A few years back, my friend and local writer Stanley Fisher told me about a collection of essays he planned to curate, giving writers a chance to answer the question, "What's your simple pleasure?" Unfortunately for us, Stanley didn't stick around long enough to complete the project--he shipped out of the earthly plane not long after telling me about it. Before he went, he did share HIS simple pleasure: "Blue Skies and Cotton-Puff Clouds." On days like this in Portland, Oregon, when the sky provides that exact mix, Stanley comes to mind (such was the case today). The following is his essay.
by Stanley Fisher
With those two words the heart lightens, troubles ease and imagination expands to hold half of heaven. If only we could have blue skies all the time. For much of the year you can, if you enjoy living in deserts of sand, or ice.
It’s not the blue sky itself that lightens some things and expands others; too much blue sky causes oxidation, wilt, sunburn. It’s the way the sky changes out of winter’s grey flannel into a new spring suit, or when it removes its rain clouds like taking off a broad-brimmed hat to show me its sunniest smile. And when that beautiful face is accessorized with a necklace and earrings made from huge clouds white as cotton puffs, I fall in love with the sky all over again.
My home state, Oregon, is a place immensely proud of its mythology and despite the pressures of truth and the inquiries of outsiders, meteorologists, and other doubters, we strive to preserve it. One of our greatest myths is that it rains here all the time. Another is that if you live here, you will grow webbed feet.
But here in western Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the most populous part of the state, just ask anyone: it is oddly wet and blue skies are oddly rare. Cars don’t wear out here, they rust. And people don’t really get fat here they just absorb the atmospheric moisture and swell.
I have cousins in southern California; they wash their cars a lot. They like not having to think much about blue skies, they take them for granted. In Oregon we take grey skies for granted. We like not having to think much about washing cars; we know it’s going to rain.
When you’re a child you spend a lot of time looking down at the ground, at bugs and worms and things; and a lot of time looking up at clouds shaped like ships that turn into sharks that turn into ice cream sundaes. And in the middle of your life you spend a lot of time looking straight ahead.
Grey days and mid-life are much the same, a lot of looking straight ahead, cloudy with a chance of drizzle, not much momo to look up. Then it happens: one of those rare days to see ice cream sundaes in the clouds, one of those days to get wrapped in the embrace of bliss. The temperature draws me outside and my blue sky, home from some sunnier escape, presents herself bejeweled with cotton-puff clouds.
Rare days like that cover me like the lopsided boyhood tents built with sheets borrowed long ago from mom’s linen closet. Over cords strung from the top of dad’s favorite chair to a handle on the opposite cabinet hung a miniature sky of cotton percale and beneath it new worlds came and went.
Rare days like that nudge me off the course of myself and my own little world and my own brief life and make me look up and recall ships and sharks and connect with things greater. Whether it’s those fantastic scenes imagined beneath living room tents or today’s expansive reality, the effect is still the same. Calm hues, brilliant highlights, and soft shadows wash over me in currents that gather up troubles, fears, worries—and for a moment—sweep them away.
Some tell stories about their “out-of-body” experiences. I’ve never had one of those but every time blue skies brush aside the usual grey backdrop and cotton-puff clouds distract me from the usual forward gaze, there’s an “out-of-me” experience that never lasts quite as long as I’d like. But as it departs it always does so cordially with a quiet promise of coming again another day.
And as real life reasserts itself I return to wherever I was before getting nudged off course; a little happier, a little saner and a little more certain it’s possible to face whatever troubles there may be by looking up at blue skies and cotton-puff clouds.