Liyan Zhao
Documentarian/Weather tracker


[Weather Diary]
Crisp blue sky that turned a bit milky by the late afternoon. Something resembling a thin fog covered the entire sky. The radio host on the local NPR station mentioned a chance of rain this weekend but even he didn't seem to believe it.

Saw that Kate Bush was topping music charts again and took a deep dive on YouTube. Watched her music video for Cloudbusting, inspired by Wilhelm . sky

Soft groups of clouds neatly distributed across the sky.

Came across the ecosex manifesto. "We are aquaphiles, teraphiles, pyrophiles and aerophiles. We shamelessly hug trees, massage the Earth with our feet and talk erotically to plants. We are skinny dippers, sun worshippers and stargazers. We caress rocks, are pleasured by waterfalls and admire the Earth's curves often. We make love with the Earth through our senses. We celebrate our E-spots. We are very dirty."

Watched a short film in the evening called The Nest that reminded me a lot of Stephen Gill's The Pillar (a favorite I come back to time and again). Thinking about the single frame, letting landscape hold space and time. sky

Clear sky with a few small wisps of clouds scattered about.

Bit of an insomniac these days. Listened to the chapter in Rising about Oakwood trying to fall asleep last night. A lot of things I had experienced in person during my visits but also heart-rending descriptions of the aftermath of Sandy and the demoliton of the houses.

Reports of more rainstorms in Kentucky, chances of more flash flooding in the coming days.

Starting to do some research into the water systems around Milwaukee and came across an interesting NYT piece about Chicago’s changing relationship to Lake Michigan. sky

Larger, denser clouds today compared to the past few days. Consistent heat in the three digits.

Read a 99pi article on Bermuda rooftops designed to withstand hurricanes and collect fresh rainwater, and how they’re now being imported into other storm-prone areas. Listened to more of Rising—a section on Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana which loosely inspired Beasts of the Southern Wild. Stories of people who stay behind, who hold on fiercely to the place they’ve lived in their whole lives. Reminders of the families who chose to stay in Bayou Oaks after three consecutive floods in In Too Deep: Class and Motherhood in a Flooded Community.

Practiced parallel parking with dad in the evening, getting ready for driving in New York and the unknown streets of Milwaukee. sky

Scattered clouds, still no rain in sight. Waited until sunset to get a nice photo of the sky but the color wasn’t as vibrant as the day before.

Listened to an episode of 99 pi on water today. Descriptions of disembodiment in water, losing one’s body to melt into a collective body.

Downloaded an audiobook version of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, which Elijah had recommended. Chapter one talks about the disappearance of the black tupelo tree.

“I see them and know that the erosion of species, of land, and, if we are not careful, of the very words we use to name the plants and animals that are disappearing is not a political lever or a fever dream. I see them and remember that those who live on the margins of our society are the most vulnerable, and that the story of species vanishing is repeating itself in nearly every borderland…And if we do not call them by their names we will lose not only the trees themselves but also all trace of their having ever been.”

“…learn the names now, and you will at least be able to preserve what is being threatened in our collective memory, if not in the physical world.” sky

Almost cloudless skies in the afternoon. The day felt brighter than usual but it may have been due to a mix of me being cooped up inside for two days and the excitement of picking up the new car today.

Drove down to San Marcos to finalize the paperwork on the car. Feels surreal finally having a car of my own after so many years. A whole new world of possibilities open to me, but also the new burden of upkeep costs and responsibilities.

Sent an article that popped up in my newsfeed about New York transforming back into an “aquapolis” to Natasha. Wildlife returning to New York waters and more people being drawn to the shoreline.


Mostly clear skies today, a nice, neat pair of clouds when I went out to take a snapshot in the afternoon. Still cooped up resting, but it was nice to step outside for a brief moment and feel the heat of the sun.

Couldn’t use my eyes much all day, caught up on podcasts I haven’t heard in a long time. Highlight was an Audio Long Read episode on wild rice and the rights of nature.

