Like many other locales in the eastern United States, the Shenandoah Valley has been experiencing some marvelous, unseasonably warm weather. After morning fogs burn off, clear blue skies have dominated most days.
Imagine my surprise when I stepped outside one recent afternoon to enjoy the amazing weather. What appeared to be an army of wispy cirrus clouds hung in the eastern sky. Cirrus clouds are ice crystals that form above 20,000 feet in the atmosphere. They often appear bright white and in unusual formations, sometimes resembling human hair or feathers.
I thought their bright white against the deep blue sky created an inspiring scene. “Cirrus Clouds” is my Photo of the Week.
For good or for ill, technology has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives.
Robots began to invade the workforce assembly lines when I was a youngster. Never could I have imagined how far they would be integrated into our daily lives. Technology is advancing so rapidly that as soon as you buy a new cell phone, for example, it becomes obsolete.
We are so dependent on technology that we become exasperated when it doesn’t always work. If the power source goes out, we are stymied. Our electronic gizmos seem to be controlling us rather than the other way around.
For all of the promises of making life simpler, easier, and more rewarding, technology can be a pain in the neck. In my case, the pain was real.
I recently took my laptop computer in for its annual checkup. I believe that it’s good to have a trained technician clean up your technology every now and then. That assumption turned problematic.
Skipping all of the gory details, let’s just say the guy pushed the wrong buttons on my keyboard. Consequently, a newer operating system unintentionally replaced my old one. I was unaware of the far-reaching ramifications.
When I began writing in the word processor, I found myself typing in the cloud, wherever that is. Thousands of my photos disappeared along with hundreds of research bookmarks.
The techs were baffled. My mind raced, fearing all the negative possibilities. The good guys at the computer shop felt just as bad.
They said they would uninstall the new system and reinstall the old one using the info backed up on my external drive. The techs thought that would restore my lost data and photos. It didn’t quite work out that way.
I silently implemented my meditation breathing skills to stay calm. Apparently, I need more practice. I woke the next morning with a stiff and painful neck. I attributed the previous day’s stress as a likely cause.
I realize technology has done wonders for global societies. Thanks to solar power developments, remote third-world villages can generate power for their community water well. That ensures local residents have safe, clean drinking and cooking water.
Where would the medical field be today without the technological advances in equipment and practices that have simplified radical surgeries? Technology also allows medical personnel to communicate remotely, saving time, money, and, more importantly, lives.
Firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and police depend on high tech equipment to help them do their jobs better, more efficiently, and more safely. Thermal imagining cameras, for example, help first responders locate trapped or lost people.
Smartwatches and smartphones allow society to instantly communicate person to person or group to group. People once geographically isolated from world events now follow global news as it happens.
There are drawbacks as well. Universities have to paint warning signs on sidewalks for students to look up when they come to a crosswalk at a street corner. Why? Because nearly all of them are walking and talking on their cell phones, oblivious to their surroundings.
Don’t get me started on the misuse of social media, phone apps, or even the Houston Astros.
My world improved when the technicians were able to reinstall the new operating system and updated word processing software. I once again began typing on my computer instead of somewhere out there. Most of my photos were restored as well.
However, the irritating pain in my neck remained. I’m still working with technicians of a different sort to get that repaired.
It was a cloudy day all across the United States. My wife and I flew five hours from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.
A blanket of gray covered the entire area of the northwestern United States and southwestern Canadian provinces. On liftoff, it didn’t take long for the jetliner to punch through the clouds, and quickly climb above them.
As the plane leveled out at its cruising altitude, splotches of brown and green peeked through the gray and puffy white clouds. Were we over Washington, Idaho, Montana? I didn’t know, and it didn’t matter.
We were winging it home after a two-week stint of sampling nearly every type of transportation imaginable. On our extended trip, we hopped on planes, trains, buses, cars, vans, SUVs, boats, old Army troop trucks, ships, and even repurposed school buses. We walked a lot, too. Now we were back on a jet heading home.
It was Alaska or bust for us this time. Unlike too many of the old gold prospectors of long ago, the 49th state was no bust for us. Neither was the Yukon Territory, which geographically mirrored much of Alaska’s towns, mountains, and inland rivers.
We had crossed back and forth between the two countries several times. But now in the sky, borders were insignificant, indefinable. They were unrecognizable as God meant them to be until man intervened and contrived invisible boundary lines. Bees, butterflies, grizzly bears, bald eagles, and migrating birds deemed them meaningless.
The clouds thinned over America’s breadbasket. Their charcoal shadows indiscriminately cast jigsaw-like puzzle pieces onto croplands and the Badlands alike.
