My mom and dad were always telling my brother and me to lie on our backs in the yard and watch the clouds go by. Along with this I was encouraged to see animals in the clouds, but this often led to arguments with my brother about what was in the cloud. It’s kind of like dating or politics. It’s “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” thing.
Humans are pattern-seeking animals anyway. I see patterns everywhere. I have tile in my bathroom that, when I first moved here, looked to me like a poor guy carrying an immense boulder — or the world — on his back. He looks up at me with his tiny face as if he is asking for help. I can still find him if I look, but now I see other things or nothing at all but tile. I think I saw that guy because that’s how I felt when I retired and moved away from California.
When I was 41 I asked myself a dangerous question. I was riding my bike down a single track that I loved and knew well. I looked over at the hill to my right behind which the sun was setting. There was a strange green glow above the hill, an optical illusion caused by the red of the sun. I thought, “What’s real, anyway?” That question dragged me down the rabbit hole of a major depressive crisis.
Since then I’ve come to understand that’s the question we should ask all the time, the question that liberates us from illusion in all its manifestations. I’ve also learned we — or, any rate, I — can never live in a world without illusion. It’s a constant battle.
Yesterday I took Bear out to the Wildlife Refuge. I’d heard cranes when I stepped out my back door and decided that a long walk in that wide and empty place was just what we needed. Well, what we always need. The sky was amazing. In every direction are mountains of different altitudes, distances from me, geologies. Above the various ranges were different kinds of clouds. Over the La Garitas to the northwest were sinuous lenticular clouds, stretching out under the wind and the convection of warm air rising from the earth. I didn’t take a photo because all I had (or have most of the time) is my phone and the clouds would not be all that visible in a phone photo. I found myself thinking about their beauty and how they were formed and not whether or not they looked like sea lions. There is, for me, more wonderment in reality than in pareidolia.