But where we ended up wasn’t why I’d go with Dad. It was the promise of flying. A part of me was convinced I was born in the air. Or perhaps I was a Care Bear. Because the clouds were definitely my country. Looking down on the land of clouds from an airliner was like surveying my kingdom. Flying through them was like braving a turbulent ocean–breaking through to a new land of fluff and blinding sun on the other side. The small planes and helicopter that my dad flew in PNG weren’t strong enough to rise above all the clouds. We’d break through them like the big waves at Wewak that I could never quite float over. Many times we flew under them because “clouds are dangerous,” dad would say. “You never know what’s in them.” That was especially true in Papua New Guinea where the clouds could hide a mountain. Under, over, or in, I loved the clouds. I loved how they looked as if I could bounce on them like a trampoline, or roll in them like the softest, warmest snow on earth. I loved how they felt bumpy on the inside—making us drop and rise like a roller coaster in the sky. It fit their personality. They were magical. On one particular return trip in the helicopter, Dad and I had to fly through some stormy weather. This was exciting. It meant clouds that we couldn’t do anything but fly through. It meant turbulence. It meant fun. As we approached the storm, my dad closed his small sliding window which he had opened for fresh air. I had learned on another flight, sticking my hand out the window to feel the push of the wind, that rain felt like bullets at this speed. I kept my window closed for this storm, too. We flew under most of the clouds–all that we could manage to avoid. But some were too low. We couldn’t do anything but fly through. I saw it coming. We were headed straight into a cloud.
I thought about grabbing a piece of cloud. Just enough to hold in my hand and carry home with me. Maybe I’d taste it and find out exactly which flavor of candy it tastes like. But definitely take some home to show Jordan. He’d want to see the cloud up close. It’d be even better than holding the elusive sandlion. “Dad! Can I stick my hand out the window and touch the cloud?” I asked him through our headset. He looked over at me with a smile that knew more than I did. “Sure!” He said. I pulled my window open just enough to stick my hand out and with all my built up excitement, threw my hand as far as I could to make sure I caught some of the cloud in my fingers. The wind shoved my arm all the way back in the window and I struggled to keep my hand open flat against the force as we flew straight into the cloud. The cloud ate us up. We were surrounded by it on all sides and couldn’t see out. But my hand never caught any fluff. I closed my fingers, trying to find the cloud that we were inside of. But all I got was wet. My smile turned into confusion. If the cloud had melted in my hand, I would have understood, but no fluff balls were melting in my hand. It just was… water. “It’s just wet!” I said to my dad, a little disappointed. “Yup!” he said back with that same smile. “Clouds are just water and dust, Jacki.” And like that, the magic of clouds disappeared—like the fluff balls that I thought I could hug, like the sandlion that was always just out of sight.