Having finished my internment in the library early, and wanting to spend at least a sliver of the day in the sunlight, I beat home westward along Broadgate around four in the afternoon. The sun, also quitting its toil, was doing the same, though a few million miles farther out. The day had been icy clear, but now a small line of clouds, trailing off to the south, was stained copper by the resigning sun. The cold air and the steep angle leached saturation out of the light, giving the whole scene the beautiful colors found in a midcentury photograph that I admire so much.
I walked along, enjoying this lovely scene, until a break in the buildings revealed that what I was seeing was not a picturesque waft of clouds, but the exhaust from the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power plant. Its concrete stacks were busy inhaling coal and exhaling kilowatts and steam, the latter of which had been transformed by the atmosphere into a pleasant chain of late-evening clouds. Apparently Ratcliffe has seen its share of environmental demonstrations in its fifty years. Its role in pumping carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid into the air is of course not be defended. But I wonder where we would get the clouds so necessary for decorating the rims of our clear evenings if it were not for these elegant structures. Cigarette smoke, though we know it to be a noxious poison, remains a much-loved and heavily-relied-upon effect for cinematographers. If in some enlightened future we derive all of our electricity from solar panels and angel tears, our landscape designers will no doubt need to find some new method to gussy up the sky with clouds that reflect the orange November sun.