The Cloud Farm of Harriette St Germaine

An image of a wheat field, with a small house in the background and a bright blue sky with white clouds above it.

The crop is coming in nicely nowadays.

Last year, when the trouble with Madison began, the crop turned out horrendously each week. Certain clouds were constantly escaping, and I ended up chasing them across the fields, jumping across fences, and tracking them down. It’s just something I’d rather not do at my age.

Now, though, things have settled down. Madison herself is coming to the farm today for a tour.

I see her car struggle as it trudges up the steep path to the main house. At least she has nice weather for the visit; rather ironically, it’s a bright, clear day.

The car door slams, and I see my granddaughter for the first time in months. She is a younger version of her mother: the same heart-shaped face, the same dark hair, the same green eyes.

She crosses her arms when she sees me. “Hi, Harriette,” she says. Years ago, I had hoped she would call me Grammie or even Grandma, but I’d long ago given up the thought.

“Hello, love,” I say. “I’m glad you made it. Would you like some something to drink?”

We sit on the front veranda. I pour her a glass of iced tea and stick a lemon wedge on the rim.

“Why am I here?” she asks. She’s direct, open. I like that.

I lean back in my wicker chair. “I’m getting older,” I said. “I thought you deserved to know about the family business, why I haven’t been around much.” It’s only half of the truth.

“Mom says you chose your job over her,” Madison says, and I can’t help but grimace.

My daughter, Evelyn, was brought up on the farm. She hated the fact that we lived so far away from the city, that she was homeschooled. The day she turned eighteen was the day she left. I can’t blame her. It’s the reason why I never told Madison about my career; I’d already lost one family member because of it, and I wasn’t about to lose another.

We sit for a few more moments, but there’s no use in waiting any longer. “How about I show you what I grow?” I ask. My back aches as I stand.

Madison checks her phone and nods. She’s likely looking at the time, wondering how long she has to stay.

“Come around back with me,” I say. The veranda wraps around the house and lends itself to a rather dramatic vista at the back. When Madison gets her first glimpse, she gasps.

“Oh my God,” she breathes.

The house is on top of a hill that overlooks a valley. There, cradled within its many acres, sit ten fenced pastures of miniature clouds. They are separated by their type: the feathery trails of cirrus, the cotton balls of altocumulus, the rainy clump of nimbostratus. The clouds are tethered to the soil by a piece of twine. They each hover a few feet off the ground.

Madison doesn’t say anything, but she jumps off the veranda and heads to the wooden switchback stairs that lead to the valley. I follow her as she makes her way down and to the nearest pasture of cumulus.

The clouds are small, perhaps two feet wide at the longest. They look like mounds of wool from a sheep. Madison crouches and reaches out. “It’s cold,” she whispers.

“Want to see something neat?” I come over and cradle a cloud in my hand. I grab the carving knife attached to my belt; after a few quick cuts, I show her the result.

“It’s a turtle!” she shouts.

“Yes,” I say, releasing the cloud. It reconfigures itself to its former shape. “It will remember what being a turtle felt like. Once it’s released to the sky, it will likely stretch out to be like that turtle again.”

“So you mean, when I see a cloud that looks like a horse, it’s because-” she cuts herself off. Her eyes widen as I nod.

“How is that possible?” She spreads her hands out, encompassing the valley. “How do you have time for all this?”

“Well, it’s a Sunday,” I laugh. “This is the biggest cloud farm in the area. We have lots of people working here in the week.”

My favorite day of the week is Monday, when the buyers show up. Most of them are from local municipalities or weather departments. They come with their big trucks and they load in the clouds as if they were balloons. We live out west, so once the clouds fully expand, they’ll drift their way across the continent and out to the Atlantic.

I see the question on her face, so I answer before she has to ask. “Cloud seeds are everywhere,” I say. “Dust. Dirt. Ice. They’re not so hard to harvest, once you get the knack of it.” My own mother taught me how to be a farmer decades ago. The key is not to be afraid to get dirt under your fingernails, to occasionally grapple with an unruly cloud.

“Why am I here?” Madison asks again, staring at the fields of white.

“Follow me,” I say, and for several minutes we walk along the edge of the pastures, skirting by the trenches of stratocumulus. We come to a field that vibrates with electricity; the hair on my arms stands up.

Even though each cloud here is small, there is an undeniable current of danger. Tiny pieces of lightning flicker from cloud to cloud. “Cumulonimbus,” I say, looking at the dark, writhing mass. They aren’t always so charged, but they’re the one type that make me nervous.

