As I drove east this morning and rose into the western margin of the Rockies, I could see behind me a broad sea of cloud coming across the Palouse hills. The distant cloud front was hummocked, a rolling band of white that extended as far as I could see on the western horizon from south to north.
I walked into the mountains in a forest of pine and Douglas fir. The snow beneath the trees was contoured, rolling over downed logs and mounds of small shrubs, around the edges and hollows of soil. The glare on the snow made me think of flying over clouds. The temperatures have been high enough for the snow to melt and crust, which offered ice glints. This snow was more embodied than clouds; at least its shadows accentuated the curves that made me think of torsos and thighs. There were tracks, too—too many deer, a rodent that dragged its tail, and birds. Mine were the largest of the tracks, although the stiff snow largely held my steps while crunching under them. When I fly, I often think of walking on clouds, especially on early morning flights when the sun is sharp on the billows. That thought of stepping onto cloud, tapping with my toe for footing, takes my breath away.
When I returned in the afternoon, the clouds were nearer. The leading edge stood like iced waves caught breaking. When I was within a mile of the front, I could resolve movement in the upturned waves of the cloud as it moved across the landscape. Its frayed edge crept— glacially, it seemed as I drove—over the snow-covered hills. As I entered town, I entered a wave, although where water would have had bow-like strands of white froth, the cloud had brown fibers. The edge was a textured matrix with pockets of yellow light. My house was deep beneath the cloud, where there were no shadows, just an even gray grain—I could have been in the crystalline interior of a snow bank, where the crust reflected nearly all light, leaving only shadow.