The Day I Touched the Clouds

My dad worked right across the street from my primary school. His flights would disrupt our classes and my teachers would have to pause and wait for his plane to take off before continuing with the lesson. Sometimes he’d show up at my school at lunch or during recess. I’d see him walking through the school yard in his blue flight uniform and I’d go running up to meet him. I loved it when he visited school–not just for his company, though. My dad had a special way of getting me out of class. Whenever he had extra space on one of his flights, he’d show up to tell my teacher he’s taking me out for the day. And we’d go fly. Sometimes I’d even get to bring a friend or two.
Spontaneous travel. That fit our family well. It didn’t matter if I couldn’t go home first to pack a swimsuit or change clothes.
If we ended up at the beach in Wewak, I’d just spend the afternoon trying to dig up sandlions while he did his work at the hanger. Perhaps if I had seen what the sandlions really looked like, I wouldn’t have been so anxious to catch one. But I never did see them, just the sand they’d spit at me from the bottom of their sand funnels. They were always just out of my reach–just below my fingers. If I ever got discouraged with the sandlions, I’d turn to the tiny, shy touch-me-not plants, making all their leaves fold up for me.
Sometimes we’d end up in a little mountain village to visit the translators who were living there and bring them supplies. There were no sandlions or touch-me-nots up there. The village kids would make a wide circle around me, curious, but cautious. None could speak English and I didn’t even know which language they spoke. The awkward staring took a little getting used to, but it was always followed by lots of friendly gestures. Before long, I was swarmed by crowds of kids that wanted to touch my white skin and feel my hair, which fell down on my shoulders and was not useful for holding grass or decorations like theirs. Anything they put in it would just fall right out. Then they would take me around their village in a kind of silent tour which alerted all the other kids to my arrival.
Me and and friend from school after the awkward stare with the village kids was over.

Me and a friend from school after the awkward stare with the village kids was over.

 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.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Jennifer Cristobal Harris
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 14:43:32

    Best. Post. Ever!!!!! Loved this one!

    Love ya Jacki! Keep up all the great work you do!


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