From the jetliner, more ominous storm clouds appeared, and the earth again disappeared. We flew south of the sharp anvil-shaped thunderheads that towered 20,000 feet higher than the 37,000 feet we reached.
Once clear of the storms, I saw the mighty Mississippi River turn and twist beneath the haze as the plane began to bounce in the turbulence ahead of the weather front we had breached. Fastened seatbelts kept us in place until the skies smoothed and summer’s famous white, fluffy clouds steered us eastward.
The clouds were broken enough for me to finally distinguish details on the ground seven miles below. Jagged rows of giant windmills sprouted in the quilt-patterned patches of midwestern agriculture. I wondered if the farmers regretted or relished the decision to take the money and let the monsters run.
Directly to the north, I could see an airport and a city butted up against the end of a large lake. It had to be Duluth, Minnesota at the western tip of Lake Superior.
East of the Big Muddy, clouds blanketed the states like one continuous unrolled sheet of quilt batting gone ballistic. Then the cottony layer transitioned into cotton balls. I could see Michigan’s western shoreline, even the little inlet to Traverse City.
The plane began its gradual descent. Lake Erie appeared through the summer haziness, then Columbus, and then the squiggly Ohio River. In West Virginia, rows and rows of hundreds of windmills towered above lush hardwood forests on old, folded mountain ridges. John Denver played in my head.
As the sun waned, the plane drew lower and lower. We crossed the Appalachians, the Shenandoah Valley, and the Blue Ridge Mountains, all in less than a minute. Through the haze, we landed with a gentle bounce.
We had had a marvelous trip, but it was good to be home under a cloudless sky.
I love clouds. Their various formations, ever-changing shapes, and interplay with light intrigue me.
I had just arrived home after an all day drive from out of state when I spotted this cloud seemingly exploding over the hill behind our home. The cloud was so thick the late evening sun barely filtered through, creating varying color patches among the grays and silver.
The deep orange crescent moon sat just above the tree line on the dusky horizon. Fanned out high over its tip, Saturn, Mars and Venus sparkled in the late evening sky.
Lightening flashed suddenly and silently interrupting the cloudless scene. Radar indicated the thunderstorm 120 miles southeast near Parkersburg, West Virginia.
The next morning, this natural display of awe and beauty was enthusiastically discussed among those who know the value of such a free show. They were gathered in the shade of a vendor’s tent at the annual Family Farm Field Day event.
It was more than appropriate and not the least bit ironic that such talk should take place at an educational affair celebrating the goodness of the land. These were people who knew the importance of Mother Earth, who knew how to care for her, appreciate her, and affirm her, even profit from her without rendering her useless or sterile.
The venue was as uplifting as the conversation about the storm. Hundreds of black buggies stood side by side against the woods, their unhitched horses now shaded.
Cars, vans and pickup trucks entered at the east gate. Along the drive, dozens of bicycles leaned against chain link fencing that separated yards from right of way and kept children from wandering into the long, graveled lane.
In between these contrasting parking lots, thousands of people milled beneath several large tents searching for information on how to better care for the earth. The slight bluff on which the action took place created a symbolic subliminal significance of man and land over that of man and mobility.
Though most were dressed in homemade denim with suspenders or pastel dresses with coverings and spoke a language I should have learned long ago, I was both at home and in harmony with them. We were all there for the same reason, to learn more about caring for and nurturing the land that provides us sustenance and shelter.
Besides the vendors’ displays, tents for keynote speakers, farmsteads and homemakers were erected in a huge horseshoe pattern around the pastured plateau. Of course, there were food tents, too. I couldn’t decide which I liked best, the sugar and cinnamon hot soft pretzel or the salty sweet kettle corn.
With the hot summer sun beating down, shade was at a premium for those seeking relief. That did not deter them from exploring the inescapable interconnection between humankind and our responsibility of caring for the environment.
To be sure, that is serious business. But it was nice to see it presented in such fun and informative ways for multiple generations. To the point, bird, butterfly and nature walks were filled to overflowing.
But what was really special for me was the dialogue on the previous night’s celestial display. Some of us saw what is erroneously called “heat lightening.”
From the backside of the storm, which is always the safest and prettiest angle, others
saw huge, billowing columns sail through the darkening sky. The higher they rose, the more the lightening sizzled in and out of them, brightly illuminating the swelling clouds.
One in the group had actually been under the building storm and arrived home in time to also watch the stunning electrical display. To hear that enthusiasm, plus see the genuine, cross-generational interest in caring for the ecosystem by so many people stirred my soul.
I left thoroughly uplifted, and with one large bag of kettle corn to go.