One calm evening in western Oregon, I lay on a grassy hilltop and watched the earth-breath stream upwards from a freshly plowed field in the valley. Many ribbons of vapor, like smoke from burning incense, were rising and expanding to form a film cloudlet hovering above the ground.
As I watched, this grew and spread to mingle with similar cloudlets from other fields and bits of marsh, weaving a netted veil over the land from which it rose. Meanwhile the sun was sinking behind the western hills, and night soon dropped a curtain over the scene.
The following morning I returned, climbed the hillside through dense and dripping fog, to break through it into brilliant sunlight as I neared the summit. As far as eye could see lay a billowing sea of cloud, a silent ghostly sea, now dashing against the hilltop islands, now silently falling back. Overhead a few lazy clouds were drifting in a deep blue sky. The illusion was so perfect that the city and populous valley, hidden beneath the cloud-sea, seemed but a half-forgotten memory.
Just as I entered the fog on the way down, in taking hold of a rock for support I was surprised to see that it contained a number of seashells. These shells, now fossils imbedded in sandstone, marked where an ancient beach once lay, just where the present sea of fog dashed against the hillside. I later learned that this fragment of beach had been formed by the Willamette Sound, a body of water which filled the valley thousands of years ago, and I was able to trace the beach for some distance, collecting many shells and leaf-impressions left in the rocks.
Curious piles of granite near the base of the hill were said by a visiting geologist to have been left by icebergs floating from the distant Cascade Mountains. Long ago glaciers cut deep canyons in the high mountains, and granite rock fell on the surface of the ice, to be carried down to the Willamette Sound. Here it floated off on icebergs broken from the glacier, until the mass of ice melted and turned over, dumping the rock on the bottom of the Sound.
Bit by bit the story began to unfold, but I shall always wonder if earth does not hold a memory of her past and sometimes use old patterns in her drama of the clouds.
(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 2002)