Cloud Story by Ivo Hardies bupabopi Jason Pym Illustration

There are places more transited by clouds than others, there are places where they rarely disturb the blue sky.  And there are places that trap for their spectacular beauty, and are tempting even to the clouds. Cangshan is one of them. Nineteen mountain peaks overlooking a plateau valley with a huge lake shaped like an ear. Between each peak stream down torrents of water from glaciers or the many springs emerging everywhere. A cold, clear water fast descending the many slopes towards the lake, causing such dense vegetation that only birds and squirrels can move freely.  The early settlers hardly ventured into the woods that separated the lake shores of the green slopes, full of herbs, trees of diverse species and flowers. Delicate and slender in the lakeside, the stems become more woody as they rise in altitude. Azaleas of the most varied colors brighten the foreground of the view that can be enjoyed from the higher valleys.

Both lake and mountain cause the eternal presence of clouds. Cirrus, cirrostratus, cirrocumulus, cumulus, altocumulus, altostratus, stratocumulus, cumulus nimbus, stratus, fractostratus … all pass through, maybe limping a bit on the slopes or in one of the many mountain peaks, to cross afterwards the valley or merge with the lake, always together. More than a cloud is amazed by the beauty of a place in particular, but can’t do anything about it, only sigh over their eternal nomadic life and dream that they will soon find a place as beautiful as this.

The clouds have always been united in a common identity that turns them into a single being.  Although they appear isolated, they are actually one showing its many forms: elongated, fluffy, frayed or a crazy spiral. Depending on the amount of light they scatter, they are white, gray, or endless colors revolving from pristine white to pinkish through various shades of blue, yellow or red.

They soar across skies talking to each other as if thinking out loud, keeping distance when angry and joining each other when intoxicated by storms, charged with water even if they seem empty of all matter, but never separating from their family more than allowed. Clouds are never isolated but belong to a group, a well-defined clan, that has to keep on moving with a minimal binding, leaving place to those coming behind. Clouds are nomadic per life, an eternal life that never ends, they just change shape, from condensed steam to water drops that fall to form part of a lake, a river, the sea.

Until they re-condense and become again water droplets suspended on atmospheric dust. If a cloud is delayed in the physical change, it stays dormant over where her sisters have fallen or they wait for her from above, but they must always go together, or relatively together. There has never, ever been a cloud flying solo.

The light that hints below the horizon heralds the arrival of the sun. Today is going to be a bright day. One can start to guess the forms of the new valley to which they have arrived. Cloud loves to come to a new place at night and discover it in the sunlight when she has already been hours in the unknown. She loves that feeling of unreality, that of knowing you in a place without knowing how it is. Her sisters accumulate besides her, waiting for the sun to warm the cold air coming out of the ground, and thus get to rise, starting the movement. They all are eager to go to the lake. The view from the mountain is wonderful, but when the sun makes the clear waters of the lake shine all the clouds are amazed with the heat that the light generates. This site is idyllic and they are all enjoying it. But Cloud feels something else. To her, it is impossible to leave the mountain. It is as if the slopes are loudly begging her to stay. She doesn’t understand how her desire isn’t general and unanimous. Although she has always had problems with authority, even her own. And the beauty of the place makes it much easier to rebel against anyone.

Her sisters begin to descend into the valley, gliding over the slopes covered with dense forest, only interrupted by meadows of green grass. But she likes the tickling sensation that the mountain top gives her. She looks sideways,  and her desire to expand grows with that glance, following it as a natural thought, beginning to spread over the many peaks arising from the ridge to the north, to the south. Mmmmm … the pleasure helps her to ignore the protests of her sisters. “Cloud, what are you doing? The weather is not for you to stretch out along the ridge, but to go down to the lake with us.” But Cloud doesn’t want to merge with the water, being forced into finding herself again.

Strange how, though she loses herself momentarily when she merges with the non-condensed water, her mischievous identity seeks herself, to evaporate again as Cloud, part of the others but yet unique and nontransferable. For the first time her rebellion makes her stronger than ever, so she becomes increasingly dense, she moves though she seems still, until she is a blanket of cotton candy over the summits. Her sisters have already disappeared in the lake, not before looking back, full of concern. They actually didn’t want to merge with the lake, but the fact that Cloud does not descend with them becomes a problem, the breeze would push them too far, leaving her behind, and if she meets the following cloud clan, they would all have a big problem with the high authorities. Their cloud existence could dwindle, even being eternal! They would be punished by becoming a water that doesn’t leave the pipes. So they decide to dissolve and fall unexpectedly as gentle rain on the lake, and wait impatiently until Cloud decides to move. And she does, but it doesn’t seem that she intends to join them. She walks around the mountain, the different valleys, exploring every corner, every tree, enjoying each view, all different but equally beautiful. She becomes small and discreet, sometimes a mere mist that almost goes unnoticed, upsetting her sisters even more. Finally she decides to drop into the water of a spring that leads her full speed downhill, ending in the lake.

“I will not leave” she says firmly to her sisters, before any has the time to protest. “I’m tired of nomadic life, I’ve seen enough of the world, I’m staying here.” “You cannot leave us! It’s forbidden!” “Then tell the high authorities they can come find me and punish me.” “We can not function without you, you are part of us!” “You’ve done it many times, it is obvious that my independent thinking does not affect you to do what you must, and leaving the group will do you more a favor than anything else.”

The heat of the sun turns the surface of the lake into a large pan, clouds begin to evaporate again, fighting at first to stay on the surface of the lake, waiting for a decision. If they united their wishes with all their might, Cloud would have real difficulty maintaining her rebellion. But the group lacks sufficient strength. They are tired of fighting against the current. And Cloud has taken refuge in a deep cave, where the sun’s rays can’t reach to drag her to the surface and out of the water. Sad and relieved at the same time, the clouds of the clan regroup above the lake, floating, hopelessly scrutinizing the darker parts where they know the black sheep of the family has hidden. And suddenly a gust of wind throws them against the mountains on the other side, much lower than Cangshan, thus no real obstacle. Gradually, the last cloud of the clan loses sight of the beautiful valley, to continue their eternal journey, lightened of a weight that they now find unnecessary.

The valley sky is limpid, the passage of this clan of clouds has been faster than usual, the following cloud clan has not yet arrived. Cloud evaporates before the sun loses its strength, creating a small, discreet formation to avoid suspicion. She doesn’t really know from what she’s hiding, the valley is sparsely populated, and the animals have enough concern surviving each day to pay attention to this solitary cloud that carefully crosses the sky,  going in the opposite direction as usual, back to the mountain of her dreams.

When the fierce winter winds hit the region, Cloud condenses and drops on the springs or the lake, to avoid being pushed out of what she already considers her rightful home. During the monsoons, when it rains every other day and also in between, Cloud hides inside the cave of the lake, something unnecessary, because the monsoon clouds, real workaholics, are so busy that they would never have noticed that presence not belonging to their clan.

And when new clans of clouds climb to the crest of the mountain to appear in this valley, Cloud becomes a sigh of herself, to hide among the trees of a forest or in some crag corner.

Over years and centuries, few have noticed the presence of that strange cloud only to be seen when it makes little sense, a cotton fleck cheerfully riding the 20 mountain valleys or skirting the edge of lake, or on her favorite position, extended and compact along the mountain ridge. And the few that have noticed would never say anything the other clouds, because Cloud is already an indelible part of the landscape of Cangshan.