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Holten: North Dakota cloud art and sunsets

Guess what North Dakota? If there was a Cloud Art and Sunset Festival, you'd win it hands down.

In fact, it's too bad Mother Nature doesn't notify us a year or six months in advance of her creative cumulonimbus and scintillating sunset shindigs because if she did, we'd make more bucks selling advance tickets to that atmospheric display than we would from the revenues generated by oil rigs, coal mines, and corn and wheat crops combined.

Throw in stargazing on your average cloudless night, 10 or 12 incredible sunsets and some northern lights here and there for good measure and North Dakota could dominate stratospheric entertainment.

It'd work, I know because it worked on a smaller scale in my little hometown, located a stone's throw from the Montana and Canadian borders, where they used to produce a world championship-level Fourth of July fireworks show each year that brought in an average of 15,000 stragglers who'd arrive early, leave late and devour hordes of beef, beverages, bars, booze and biscuits while they were there. If the hard-working volunteers in my little community can do it, surely Momma Nature can.

Of course, my hometown's event was originally started by a brilliant local farmer by the name of Bruce Rosten, who dabbled in fireworks and invited a few friends out to his place. It grew, it was moved to town and suddenly it began to look more like Woodstock than a fireman's picnic.

In fact, he was so good at it that he eventually began competing everywhere, east and west, north and south and became the national and international pyrotechnics champion, as in the best fireworks dude in the world.

Not bad for a prairie punk from North Dakotan who built firmament firebombs the size of cannonballs in his basement so well that he elicited oohs and ahs from fellows, females, fans and fowl here and across the seas, where he competed against corporate combatants from China -- the place where fireworks were invented -- and "blew them away," so to speak, with splendorous sky art extraordinaire.

But, let's face it, comparing his work to the magnificence of Mother Nature's would be like comparing an ant hill to the Mall of America, one kernel to a bin full of grain, one leaf to a forest and one lightning strike to Hurricane Katrina. She simply packs a bigger punch, on a larger scale in a world setting.

Now, you may not know this, but there are many different types of clouds, and cloud knowledge is fun for bar talk, dinner party chats, picnics, and to examine right before you cut hay or fire up the combines. Meanwhile, for hikers and boaters, a lack of cloud knowledge can be dangerous if the weather suddenly turns sour.

Cumulus clouds are the rock stars of stratospheric entertainment because they are the "fluffy" ones that look like cotton balls, have a thickness that is usually equal to or greater than their width and they have very distinct edges. In fact, they are the Paul Revere of the cloud family because they usually warn us that trouble is on the way.

On the other hand, stratus clouds are those layered, flat-looking things that are usually much wider horizontally than vertically and they typically indicate that the atmosphere is stable, though they can also herald the onset of a non-violent storm.

High-altitude clouds are those that are between 19,500 and 42,500 feet, made up of cirrus, cirrostratus and cirrocumulus clouds that tend to be frozen, filled with ice crystals, cold-hearted and have blurry outlines or look thin and wispy.

But when it comes to clouds, in addition to filling the skies, they have another purpose and that purpose is to give you, me and we some insight into our inner beings.

Because, as Leonard Louis Levinson, the author of the left-handed dictionary, once said: "A pessimist sees only the dark side of the clouds, and mopes; a philosopher sees both sides, and shrugs; but an optimist doesn't see the clouds at all because he's walking on them."

Holten is the manager of The Drill, which is a part of Forum News Service. Email him at