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Net uncovers new type of cloud

There are reports of a new type of cloud, one that is not currently in the official International Cloud Atlas. Or, possibly, it is a formation that’s been around forever, but the scattered reports are only now coalescing thanks to the Net.

According to Amazon’s review of Richard Hamblyn’s The Invention of Clouds, we only began thinking clouds could be categorized in 1802 when Luke Howard started giving public lectures. The very idea that clouds — the paradigm of uncatchable — could be divided into groups was (apparently) fascinating and thrilling. (Lamarck had also categorized clouds, but it didn’t catch on.)

A quick googly scan makes it seem that the cloud taxonomy is pretty messy. For example, the University of Illinois’ “cloud types” page lists four broad categories, and a list of miscellaneous clouds, each of which is categorized under one of the four basic types, evoking a “Huh?” reaction from at least one of us. The cloud taxonomy page at Univ. Missouri-Columbia lists eight types. Do you categorize by what they look like, how high they are, what they do (rain or not?), which celebrity profiles they resemble …? Categorizing clouds is truly a Borgesian task.

And, dammit, wouldn’t you know? Here’s a poem by Jorge Luis Borges called: “Clouds (II)” (with the line-endings probably removed):

Placid mountains meander through the air, or tragic cordilleras cast a pall, overshadowing the day. They are what we call clouds. And their shapes are often strange and rare. Shakespeare observed one once. It seemed to be a dragon. That one cloud of an afternoon still kindles in his words and blazes down, so that we go on seeing it today. What are the clouds? An architecture of chance? Perhaps they are the necessary things from which God weaves his vast imaginings, threads of a web of infinite expanse. Maybe the cloud is emptiness returning, just like the man who watches it this morning.

(translated by Richard Barnes. B; Robert Mezey; Richard Barnes. “Clouds (II). (poem).” The American Poetry Review. World Poetry, Inc. 1996. HighBeam Research. 11 Oct. 2009 v)

More Borges poems

2 Responses to “Net uncovers new type of cloud”

  1. David, are you a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society? If not, it’s my duty and my pleasure as an Appreciator to extend an invitation:

    And so we say to all who’ll listen:
    Look up, marvel at the ephemeral beauty, and live life with your head in the clouds!

  2. Wow, what a coincident; I’m reading Bill Bryson’s brilliant “The history of nearly everything” for the second time, and I’m right now at the chapter about cloud categorization. :)

    He’s been doing some snooping, and it seems that, yes, there are four basic categories, but they’re actually facets. Then, various people and books have come up with further categories (or facets), for example a book from 1880 that had 9 categories, where the 9th was the final fluffy soft one (and where ‘being on cloud nine’ comes from, as a nice fluffy place to be).

    Now there’s many different category systems, but at large seems to be ignored by most, including meteorologists. 4 facets, and everything else is, eh, Miscellaneous. :)

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