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Tim Baker

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Shapes in the Sky
By Tim Baker
Friday, September 21, 2012

Rated "G" by the Author.

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A musing on the days of youth.

  When I was younger, my imagination was robust; it may even have been on the juice.  I could immerse my attention in fantasy heaven for hours at a time, making up dialogue and staging elaborate missions for my GI Joes, drawing superheros and creating their back stories, or using the tops of my grandmother’s plastic sealable bowls as though I was a disc fighter in Tron.  The world was malleable and reality an option. Sometimes the borders between what was real and what was manufactured overlapped and blurred.  That is why it was easy to convince myself that the settling noises in the attic above my bedroom was actually a stone faced miscreant patiently pacing, waiting for me to fall asleep so that he could creep down the stairs under the veil of the night and skewer me Jason Vorhees style.   Or why I couldn’t take a bubble bath for years because I was POSITIVE that Jaws could be lurking beneath the suds in the depths of my bath tub.  A bath? Sure.  But I needed to be able to see the bottom of the tub!

But that same imagination gave me the ability to see shapes in the clouds.

I remember laying on the back bench seat in my Grandmother’s Caprice Classic, surrounded by the musky smell of the cushion stuffing re-baking in the summer heat.  This was back in the days when kids were thought to be indestructible and cars almost were, so I was unfettered by the constraints of seat belts and would allow my head to jostle to the bump of the crumbling streets beneath us as I rode.  Summer air gushed into the open window, a low, constant growl of air, swirling around little air particles that swam between the front seat headrests, catching light but not quite glinting.  And I would look up and out of the rear windshield and watch the clouds as we drifted by.

The shapes were as recognizable as cartoon clip art.  Perfectly shaped turtles.  Monsters with kabuki mask scowls.  Flowers that looked to be blooming as the clouds separated.  The ghost from Pacman.  The EXACT thing that was in my dream last week, wriggling out from under my bed!  

“Grandma,” I would chirp excitedly, “can you see the octopus?”  My little finger would trace at the air, flying a line that showed the path of his tentacles.

“Oh yeah,” she would sing politely.  

As a parent now, I am familiar with that tone she used.  It’s the one you use when your three year old gives you a construction paper full of finger paint, pride beaming from her smile, and says, “It’s me and you having a picnic at the park.”

You want to turn the paper upside down or try to squint it into focus.  You want to pick out some shape that you can build the rest of the image around - a nose, a toe, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich - but it’s no use.  It just isn’t there.  Instead, what you’ve been handed is a Rorschach test made by Jackson Pollock.  And you look at those beaming little eyes, and know that without a doubt, she sees the two of you sharing watermelon slices under the boughs of a maple tree.  So, you smile back and politely sing, “Oh yeah.”

I don’t remember when I stopped being able to see the shapes in the clouds.  What I do remember is looking at them one day in my 20s and feeling as though I hadn’t looked up in a long time.  That was probably true .  At least, I hadn’t looked up in the way I had as a kid.  As an adult, I looked up to find something - was there a storm approaching? was the sun going down? how long before the red balloon disappeared from view.  But as a child, I looked up to see what was there.  There was no agenda.  No question to be answered.  Just a wondering and a freedom and an acceptance of whatever I found.

Last night, I sprinted to the end of my 4.5 mile run, sweat pouring off of my chin and my breath coming in quick rhythmic gusts.  When I came to a stop, the air was still and chunky with humidity.  I sat in the grass by the road for a moment.  For no reason, I looked up at the sky.  I wasn’t looking for anything or trying to answer a question.  I just looked.  Floating by in wispy white detail was a perfectly shaped seahorse.  It’s body curled like a treble cleft and some of the plates of it’s trunk rings were visible.

There was no one around to point it out to.  I just sat there and watched it.  I glanced at the clouds around it but none of them seemed to make shapes more interesting than a balled up napkin.  As my breathing returned to normal and the seahorse began to slowly twist itself out of existence, I wondered how many other things I miss while looking for something.


written 7.26.11

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