Last week, the City of Rockville proclaimed October as Stamp Month, honoring resident H. Michael Mogil, whose inspired photograph of the sky adorns the centerpiece stamp of the U.S. Postal Service's latest offering, "Cloudscapes."
After spending 15 years trying to persuade the Postal Service to put clouds on stamps -- "one-fourth of my lifetime," says Mogil, who is 59 -- he finally succeeded. And one week ago Monday, the Postal Service ceremoniously introduced the 15 cloud stamps in Massachusetts at the Blue Hill Observatory, on a mountain that overlooks Boston in a place known as "the home of the oldest continuous weather records in North America."
According to the Postal Service officials, Mogil was one of the consultants in determining that the right clouds were picked from among pictures taken by photographers across the country, and he helped write captions and explanations.
Ask Mogil to talk about where his interest in clouds comes from and how they shaped his life, and he drops his measured, considered tone and begins reeling off the facts in breathless sentences.
"I used to live in New York City. We were up on the 14th floor of a 14-floor building" with a view of Hudson River, he said. "I'd stay at my window, staring up at the clouds."
The career interest in meteorology came, he said, in a rush, in "fourth grade . . . New York City . . . a hurricane came through." He was impressed and decided: "Wow. . . . I'm gonna be a weatherman."
And he did. Mogil is a science editor, writer and "a forensic meteorologist -- Meteorological CSI: We reconstruct the weather scene to figure out what happened at the crime scene." He spent the first 17 years of his professional life working for the National Weather Service, he said, then 10 years working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Satellite Service.
He and his wife, Barbara Levine, also have written a book together, which they self-published under the name "Anytime Weather Everywhere" because "we think weather is AWEsome."
Especially interesting, he said, are clouds, which he deems "fascinating. They're always changing. They're usually always there. . . . They're pieces of art, floating around in the sky above us, and it's free." Constantly accompanied by his camera, he adds, "I will normally take 30 to 50 photos a day when there's interesting clouds out there."
The clouds he photographed for the stamp were bands of fluffy cumulus clouds separated by blue sky. "Where the clouds are, the air is going up. Where clouds aren't, the air is going down," is how he described the weather system pictured. "You can envision this wave that goes up and then down, then up and then down. If you were flying through that cloud layer, there'd be turbulence."
He took the picture from the front yard of his former home in the College Gardens subdivision in north Rockville, just south of Gude Drive and east of Route 355, then started hammering at the Postal Service to create a stamp of clouds.
"He was determined to get this thing as a stamp. . . . He just stayed on 'em and stayed on 'em, and in one of the rare things in life, he got it done," noted Neil Greenberger, spokesman for the City of Rockville.
At the ceremony in Massachusetts, the stamps were officially presented to the world amid a skyscape that included, Mogil noted, "all three basic cloud types," with the stratus of the fog over Boston, the puffy fluffs of the cumulus clouds and some threadlike cirrus clouds as well. It was a happenstance so amazing, Mogil added, that "it's like we ordered it or," he continued, laughing and quoting from the Postal Service's slogan, "The Postal Service: We deliver!"
Immediately after the ceremony, he returned to Maryland and appeared in front of Rockville's mayor and City Council, who presented him with a proclamation declaring October to be Stamp Month in honor of Mogil and the clouds over Rockville.
On Oct. 22, he will appear at College Gardens Elementary to give a demonstration of how weather works, including making a cloud in a bottle and making it snow -- feats whose inner workings he calls "secret!"
He will only add one small hint: "We make things really, really cold, and then we can get it to snow inside anytime."
He says it in a voice as mystical as he insists the weather can be.