Transient Vapors

When I got home, when I got the camera, when I jumped out onto the fire escape to take a picture, it looked like this. This is all that was left.


But only minutes before, as I rode along Wythe Avenue from Williamsburg to Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, and then most of all just after turning onto Dekalb— See the little bulbous shapes down at the bottom-center, right next to the building? Well, just before I got into my building to run up the five flights of stairs carrying my bike on my shoulder, in that exact spot, there was a beautiful field of mammatus clouds—so named because they resemble the shape of a woman’s breast. The sun was setting, its orange light slipping under the dark cumulonimbus that had just delivered a thunderstorm, illuminating the space between the earth and its cloudy ceiling.

Mammatus clouds are the strangest things, rare as precious rocks. The only other time I remember seeing them was during the summer I spent driving around the West with my book of clouds, looking for every new variety I could find. Here’s a picture from Wikipedia. Pretty close. But not the surrounding mystery of the city.

Why do you slip away before I can trap you, you little animal? Nobody else saw you. Will they even believe me that I did? It was only you, and me, and the moments of life that disappear the instant they happen, leaving us passing things to wonder whether they (the moments) are enough.

Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.