Story type: Essay
Who has ever done justice to the majesty of the clouds? Alice Meynell, perhaps? George Meredith? Shelley, who was “gold-dusty with tumbling amongst the stars?” Henry Van Dyke has sung of “The heavenly hills of Holland,” but in a somewhat treble pipe; R.L.S. said it better–“The travelling mountains of the sky.” Ah, how much is still to be said of those piled-up mysteries of heaven!
We rode to-day down the Delaware Valley from Milford to Stroudsburg. That wonderful meadowland between the hills (it is just as lovely as the English Avon, but how much more likely we are to praise the latter!) converges in a huge V toward the Water Gap, drawing the foam of many a mountain creek down through that matchless passway. Over the hills which tumble steeply on either side soared the vast Andes of the clouds, hanging palpable in the sapphire of a summer sky. What height on height of craggy softness on those silver steeps! What rounded bosomy curves of golden vapour; what sharpened pinnacles of nothingness, spiring in ever-changing contour into the intangible blue! Man the finite, reveller in the explainable and the exact, how can his eye pierce or his speech describe the rolling robes of glory in which floating moisture clothes itself!
Mile on mile, those peaks of midsummer snow were marching the highways of the air. Fascinated, almost stupefied, we watched their miracles of form and unfathomable glory. It was as though the stockades of earth had fallen away. Palisaded, cliff on radiant cliff, the spires of the Unseeable lay bare. Ever since childhood one has dreamed of scaling the bulwarks of the clouds, of riding the ether on those strange galleons. Unconscious of their own beauty, they pass in dissolving shapes–now scudding on that waveless azure sea; now drifting with scant steerage way. If one could lie upon their opal summits what depths and what abysses would meet the eye! What glowing chasms to catch the ardour of the sun, what chill and empty hollows of creaming mist, dropping in pale and awful spirals. Floating flat like ice floes beneath the greenish moon, or beetling up in prodigious ledges of seeming solidness on a sunny morning–are they not the most superbly heart-easing miracles of our visible world? Watch them as they shimmer down toward the Water Gap in every shade of silver and rose and opal; or delicately tinged with amber when they have caught some jewelled chain of lightning and are suffused with its lurid sparkle. Man has worshipped sticks and stones and stars: has he never bent a knee to the high gods of the clouds?
There they wander, the unfettered spirits of bliss or doom. Holding within their billowed masses the healing punishments of the rain, chaliced beakers of golden flame, lightnings instant and unbearable as the face of God–dissolving into a crystal nothing, reborn from the viewless caverns of air–here let us erect one enraptured altar to the bright mountains of the sky!
At sunset we were climbing back among the wooded hills of Pike County, fifteen hundred feet above the salt. One great castle of clouds that had long drawn our eyes was crowning some invisible airy summit far above us. As the sun dipped it grew gray, soft, and pallid. And then one last banner of rosy light beaconed over its highest turret–a final flare of glory to signal curfew to all the other silver hills. Slowly it faded in the shadow of dusk.
We thought that was the end. But no–a little later, after we had reached the farm, we saw that the elfs of cloudland were still at play. Every few minutes the castle glowed with a sudden gush of pale blue lightning. And while we watched, with hearts almost painfully sated by beauty, through some leak the precious fire ran out; a great stalk of pure and unspeakable brightness fled passionately to earth. This happened again and again until the artery of fire was discharged. And then, slowly, slowly, the stars began to pipe up the evening breeze. Our cloud drifted gently away.
Where and in what strange new form did it greet the flush of dawn? Who knows?