Thursday, November 29, 2018

Clouds - Science on a Sphere

I am embarrassed that I have not posted here for such a long time.  SO, just to let you know that I am alive, I will share something that I did at the beginning of the month.

First, have you ever visited a Science on a Sphere? For people in the Lehigh Valley, the Nurture Nature Center hosts one of these orbs.  The experience of watching information projected on these large room-sized white globes is wonderful.

The Nurture Nature Center invited artists of all kinds to use one of the datasets designed for their sphere as inspiration for poetry, sculpture, stories, essays, visual art of all kinds.  This is the fifth year of this collaborative effort, titled Perspectives: Art on Environment.  I chose Clouds.

Wow!  I'm sure I chose the most beautiful dataset.  I wish I could show the dataset to you.  However, if you visit Science on a Sphere,  you can learn more about Clouds in Real Time here. 

I wrote an essay, included below.  But the big challenge was writing a song.  I have not recorded the song but I have added the lyrics here as well.

On November 9th, artists presented their work.  At the Nurture Nature Center, there are several rooms dedicated to art inspired by the environment.  Seven poets and other writers presented in front of the sphere as the information that inspired us displayed on the sphere.  It was ... I am at a loss for was inspiring, enthralling, emotional, AWESOME!!!!

I read my essay and then - deep breath - without accompaniment - I sang my song.  And I hit each note so it was GOOD!

What else have I been doing?  Telling, kid-sitting, mom driving, reading, cleaning, attempting to control the chaos that is my life.

If you want to read the lyrics and/or essay, here they are - lyrics first.  While I read the essay, a docent changed the projections to match what I wrote about.  I need some more short words that indicate wonderfulness.

 Cloud dreaming lyrics  by Karen Maurer

I have dreams I release in the moonlight
I have hopes I share with the sun
Like a mist, they form clouds of wishing
And around the world they run

All those dreams will fall with the raindrops
All those hopes will sparkle like snow
With each breath, I fill clouds with promise
Never knowing just where they will go

I breathe in the dreaming of others
I breathe in their hopes and their cares
Like the clouds, my sister’s and brother’s
secret wishes fly through the air.

All those dreams will fall with the raindrops
All those hopes will sparkle like snow
With each breath, they fill clouds with promise
Never knowing just where they will go

Deserts bloom when clouds burst upon them.
Mountains sleep in blankets of white.
Children dream of castles above them,
Watch them drift out of sight.

Share your dreams with the stars and the planets.
Share your hopes with the wind rushing by.
Make a wish for peace all around us.
Send good thoughts to the sky.

All those dreams will fall with the raindrops
All those hopes will sparkle like snow
With each breath, we fill clouds with promise
Never knowing just where they will go

Cloud Wish: or 6 Ways to Look at a Cloud by Karen Maurer

My friend watched as storm clouds raged high above the mesa.  Lightning flashed.  Even from that height, she heard the growl of thunder.  The cloud opened and rain fell. It disappeared in the searing heat, reabsorbed into the thunderhead.  It never touched the ground.

“It felt as if I could see the grace of God,” she told us later.  “But my despair kept the rain from reaching me.”

Humans imbue nature with hidden mysteries.  Clouds are among the most mysterious natural phenomena.  They are at the mercy of wind, thermals, the contour of the land and the waves in the sea.  Generations upon generations of farmers have used clouds to plan their harvests and plantings.  The clouds don’t always deliver. The promised rain is whisked out of range.  A blue sky darkens without any warning.  Like the storm above the mesa, promises are broken.

We waited more than two years to gather, children and grandchildren, on the family plot to lay our father to rest. The kind Deacon said a few words about his friend. He called my father “Francis”. We muttered, almost in unison, “Franklin”. 

The sky was blue, dotted with white clouds. Had I paid attention to the clouds that day, I would have sent my hopes and love to my far-flung brother and the sisters who were not able to attend. 

We have viewed clouds as messengers, used by gods and demigods for centuries. A pillar of cloud preceded the Israelites into the desert.  An Indian demigod used a cloud to reassure his wife that he would return to her.  Zeus hid in a cloud when he visited his lovers.  Clouds obscure the face of Yahweh, in the Hebrew Canon. 

Walking home with a small can of muddy water, the boy looks across the parched plain.  A shadow crosses over the ground.  A cloud!  He sighs.  His heart has leapt at clouds before, just to be disappointed.  The water hole is deeper now than it has ever been. Only a few handfuls of dank water can be  scooped up each day.  He turns back to the path, not noticing that another cloud rises from the horizon.

We fear clouds, wonder at them, read visions into them, deplore their existence.  Clouds carry life, portend disaster, bring us joy.  The single cumulus cloud our Ethiopian boy saw might carry water in tiny droplets to equal the weight of 100 elephants, approximately 600 tons.  The swirling clouds in a hurricane can carry water that weighs as much as every elephant on earth.

I pretended to see the puppy, the shark, the giant, the scissors, that my older brother and younger sister claimed was in the clouds.  But to me, in my pre-spectacled days, those clouds were just a mass of white against the blue of the sky.  My favorite days to watch clouds were windy days when the clouds raced like white horses out of sight.

Spend one full minute contemplating white clouds on a fair day.  In that minute, depending on the speed of the wind and the height of the clouds, you can watch small cloudlets gather to form a larger mass.  A cloud will change shape, break apart, blow away, right before your eyes.  No wonder the ancients thought clouds were magic!

Around Antarctica, clouds twist in intricate patterns,  like a middle eastern dance.

In the North, clouds follow the wind, obstructed by land masses.  They scatter, depending on the warmth or direction of the air.

