The Wisdom of Clouds, in Africa and Elsewhere, Part 1

By Tom Cole April 8, 2016

There’s a line in the Micato brochure about clouds on the Serengeti that “pile up in grandly crazy towers, looking like computer-generated special effects.” A colleague took mild issue with the last part of that description—the special effects part. “Too jarring,” she said. “It takes you away from the actual world.”

There may be some truth in that. But so digital is our world—and so photoshopped our photographs—that we sometimes fleetingly wonder if what we’re seeing is actual, or whipped up for our benefit by some unseen Oz with a whizbang computer.

puffy clouds over African elephants
Dear and great Elspeth Huxley wrote in “The Flame Trees of Thika” of “frothy mountain ranges of clouds piled one atop the other.” If everyday African clouds like these were terraforms, they’d be world wonders. Think of their opalescent whiteness, shifting in intensity and subtle color, reflecting the moving sun, every moment of every day.

It’s one of the joys of safari that—though it might take a day or two—we realize with pleasure- bordering-on-relief that wilderness Africa isn’t some sort of dreampark or hologram. “I’m spending a lot of time,” a New York Times writer said in a safari article recently, “trying to make what is happening seem real.”

Well, I’m glad you’re getting out more, I thought. Because, safari, as Isak Dinesen wrote, is definitely “the really true world–where I probably once lived 10,000 years ago.”

And when we settle into the eternally non-virtual world of safari’s World Apart, we begin to see things freshly. Clouds, for instance.

In my next blog, I’ll do some cloud-extolling and pondering and I’ll propound the theory that if great, fabulously billowing, scenically triumphant clouds lasted for a few days, plutocrats–frustrated that they couldn’t buy them–would nonetheless fly from far away in their jets, just to see them.

African sunset
Coming up, the simple but–to me–rather amazing story behind this straightforward picture of an African sunrise.

Up Next: The Truth About the Taj Mahal, Part 2