Wednesday 1 December 2021

a ship in the air

There's always something new to see in the sky if you're lucky. This appeared over Devizes the other day as I was cruising along the canal. You don't get the full 3D effect in the photo, but it was like the hull of a ship seen from underneath, cruising in turn along the sea of cirrocumulus stratiformis, or mackerel sky.

In vaguely technical terms (thank you, Richard Hamblyn's Cloud Book) the cloud layer is composed of ice crystals and supercooled droplets. Locally, the droplets are triggered to form precipitation, which falls as streaks - 'fallstreaks' or 'virga'. Hence, the description of what you see here as fallstreak or punch hole clouds.

But it does remind me of a boat. And particularly the one in Seamus Heaney's poem  from his collection 'Seeing Things', where he talks of crediting marvels, a mission statement I could entirely go along with when I first read it, and indeed still do

Lightenings viii

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.