Sometime when I’m headed to the Berkeley Bowl late in the day and my digital camera’s battery is charged up, I grab the cam and stick in my pocket because there are times when the parking lot of the Bowl will provide several wide vistas showing interesting East Bay cloudscapes or sunsets. There’s something about the spot, a kind of wide-open crossroadslike area with a big sky overhead that often makes for fascinating images.
Pushing my cart across the parking lot on Wednesday, I noticed a purple-and-orange sunset happening down the road (I’ll upload those photos later), so I paused, got out my camera, and started snapping some pictures. As I did so, I noticed a waft of clouds from overhead drifting into the sunset, so I started snapping shots up and over my head, catching segments of the wispy ribbons. Suddenly, I noticed a distinct skeletal image, a skull atop a sort of twisted body.
I couldn’t believe how vivid it was. I decided it looked like skeleton riding a harley, flames or shreds of hair flowing in the wind. I briefly wondered if I was seeing an actual deliberate artwork by some local Dead head but that was clearly impossible. I looked and looked again to be sure that I wasn’t imagining what I was seeing.
I also started snapping pictures because I know clouds change quickly.
It’s normal for the human mind to perceive faces and other coherent images in random Brownian patterns. I realize that. I know intellectual, as a rationalist, that this was just a coincidental set of flutterings that happened to gather themselves into a freaking Rick Griffin poster in the sky.
As I kept snapping pictures I heard a black woman approach, saying something like. “Look at that! A man in the sky. It’s a skeleton.” As she got up to me, she asked me, “Are you a cloudwatcher? Do you see that skeleton in the sky?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s creepy. That’s why I’m taking pictures.” But she had already continued on and was asking the next person if they saw that man up there. I was oddly relieved that I was not the only person seeing it.
I kept taking pictures of the sunset as I pushed my cart to the curb. I passed a man selling Street Spirit at the edge of the lot, wearing a hand-me-down denim jacket with dancing bears embroidered across the shoulders. Not an uncommon sight in Berkeley, but it briefly gave me pause. Was there a message in all this, a code? Did the beggar put that image in the sky so I, a longtime Grateful Dead gomer would feel inspired to make a donation? Was he some kind of psychokinetic character out of a Jonathan Lethem novel?
I don’t know. I didn’t buy his paper. I wasn’t moved to give this time. Superstition reared again and I wondered if the image in the sky was an omen. Should I drive especially carefully on the way home? I took a few more shots of the pattern now that it had drifted into cottony incoherence. The image was gone, but I had captured its soul in my magic box, and another human being had seen it the same way while it was happening, so I’m not crazy, right?
The picture at the top of this entry links to a halfsize image of the Harley-riding skeleton-man. I’ve uploaded the original picture of the sky-spectre as well. It’s only about 300 K since it’s mainly blue with some white.”
“The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam’s Dice” by Jimi Hendrix [South Saturn Delta]