I am sitting in a heavy, hard-backed chair, at a small bistro table, a few feet away from the stairwell. Tucked into the corner of the elevated sidewalk that hugs my department building, the table provides an ideal place for listening to the sounds of the courtyard below, the passing students, and the occasional birds. My large dark blue schoolbag sits by my feet, my cane lies folded across the table’s lattice top, and my bright blue thermos stands in front of me. With its subtle hourglass shape and sturdy handle, the thermos holds about 20 ounces of green-ginger tea. The early autumn breeze flicks the dangling tea tag against the side of the thermos, a soft shff shff shff in the quiet afternoon.
I pop the top and enjoy the resonant click of the plastic lid. The tea is piping hot, surprisingly welcome on a warm, breezy afternoon. Green-ginger has become indispensable to me; its spicy, fragrant flavor soothes my sore throat and relaxes my body. It’s a good tea for contemplation.
As I place the thermos on the table, I wonder how soon I should return to my office. Can I justify a half hour of quiet meditation out here? I decide that I can. After all, the green time will make me more productive.
Since I’m wearing my sunglasses, I begin visually exploring my surroundings. I can clearly see the stairwell, the rails, and the elevator doors to my left. I look to the right, where something dark and scraggly nuzzles against the side of the sky, its shape uneven and coarse. It must be a tree. I turn my head, and the corners of another building come into focus. Strong right angles and a medium unknown color set off the building’s roof.
Both the tree and the roof draw my eyes to the contrasting sky, the pale, translucent backdrop that makes each separate piece of this landscape so visible to me. I tilt my head back so that the sky fills my entire visual field. Through the dark glasses, I see that the sky is comprised of two textures: something sheer and slightly darker and something puffy with a shiny brightness. The puffy material stretches across the sky in patches—or does the sheer, smooth material stretch across the opposing texture? One of these textures must be clouds, but I can’t decide for certain which one.
I think about how often we invoke clouds in literature, film, and other art—how often we reference clouds in everyday speech. I remember countless scenes in novels and movies where two people—friends or lovers—lie on their backs in the bright green grass and find significance in the sky.
To me, the sky looks like an optical illusion, the kind where two images exist inside one frame. Is it the single vase or the two faces? Do the clouds lie along the sky or does the sky push through the clouds?