The Moon Clouds

Have you ever seen a moon cloud? 

They are strange, ephemeral things, lasting only for a few weeks in spring. You can see them at dawn and at dusk, during those liminal times when the world is dark and grey, but a bit of light clings to the world. The sky is deep blue, and silver at the edges, like a finely wrought piece of jewelry.

It is at this time that the moon clouds are visible between the trees—lacy and amorphous, floating between one thing and the next: both dead and blooming with life, both magical creation and hard reality. 

Perhaps you have not seen a moon cloud. I wouldn’t be surprised. They are something I made up, an idea that has lived in my head since I was a child. I have found that whenever I point out moon clouds to anyone else, they have struggled to see them, shaking their heads and saying, “Yes, that’s very pretty. But isn’t it just a tree?”

As a writer, I have so often found that there are things in the world that exist only in my head. Which is impossible, for sure. How can something be in the world, and also only in my my head? It is a paradox of contradictions, and I am not enough of a physicist or a philosopher to know for sure, and so I cannot explain it. But the moon cloud is one of these things—a dream and a reality all at once.

Sometimes, there are things in the world that only artists and writers can see. These things are special to us, pieces of our heart that exist in the world. When we try to explain them to others, they look at us blankly and shake their heads. This is one of the curses of being an artist (and writers are definitely artists of a kind), because it means that we will always be a step out of touch with others, always sensing things that others cannot. 

But this is also a blessing. These ephemeral inspirations, the touches of things that we sense that others cannot, are our fuel. Yes, we need more concrete fuels like coffee and hugs and music and quiet time as well, but without these little things—our own personal moon clouds—we cannot write. They are waking hallucinations, the mind slipping from waking to dreams between one step and the next. Moments like this often make me want to pull my car over to the side of the road, pull out something to write with, and jot down the strange, churning ideas in my mind. 

It is the desire to share these parts of our lives that drives us forward. We write in order to share the intangible with others. We write to share a feeling, a wish, a piece of our hearts. Whether we write conceptual literary fiction or space opera or romantic saga, there is a place in each one of these stories for our souls. We write to share that, and to find those things that our souls have in common with others. 

Let me tell you about the moon clouds again. I think that, just maybe, you have seen them. 

In the spring, for a few weeks when the world begins to warm, the fruiting trees begin to bloom. Cherry and pear and apple, their craggy branches sprouting with luminous life. They have small flowers of palest pink and white, and until the spring rains come to beat them down, these flowers bloom in profusion. The trees bloom everywhere—in yards and in forests, mixed in with the oaks and larches and swamp maples.

When the world is somewhere between night and day, and the sky is the muddled color of a bruise, the light catches on these flowers and makes them gleam. Their true color is stripped from them, and they shine a pale silver. The little bunches of flowers gathered along the branches seem to shift together, to become a thick, wandering cloud of light that hangs between the darker, more solemn trees. It gleams like the widening moon. It is a trick of the eye, that turns a blooming tree into a shining cloud of light. In a few more minutes, the light will have shifted, and the moon cloud will be gone.

As I drive, and the moon clouds light up the forest that races by my car, I want to stop and breathe them in. I want to write down the shape of this moment, because I know that it is special to me; only I can see it and feel it, and if I do not write it down it will vanish from the world forever. 

Of course, I do not often stop. Life is fast, and will race on without me if I constantly pull over to the side of the road. But every once in a while I do. I slow the car and pull onto the grass. As the radio natters on, I jot down my strange, messy poems about the moon clouds. I close my notebook. And I dream of a reader who will see what I do. 

Then I drive on.