Every time I see a thunderhead - those enormous, fluffy cumulonimbus clouds stretching thousands of feet up into the sky, harbingers of thunderstorms - I think of my father. Flying in small airplanes with him throughout my childhood, thunderheads often seemed close enough to touch when looking out the plane's windows, like cotton candy floating in the sky. On one very memorable occasion in the 1980s, my father, brother and I attempted to fly over a ring of thunderheads outside Boise on the final leg home to Seattle after a trip to Kansas. The rough air tossed us about like a toy. Despite being a seasoned flyer, it took all my concentration to not throw up. Turning back to Boise, I was never so happy to step onto terra firma. Where there are thunderheads, there is also wind - creating very bumpy air. That was a flight none of us ever forgot.

Today is the anniversary of my father's birth. He passed away in 2009, at age 85. 

As the girls and I head out on our usual after-dinner walk, I spy a thunderhead. Warm memories of my father lighten my step and bring a smile to my eyes. The clouds are his birthday gift to me.

A thunderhead greats us as we start our walk.

Thunderheads low on the horizon circle Seattle in the distance.

Arriving at Juanita Beach Park, a Friday Farmers Market is underway, with a musician set up under a white canopy to serenade strollers. I park the girls on the grass under the shade of a tree - 70F is warm for them - and sit down to listen. Within minutes, a woman approaches and asks to meet the girls.

The girls pose with their new friend.

The woman is so impressed with Meadow's fluffy, soft head that she encircles Meadow in her arms and rests her cheek between Meadow's ears.

Next in line for some malamute love: a girl, still a toddler, her diaper peeking above her pants waistband, with a smile brighter than the sun. She gently holds out her tiny hand for the girls to sniff while her mother praises her for doing so. It's such a sweet, endearing moment that I neglect to take a photo.

While the girls and I watch and listen to all the activity around us, I keep an eye on the thunderheads moving across the sky. The wind is picking up. The sun splashes us with warmth, then disappears behind the clouds. 

No one notices, but the rain is on its way.

As the wind and waves pick up, at least one small sailboat takes advantage. The thunderheads in the distance give an ominous tone to the scene, like a big white shark circling stealthily, waiting to swallow the boat whole. A storm is coming.

The girls and I head home. 

But I'm intrigued by the coming storm. Putting the girls in the house with Finn, I leave them all behind but this time take my digital camera so that I can zoom in on the thunderheads. My iPhone can only do so much. I head back to the park.

On the way, I see a neighbor walking her dog, Izzy. I stop to greet Izzy and chat with the neighbor. Suddenly, it's as if we're in a micro-tornado - the wind whirls furiously around us, whipping our hair. Izzy leaps after and snatches an alder leave that flies through the air in front of her. Cottonwood seeds swirl around us like snowflakes. A tree branch breaks and falls, hitting a parked car just behind us. It's a wild storm, picking up fast!

Sheets of rain approaching.

I decide to leave before the rain - and possibly lightning - arrive.

I make it home just in time. As a few sprinkles start falling, I gather up a book and notepad left on the deck earlier this afternoon. The wind gains strength. Turning to go back into the house, I hear an enormous crack in the distance, followed quickly by crashing and crunching sounds. A tree - likely a tall evergreen - must have fallen up in the hillside community called Goat Peak. I've heard mature trees fall in the forest; it's a distinctive sound. Earlier this year, a tree fell in Goat Peak and impaled the roof of an older house, one that was probably an original old summer cabin. It has since been abandoned as uninhabitable. I've marveled that the big trees on that hill don't fall more frequently, given the slope they grow on and the winds off Lake Washington that they're frequently exposed to.

Thunderheads. I love them for their drama and the memories the bring. Happy birthday, Dad. I miss you so much.