Walking on clouds

The coffee’s aroma had an extra perkiness early morning as I sat on a Leopold bench to drink in what I could of the northern Driftless Area’s countryside, or at least that which I could observe from our farm on the Eimon Ridge.

That perkiness came with a welcomed snap of cool air that arrived with this next-to-the-last day of August, it moving my mind’s calendar ahead 23 days to the autumn equinox. But summer it remains, even with the heavy steam the coffee created in the coolness trying to hide summer’s final bright burst of green shades framed below the azure morning sky.

We’d survived the few days of steamed summer heat that pressed down upon us; we’d survived the shower-room dampness of the previous days’ heat, humidity and rain. With August’s demise so often comes summer’s demise, and this morning was telling me that could be the case again this year.

I did what I suspect many would do in such a situation: holding my coffee mug up to my mouth and looking through the steam to the fog that covered the Timber Creek valley below our ridge. And, as people are apt to do, I allowed my mind to momentarily drift in the coffee’s clouds, all the way down onto the valley’s clouds.

A person who grew up in this neighborhood – who now resides in flatter lands a bit to the east of here – mentioned the other day how she’d always loved looking down from a ridge and onto a valley’s fog just as I was doing this morning. As she spoke, I pictured in my memory such mornings when the fog-so-thick covered all but the treetops in the valleys.

I allowed myself a ride on the coffee’s clouds, it carrying me down the ridge’s slope and onto the top of the valley’s fog. I tested the fog’s sturdiness and, with some trepidation, took a first step out onto it.

The fog had the firmness of sphagnum moss, a fluffy waterbed of cushion beneath my feet. And, on it, I roamed the valley from treetop to treetop, greeting the morning’s birds on the branches below and appraising the different green shades as seen from above instead of from below.

I checked each leaf to see whether there were hints of fall’s early start, finding some golden leaves appearing on some aspens but most leaves not ready to give up summer’s life.

A cardinal’s call from one of the old catalpas near my Leopold bench snatched me back from that fantasy cloud walk and dropped me back onto the real side of the coffee’s cloud.

There would, after all, be no walk on the valley’s fog – at least during this lifetime. Today, as with the rest of my days on this majestic ridge, I’m left with only wondering how such a walk would feel.

I contemplated how many others I’ve known as family, friends, acquaintances or other folks might ever have taken a moment to wonder what can come with the clouds draped upon a northern Driftless Area valley. Some I’ve known would shake their head in disbelief that anyone would waste time over that sort of consideration; some would offer to walk with me; some would flatly question my sanity. And some would suggest that I get my up from that bench, put my coffee mug away and get along with the day’s work.

Whether others choose to allow themselves into such thought isn’t of my concern, I decided. Those clouds are among those wonders about which I choose to consider, whether others agree or disagree that I should.

The sun started rising higher on the east horizon, warming the air a bit and starting to pull that foggy white quilt from the valley. Old, familiar trees and grasses started to appear and diamond-sparkle the morning’s dew on their green shades. The clouds from my coffee disappeared as the coffee cooled and the air warmed.

I swallowed the last of the coffee as I rose from the bench, looking around to realize that the birds had started to flitter around my feeding stations, them happy my attention to the valley’s clouds had allowed them to gobble seeds without interruption.

The birds exploded to their refuges in farmyard trees and bushes as I walked toward the house to deposit my coffee mug and get on with my work. I stopped to look back and hope those birds would be OK hanging out with me again tomorrow and the days after while I sit and daydream about the fog in the valley below.

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