What Are the Clouds Called?
"The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.”—Chinese proverb
There is enormous clarity, insight and power in the act of naming. You probably know people who seem to wholly inhabit their names—and perhaps others whose possession of a certain name changes your perspective on the word. We so often live through, and up to, our names.
The process of naming is such an integral part of making meaning. Mothers, when they wait for the arrival of a new baby spend hours, weeks and even months pondering possible names for the new child that will arrive and change the dynamic of that family forever.
Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? It just might, judging by how few of us know the names for clouds, despite their enchanting ubiquity.
Leland, the leader and head-creative here at Little Cloud Kites puts much thought into the names he gives his kite designs. “Ephemerals” is the name of one of our premiere kite designs, (here). If you’ve ever lived in a colder climate, with a relatively short growing season, you can probably guess why. But the word “ephemeral” also has such a lovely rhythm and cadence to it—form makes meaning too.
The kite is a wonderful example of form making, or contributing to, the meaning a thing might have. We love kites for so many reasons, but one of those reasons is the connections kites help to facilitate, with the sky and the wind—a place and an element that people don’t always consider during our day-to-day.
And yet, the sky is with us all the time, ever-present with its watercolour moodiness and changeability.
It was way back in 1896 that the Cloud Committee of the International Meterological Conference published the first classification of clouds, in its “International Cloud Atlas.”
The four main cloud types were given Latin names, including “Nimbus”, meaning “rain cloud, “Cirrus”, meaning “curl”, “Stratus”, meaning “layer”, and “Cumulus” meaning “heap.” Mares’ tails in a mackerel sky is a phrase I remember my father teaching me from my childhood, and yet this sentence has become untethered from the clouds themselves. Isn’t it strange how words stay with us, even if the literal meaning is long gone from our minds?
Children certainly have an intuitive connection words and names and with the shapes of clouds—it’s a dog! It’s a a wizard! Kids have a way of cutting through uncertainty, and going straight to the essence—the truth, if not the facts.
Through our own adult contemplative kite-play, we’re finding our way back to the sky, returning to long-lost words for clouds and other things, circling around to new old ways of looking at the world.
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