Can you read the sky? This one is a sign that means “unreadable” — a mackerel sky.
An altocumulus mackerel sky or mackerel sky is an indicator of moisture (the cloud) and instability (the cumulus form) at intermediate levels (2400-6100 m, 8000-20,000 ft). If the lower atmosphere is stable and no moist air moves in, the weather will most likely remain dry. However, moisture at lower levels combined with surface temperature instability can lead to rainshowers or thunderstorms should the rising moist air reach this layer. There is an old saying, “Mackerel sky, mackerel sky. Never long wet and never long dry.”
Beautiful, isn’t it? Let’s face it, stability and uniformity are boring.
Take rocks. Rocks are far from the paragons of stability we imagine them to be. Go for a walk across a boulder field sometime — it’s easy to lose your balance. Some rocks like to rock, some rocks like to roll, and you just have to keep movin’ and groovin’, as the song says. There are boulder fields in eastern Pennsylvania full of rocks that ring when struck, emitting clear, resonant tones. People come with mallets and go rock-hopping in search of a perfect pitch. Here on the mountain most of the rocks play dead, but some sleep with one eye open.
If you can’t put your trust in a rock, what else is there? A cipher, perhaps. The abstract truth of numbers. But somehow the mind rebels, and the numbers begin to take on completely extraneous qualities: sexy 6, owlish 8, 55 a pair of drummer’s brushes. 49 seems inexplicably tastier than 48. We could paint by numbers, green and green and green.
“It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know,” Thoreau once wrote in his journal. “I do not get nearer by a hair’s breadth to any natural object so long as I presume that I have an introduction to it from some learned man. To conceive of it with a total apprehension I must for the thousandth time approach it as something totally strange.”
Total, totally: as if from heterogeneous reality to derive some unity, some gestalt. That too, says my inner Ecclesiastes, is so much empty grasping at the wind.
If each morning you could forget everything, including language itself, and could be reborn in a world free of signs, what would you see? Faces. Everywhere. We make the strange familiar simply by coming to dwell in its fishy midst. We cast our lines skyward, in hopes of landing the elusive holy mackerel.