“Yeah, that’s pretty good. They really do resemble bears, don’t they?”
“Oh, look! That white one’s really unusual. Reminds me of a white, fluffy poodle standing up on its hind legs.”
“Hmm. Yeah. It certainly does . . . very unusual to see them in that vertical formation.”
Silence for a minute or two.
“Now that one is very much like a boy lying down, looking up into the sky, and smiling.”
It’s probable that by now you have guessed . . . we—my wife and I—were talking about some very interesting cloud formations, which to our eye resembled animals and a boy.
We were heading west, travelling along the 401 freeway in Southwestern Ontario. As the driver, I had to be careful, but was able to look ahead of us and join in the fun. I commented that it is amazing how those forms develop randomly, and yet some of them clearly resemble people, animals, and other things.
Now, I’m no meteorologist, physicist, scientist, mathematician, or psychologist, and yet venture to postulate as a layperson on these phenomena. We understand that natural forces give rise to the development of clouds, and that they will of necessity take one form or another. Also, that natural forces of air currents, the sun, changing temperature, et cetera, bring about movement and changes in those formations.
However, there is, from the human point of view, the aspect of randomness in what form those clouds actually take. These things occur without any human planning or conscious choice to create them. Therefore, it is entirely accidental that a cloud looks like a bear, a dog, or a human being—or a car, boat, bus, whatever.
We neared our destination, and the sun grew large, presenting itself golden orange in its descent towards the horizon. Breathtaking vistas of cloud banks stretched before us. Pastel shades and solid colours—from light pinks and reds to fiery orange-yellow, from sky blue to indigo, grey, and taupe, and from mauve to purple-black—delighted us. Gorgeous skyscapes featuring soaring mountains and calm waters, laced with silver and gold, and with islands breaking their surface, set my imagination on fire.
We saw them all. Marvellous. These were all ours for free! The dipping sun and scenic skies couldn’t help it; they offered those delights out of what they were, and the physics of refraction and light inadvertently acted on them.
What is not random, though, is that as onlookers we saw and recognized those shapes. I’d suggest that our minds, drawing from previous knowledge and experience, via memory, processed what our eyes beheld. The result was that we recognized those semblances in the clouds, and distinguished them from what otherwise appeared to us as completely amorphous condensed water vapour, floating in the sky.
Language and writing can be rather like that. To explain: if you have been gracious enough to read these ramblings up to this point, you may have by now recognized that they are not entirely without forces giving them form; that they are not entirely random. I have been intentional, not random.
During the last five minutes you’ve had images in your own mind. You’ve seen clouds resembling bears, a dog, and a boy. You’ve witnessed the glories of nature as seen in an evening sky, while driving west towards the setting sun, and all without even having to leave your house or look out of your window; and you didn't really need the graphic pictures we've added, either.
And how? Because your mind was able—in some measure—to replicate the images described, your mental faculties drawing from your own experience. Deep calls to deep. Resonance and evocation are marvellous processes that enrich our lives as humans made in the image of God. That response in your mind was at least, to some extent, automatic.
Beyond all this talk of randomness, my heart sings, Then sings my soul, my Saviour, God, to Thee . . . How great Thou art!
Peter A. Black is a freelance writer living in Southwestern Ontario.