Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

Those Heavenly Big Mamas


It's 7:03 p.m., June 3, 1998, the exit for Highway 55 on the Eastern Townships Autoroute -- the scientific observer must be precise above all else.

It was a grey, rainy day. Thunderstorms had been sweeping through all afternoon. I was working in the city and had headed for home at about 5:30. Traffic on the Champlain Bridge wasn't too bad and I made good time on the flat country between the Richelieu and Yamaska rivers. Only a couple of showers, nothing very heavy.

I climbed up into the hills of the Townships and wound around the base of Mount Orford, emerging suddenly, as you do, onto the plain that rises south from Lake Memphremagog toward the Vermont border.

And there it was - up in the sky - a kind of cloud I'd never seen before. Now, I had read about them (journalists read the strangest assortment of things), but 40 years on this planet and not once had mammato-cumulus clouds floated over my head. At least, not so I had noticed.

Mammato-cumulus clouds (called simply "mamma" by meteorologists) are pretty hard to miss. They look like, well, breasts. Dozens, if not hundreds, of them in their shapely, slightly pendulous splendor.

When I read about mamma, I thought it must be a bit of a joke - the lads down at the meteorology department playing an x-rated, adult version of the childhood game of seeing shapes in the clouds.

But honest to goodness, it took no imagination at all to see how mammato- cumulus came by their name. The clouds are so suggestive that I realized that I was becoming a bit of a traffic menace, gazing (maybe ogling) up at heavens that had never looked so bounteous. Road lust instead of road rage.

But back to the science. The author of the Peterson Field Guide to Clouds and Weather (having taken a cold shower) writes that mammato-cumulus "take the form of pouches of cold, cloudy air hanging from the underside of a cumulonimbus shelf. They frequently form under a thundercloud at the end of its life."

To which I, as a keen observer of erotic weather patterns, can only add a hearty, "Hubba, hubba, baby!"

Royal Orr skygazes in Hatley, Quebec.

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