Inside the cloud there were trees, there were woods and fields, there was an entire mountain where the last few patches of snow had shrunk in the wash, so that the ground was now almost entirely bare.
Inside the cloud, ants and woodpeckers went about their business of excavating chambers in the heartwood. Things seemed at first as they should be. But the ground, too, grew hollow from the ministrations of earthworms, the descendents of hardy pioneers, slowly unmaking the land and everything that sprouted from it. The dark red stems of Japanese barberry glistened against the yellow fur of last year’s Japanese stiltgrass.
Inside the cloud, rain didn’t have far to fall. But it brought nitric and sulphuric acid from power plants a hundred miles to the west. Evergreen leaves of mountain laurel turned beautiful shades of brown and red and copper before falling. Trees slowly weakened as the acid dissolved the minerals and nutrients needed for their growth, and left a soil saturated with aluminum. This effect was especially pronounced inside the cloud, which was more acidic than rainfall alone would have been.
Inside the cloud, trees made vulnerable by acid deposition succumbed to a thousand different enemies: diseases new and old, native or exotic pests. A warm winter allowed insects to flourish; a cold winter killed weakened trees outright. Weedier tree species such as black cherry and red maple took over from the oaks and hickories, but were much more likely to snap in the increasingly frequent ice storms. The forest slowly took on a patchy appearance, turned to savanna. The fallen trunks and branches bubbled with white fungi.
Inside the cloud, colors that had lain dormant all winter began to glow. Spring would come one way or another. Even if someday all flowering plants should die out, something would still brighten and appear to blossom. Something would still license the simulacrum of hope.