“Last year, when you were caught up with that trouble, the clouds were constantly escaping from this pasture.” I close my eyes, thinking back to that time. “I never wore the proper safety gear.”

When dealing with cumulonimbus clouds, I was usually covered head-to-toe in a rubber outfit to prevent electrical shocks. Those days, however, I was too preoccupied to think much of it. Evelyn had written me letters about Madison’s situation, and they troubled me greatly.

The clouds took advantage of my weakness. They would shock me as I was closing the gate, and it was all they needed to pull the twine from the ground to escape. Only cumulonimbus would be so daring. Most of the other clouds were perfectly content to grow in their pastures.

“I spent a lot of time chasing them down,” I say, my knees twinging at the memory. “I was angry. I thought, why am I even doing this? These are storm clouds, and no one likes them. Why am I even bothering?”

Madison takes a step back from the fence.

I continue with my story. “At that point, I remembered something my own mother taught me. She said, ‘Harriette, we need clouds. If every day was sunny, we would have no rain. The trick is not avoiding clouds. It’s about managing them.’”

We continue our walk, this time towards the nearby nimbostratus. A constant drizzle drenches the twine holding them to the soil. “All I’m saying is that solutions exist. If I had bothered to put on the proper gear, I wouldn’t have spent so much time chasing down the escapees.”

“I know what you’re trying to say.” Madison leans down and stretches her hand forward, feels the rain tickle her fingers, then wipes them on her shirt. “That I made a mistake.”

Madison had been caught selling exam answers to other students. She’d been expelled from her university, and refused to apply again for a different school.

“Yes,” I say. “Mistakes are like clouds. They’ll always be there; what’s important is how to manage them.”

She chuckles at my lack of subtlety. “Did my Mom tell you to say that?”

I shake my head. “Not at all. But last year, when I was upset at your situation, I realized that I was my own worst enemy. If I just calmed down and took the time to put on the proper protective gear, I would fine. Instead, I was so distracted that I thought I could rush through my normal tasks, without considering my own mental state.”

“I’m not sure how that relates to what I did,” Madison says, turning away. I can see the guilt in the way her shoulders drop, in the way she can’t make eye contact.

“Go back to school,” I say quietly. “Apply somewhere else. Realize you made a mistake, and don’t make it again.”

“It’s not as easy as that,” she mutters.

“Isn’t it?” I argue. “Why do we make life so hard for ourselves?”

“That’s a bit rich, coming from you,” she says, although her tone isn’t sharp. “You made a ton of mistakes with my Mom, and you never really tried to make that better.”

It’s true. After eighteen years of tantrums, slammed doors, and yelling matches, I had been burned out from trying to keep Evelyn close to the farm. That had all been a lifetime ago. Now we only saw each other twice a year, on Christmas and her birthday. Our relationship was conducted mainly through letters.

“Evelyn has been my own mistake,” I admit. “I wanted her so desperately to follow in my footsteps that I held her too close. I never considered what she wanted. I figured, how could you want more than this?” The fields are spread before me, the clouds humming within.

Madison sticks her hands on her hips. “Well, if we’re all about managing mistakes, why don’t you call her?”

I blink as I take in my own dose of medicine. Yes, perhaps she is right. I’d given Evelyn so little space in her childhood that I overcompensate now that she’s an adult. Somehow, I’ve never given much thought to the fact that our relationship could improve. Over time I accepted our poor communication as a fact.

I had hoped that introducing Madison to the farm would give her something to think about; instead, it looks like she did me the favor.

“Perhaps the three of us should have a nice brunch together,” I say, thinking about it. “Or maybe a longer visit.” My last vacation had been years ago, and it would be good for me to see the city again for a longer stretch of time.

Perhaps this was a cloud that I could carve into something nicer.

“I think Mom would like that,” Madison says, offering a small smile. “Do you promise you won’t push any more about the university thing? I need some time to think it over.”

“Of course.” I trust that eventually Madison will forgive herself and will grow from the experience. Clouds eventually disappear, after all.

We head back to the farmhouse for more iced tea. As we climb up the stairs, Madison pauses halfway, and looks back over the valley. “Would you mind if I came back next week?” she asks, almost shyly. “I’d like to learn how to turn one into a turtle.”

I grin. “Why not right now?”

We turn around, descending the stairs, happily returning to the valley of clouds.


E.J. Nash graduated from The University of Western Ontario with an Honors Specialization in English Language and Literature and Creative Writing. Her work has previously been featured in The First Line. You can find her watching the clouds or on Twitter @Nash_EJ.