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More than just clouds

The other day the kids and I were driving along the highway marveling at all the types of clouds we were seeing: cirrus, nimbus, cumulus, stratus! It was an unusual parade of meteorology across our usually tranquil October skies.

I think about my childhood in Michigan and I imagine that some California kids might think the weather people are just downright liars. Different-shaped clouds? Clouds with blue sky behind them? In coastal California, we generally get two kinds of clouds: really low, thick clouds that mist all over us (we call it fog and get it largely in the summer) and higher thick clouds that rain all over us (we call that “storms” and we get it largely in the winter). To see isolated clouds here, to see anything that deviates from solid blue sky or a dense layer of grey something, is pretty unusual. And a real storm?

Sunset photo

Someone named Blair took this photo in Michigan. The range of colors and shapes you see in the sunsets there is really stunning

Where I grew up, there wasn’t much nature to be all that thrilled with. The virgin forests found by the French were all gone. You think California got clear-cut? Where I grew up, there wasn’t a tree over a hundred years old anywhere. And what happens when you cut down forests? You get swamps, bogs, slushy, ugly land with puny, stunted trees. We had a few grand oaks that the farmer who owned our land before us planted, and a few grand willows that my dad planted (and regretted when they got into the water pipes), but nothing extraordinary.

We lived far from the big lakes, and the lakes around our house were brownish greenish muddy. When you walked in them with your bare feet, the squidging feeling was really awful, and it took all my inner strength not to scream, “Ewwwww!!!” and run to find a swimming pool. Too bad they hadn’t invented water shoes yet, or if they had, they hadn’t made it to the Midwest.

What else can I do to slam my homeland? Well, then you had the weather. In each season, you had that perfect day: The gorgeous winter day of glistening snowdrifts and sunshine; the gregarious spring day of rain showers and budding flowers; the glorious summer day of warm sun and slight breeze; and the crisp fall day of a tremendous palette of leaves of every color.

I did say day, a singular noun, yes? The rest of the time you had slush, mud, intense heat, bitter cold, stifling humidity or crackling dryness. I might sometimes complain about the fog or rain here, but I know my complaint is silly.

On two occasions, I have been asked to offer a nugget of positive thinking about Michigan to travelers. One time, my husband was being sent on business to Detroit. I told him to check out Greek Town and the fabulous sunsets. He actually called me on his way to Ypsilanti, pulled over at the side of the highway, stunned by the amazing display in front of him. “This is fantastic!” he said to me.

Another time a friend’s girlfriend was going to grad school in Michigan, and he was following her. A fellow Midwestern transplant, he groaned as he told me, and asked me for something, anything, to ease his pain. Well, I said, this fall when the apple harvest is in, go to a cider mill. Get a cup of fresh-squeezed cider and a fresh donut. It’s unbelievable.

Again, my advice was appreciated.

Of course, I was a miserable child in Michigan, and I’m sure that there are many other things to recommend it. However, my childhood home does rather put this place in stark relief. We are so lucky in so many ways, not the least is our beautiful Monterey Bay, the anything-but-peaceful Pacific, the foothills and mountains, the redwoods, poppies, and banana slugs.

We sometimes wonder if our kids know what they’ve got. They probably think we’re really weird. OK, I know they think we’re really weird, especially when my husband and I pause at a stunning view and one of us spouts our well-worn refrain: “We live here!”

It’s nice, however, to have a day like our day of many clouds, when my daughter and I thrilled at seeing so many of the shapes represented. And then we got one loud crash of thunder in this place that seldom gets a lightning storm. It reminded me of the gorgeous clouds and sunsets of Michigan. The amazing, thrilling storms that sent us shrieking for the basement. The taste of apple cider that no cider mill in California can rival. A hot donut just out of the oil.

We’ve got a lot here, but we don’t have it all. And that’s a good thing, a thing to remind myself now that the sun has returned with our solid, blue skies. Somewhere in Michigan right now, someone is pulled over to the side of the road, basking in a natural glory that we Californians can hardly imagine.

Posted in Culture.

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