragons chasing the little bird, (which I recently found out are actual Japanese motifs of weather gods), or the wispy clouds that look like giant eagles and angels. Recently, we saw clouds in the shape of a sleigh and seven graceful reindeer. (Blitzen was looking a little out-of-shape during Santa's "summer run" I still believe!)
For living in a "fly-over" part of the state, we sure have a lot of action overhead. On any given night there are at least seven airplanes in any given seven minutes. I'm guessing Mariposa and Modesto airports are popular destinations for private pilots.
As I walk my daughter to the bus stop in the mornings, we look up to the long vapor trails of the passenger planes and try to guess from their directions and routes. Hmm, from the southwest heading to the northeast, I'm guessing Los Angeles to Reno or vice versa. A southwest-to- northwest trail must be Los Angeles to Portland or Seattle. A southwest-to-northeast trail passing south of our house is clearly a plane flying from Las Vegas to either San Jose or San Francisco.
Many nights find us out on our deck looking for "shooting stars," for making wishes, and hoping to see something unidentifiable. We have been lucky to see the bright glare of the sun reflecting off the wings of satellites as the satellites change their angles for their nightly orbits. We have seen fixed satellites hanging too low overhead before a thrust puts them back up to their regular altitude. But no UFOs yet.
From my deck, I love seeing a giant bank of clouds coming in from the west indicating the arrival of a storm, although I don't like the lightning storms. But it has been a wonderful thing to see for myself the events TV weather forecasters try to convey on the evening news.
Holt is a landscape horticulture graduate of Merced College who now lives in Mariposa. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.