My best friend’s mother always knew when a new batch of paint brewed in the mill not far from her house.  Even when there was no wind, a cloud of red dust fell onto her freshly washed laundry. 

The rain fell red during mixing season.  No amount of scrubbing or painting took the stain off the house.

“It’s a nice color,”  I reassured my friend, “sort of a brick red.”

“You don’t have to live with it,” she snorted.

Clouds are made of water vapor.  Every raindrop has a particle of dirt, or sand, or dust inside it.  Clouds carry the grit from sandstorms, ashes from volcanoes and fires, toxins from smokestacks, dust from deforested plains.  Humans determine the make up of clouds in more ways than we want to acknowledge.

I breathe in the wood smoke.  I love this smell.  I poke a stick into the fire until the end of the stick glows.  I pull it out and write my name in the early evening air. My breath rises in a small white cloud.  I breathe out again and this time I make a wish.
Our exhaled breath contains nitrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen as well as water vapor and a small amount of argon.  Other chemicals are inhaled and exhaled depending on the air around us.  Just like clouds, we carry poisons from second hand smoke, automotive exhaust and other gases. We can breathe those chemicals out into the air to rise with the water vapor -perhaps to join a cloud.

Imagine if your every wish or worry was translated into breath and carried across the world.  It might fall on a village in drought stricken Ethiopia.  Could your anger flavor the water?  Could your hope clear a muddy puddle? 

Now, when I look at clouds, I wonder what they carry.  Hope? Worry?  Promises?  Threats?  I wonder who might be riding on those winds.  Like the ancients, I search for messages from far away, or clues to my future, or advice for living.

I breathe out a wish for peace.  May a cloud carry it across the world!


Johnson, Doug. “The Chemical Composition of Exhaled Air from Human Lungs”, April 26, 2018,

Krulwich, Robert. “How Much Does a Hurricane Weigh?”, September 3, 2003,

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Clouds with Precipitation - Real Time”, (no date given).

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Clouds - Real Time”, (no date given)

Pretor-Pinney, Gavin. The Cloudspotter’s Guide : The Science, History and Culture of Clouds.  illustrated by Bill Sanderson. New York. Perigree Trade, 2006.

Revkin, Andrew. Weather; an Illustrated History. with Lisa Mechaley. New York, Sterling, 2018.

Wilcox, Eric M. Clouds. London, Duncan Baird Publishers, 2008.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Dactyl HIll Squad - ON Sale NOW!

The Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older is an odd mix of sci-fi - dinosaurs roam the world;  historical fiction - the setting is the Civil War; and coming-of-age.

The main character,  Magdalys Roca, lives at the Colored Children's Orphanage in New York City during the Civil War.  During a trip to the theater, Magdalys begins to suspect that she can communicate with the dinosaurs that New Yorkers use as messengers and transportation. This secret skill becomes more and more important as slavers attempt to kidnap the orphans and angry New Yorkers take out their frustrations about the Civil War on citizens of color.

It took awhile to build the background. Magdalys' missing siblings, her relationships with the other orphans, the network of adults and teens who work to reclaim kidnapped children, and the ways that dinosaurs helped and worked for humans - these are all pieces that must be fit together while the story moves along.

But once those pieces fall into place, this is a rollicking good tale with action, tween angst and obstinacy, twists and lots and lots of bad guys!

I mean - dinosaurs?  and kids? and flying? and good vs evil?  It's all in here, along with some awesome historical perspective on race and racism.

I read the ARC.  Older references real Civil War battles and racial strife.  I hope the book adds some references to explain the historical events in the book.

 Book - Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Cry Baby

I was a cry-baby.   I owned my crying-ness until I turned 9.  That year I made a brave attempt to stop sniffling every time my feelings or any part of my person was hurt or frightened or angry.     My attempts resulted in a stupendous wail of pent up tears after an almost fight with a bully in the school yard.  I did not cry when I was scolded by Mother Superior.  I did not cry facing down the boy who taunted a school mate and tried to play connect-the-dots with her freckles.  I did not cry until almost an hour later when the hot angry tears erupted in a wail that sounded like a fire engine in our quiet classroom.  My teacher, who was not present at the "fight" or the scolding had no idea what happened.

By college, I decided I was someone who cried easily and that it was all right to be that person.  But years of not crying when I wanted to had confused my "weirdness" radar.  Like a lot of young women, I ended up in positions I did not want to be in because I did not want to make a scene.  Even reclaiming my emotional self did not reset my ability to know when to run.  Heaven forbid, that I hurt someone else's feelings or that I be a "coward" for not wanting to "try something new"! 

My granddaughter likes to cry when she's afraid or something hurts or she gets mad or feels sad.  She likes to cry.  She knows it.  And she is not apologetic.  It can be wearing for her parents and other family members.  She is so good at it, so heartbroken.  Those tears fall and, alas, we rush to comfort her.

In this world of trying to respect other people's rights to be who they are AND of wondering how to teach all children, but especially girls, that they have the right to their feelings, how do we help a child  learn when to cry and when not to cry? (Whew!  Long sentence!)  And is this something we  need to teach?

Humans continue to amaze and confound me.  The way we adapt to society's expectations is not always good.  Books help.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of any books to tell children that crying is okay - even for little things.  I can't think of books that help children calm themselves down.  As my opening story shows, bottling strong emotions didn't work for me.  I find a private place to cry when the urge is too strong. 

However, there are LOTS of books that help children understand what is going on when they are confused, frightened, angry, sad or overwhelmed.

Some websites are great for booklists.  Check this one out.

Brightly's Books to Handle All Kinds of Uncomfortable Emotions.  

I hope these books will help you and your children become comfortable with your feelings and learn how to use them to help the world.

Smooch and a hug to you all.