Nephelomancy by Sandra Duchiewicz. [A hybrid ship-city sailing through clouds. There’s a bit of eeriness and fantasy to it.]

Clouds might be nonbinary icons. They are neither liquid nor gas. Gasses diffuse, liquids flow. Clouds do both and neither. They ride with the air, are resting sites for droplets, and become visible through solid ice crystals and the dust particles they form on.  They trouble the idea of “phase changes,” a metaphor so fundamental, based in the very matter of stuff. Clouds have taught me that there is no fixed destination but a continual flowing back and forth. But clouds, too, make foggy metaphors.


Cloud scrying is one of the first forms of divination I engaged in: lying down in the grass, watching stories take and lose shape in the sky. Reflecting on my cloud obsession, my friend Jacob said that my research is a process of finding meaning in finding meaning in clouds. My research into cloud scrying is itself an act of cloud scrying. 

I’ve been looking for many things in clouds: a subject, a muse, an elemental medium, a psychic friend. The title of this channel, “cloudscrying,” can also be read as “clouds crying.” There is something in the mishmash of subjectivity and agency that I’ve been very drawn to.


In my process of researching clouds, it’s been a joy to realize how many artists and writers I love have had eras of contemplating and making with the clouds. Anne Carson’s lecture, “on the history of sky writing” is a wry personification of the sky. She speaks as the clouds, the sky’s body and voice incarnate. She says that perhaps becoming the clouds was a defensive measure. Everybody loves clouds.

This excerpt speaks to the eroticism I’ve been experiencing in my inability to know clouds. The clouds are so close but I can never touch them. Even if I were to try, they would no longer be clouds but a fog blurring my vision.


In the late 1920s, Japanese physicist Masanao Abe sought to answer a question: “what kind of a thing is a cloud?” He set up an observatory with a view of Mount Fuji and spent 15 years recording the clouds as they shifted around the mountain, becoming an embodiment of the atmosphere. From photographs and videos, he created diagrams documenting the clouds not as single moments but tracking their motion as well. 

In response to his question, Sadie Plant asks: “what kind of a cloud is a thing?” While science aims to break things down to their core components to understand – to essentialize – them, perhaps essence is about looking at the space around and beside.


In the 1930s to 1950s, psychoanalyst and physician Wilhelm Reich developed  cloudbusters, devices to control the weather by harnessing orgone. Orgone is fundamental life energy, its name derived from “orgasm” and “organism.” 

This is a still from Kate Bush’s music video for her song “Cloudbusting,” which is told through the eyes of Wilhelm Reich’s son experiencing his father’s incarceration for his work with orgone.

While cloudbusting was dismissed as pseudoscience by the scientific community, clouds continue to exceed measurement and present one of the greatest challenges in modeling climate change.

We don’t know how clouds will influence the already changing state of our climate. Clouds can affect the local climate to make places hotter or cooler, either trapping heat below or reflecting sunlight away. Their formation is affected by moisture, topography, and temperature, conditions that themselves are changing.


Cloud seeding is a process of releasing particles — typically silver iodide – into the atmosphere to shift the location of clouds. The particles are sites for ice crystals to form, as they might on dust kicked up around the atmosphere. 

Cloud geoengineering exposes the atmospheric intimacy of distant locales. Clouds do not appear out of “thin air” but are conjured and redirected. The presence of a cloud in one location signals its absence in another. Cloud seeding in the United Arab Emirates draws moisture from neighboring areas. Geopolitics on the ground extends into the atmosphere, creating multiplanar logics of resource allocation and governance.

And not all clouds are made of the same stuff. I recently visited a mountain in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania where decades of zinc smelting released so much sulfur dioxide and zinc oxide into the air that the entire forest on the mountain beside the factory died. The soil was so lifeless that fallen trees did not decay but dried out like driftwood.

Noa Mori is an artist, designer, and writer interested in diasporic, entangled practices of mythmaking and worldbuilding in response to environmental and post-colonial grief. They are currently in the Master of Landscape Architecture and Master of Fine Arts (MLA/MFA) at the University of Pennsylvania. Recently, they’ve been thinking a lot about the co-construction of race and nature, magic, geotrauma, and the earth as an archive.