News alert about deadly flash flooding in Kentucky yesterday. sky

Day of surgery today, spent all afternoon and evening with an ice pack over my eyes. Asked dad to take a picture of the sky, curious to see how it looks. He said it was quite cloudy and mentioned that he included a bit of the trees in the photo. He suggested that I frame more of the context in my documentation of the sky. sky

A few small clouds in the sky. Another hot dry day, high of 102, with no end in sight. Another news alert today about heatwave along the Eastern seaboard.

Dad said he was worried about the lawn, and I mentioned watching something about lawn alternatives in the wake of the drought on the West coast. sky

Flight home to Austin this morning. Clear skies overhead, a few low clouds close to the horizon. Temperatures in the three digits in Austin. Saw a news alert that the Pacific Northwest is also getting record temperatures in the three digits.

Reports of flashing flooding in St. Louis. Concerns over growing threat of serious drought just days before and then record rainfall. Scientists warn that as climate continues to warm, flash floods will be more dangerous and destructive. sky

Rainy with heavy clouds for most of the day. Much cooler than the past few days. The sun finally emerged around 6p and the summer heat returned.

Went to the Sculpture Center and PS1 with Kim. Watched a long video piece that made me think of representing modes of production on screen. Saw a piece that was a collection of water samples taken from all around New York City. Found a sample from Great Kills in Staten Island, close to Oakwood.

A vibrant Deana Lawson show at PS1, a blend of staged and chanced life. Intentional omissions and confusions.

Stopped by Dom’s to look at footage from our last shoot together. Some beautiful results from Dom’s tests shooting through a glass container of water.

Late night packing for 6am flight tomorrow. Sleep will have to wait. sky

Unbearably hot day with faint wisps of clouds in the sky. Seemed like the air conditioning was off everywhere I went. Meg said it reminded her of Europe and I thought of summers in China, getting by with nothing but a fan.

Met up with Amir and Elijah in the afternoon, poor Elijah on crutches, and Meg and Carl plus roommates for dinner. Bittersweet last days in New York, seeing everyone for what feels like the last time in a long time. But two year isn’t so long, is it? sky

Clear skies at the beach with Bo. A noticeable shift in temperature coming back to Sunset Park at night.

Bo and I took half a tab of acid each which hit us at some point on the ferry ride to Rockaway. Was completely entranced by the water ripples coming off the back of the boat, layers of water moving over other water only to merge into one water again. Thought of Roni Horn’s descriptions of water in Another Water. sky

Mostly clear skies with a medium breeze. Blazing hot sun that was hard to bear without a little shade.

Finished listening to the Audio Long Read episode on flood resilience. Slow water that lingers and gives life, local water. Indigenous beliefs that water and natural entities are living beings entitled to rights. Makes me think of a National Geographic article I read about a Canadian river being granted legal personhood. These Indigenous-led conservation tactics are part of a global rights of nature movement. If corporations are people, why not rivers?

“We need to see that as humans we are not above the water or the animals. We are part of a whole. When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves, too.” sky

Bright afternoon sun with dense patches of clouds. A real vertical depth to the sky. The clouds sat in delineated layers high into the atmosphere. Some unsettling sounds of thunder in the mid afternoon.

Finally watched Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life today. A lesson in camera work and editing. Fluid camera movements, wide-angle close-ups, upward angles, quick cuts between moving shots. Slippage between different spans of time. Glory in the indifference of nature.

Saw a terrifying video of a sinkhole in the Bronx that emerged during the rain storm a few days ago. Natural disasters and crumbling infrastructure. Thoughts of pothole-ridden Fox Lane on Staten Island. sky

Slowly shifting cloud formations that the sun peeked through turned into clear skies by the early evening. Hot day but the kind of dry heat I love.

Watched a short by Lucretia Martel that began with a long time-lapse of a pastoral Argentinian landscape. Thought of geologic time, different scales of time and perspectives, and how to represent these on film. Time-lapse could be a good device to play with, maybe a jarring juxtaposition, quick cuts between time-lapse and slow-motion.

Went to the last house class with Cricket at night, bittersweet and touching. We talked about the oral histories of the dance, the gatekeepers, and the passing on of the culture. He advised me to think of my body as an instrument in the music, to take my time with everything, to not be afraid of being late. Dance lessons and life lessons. Embodiment, service, and patience. sky

Mostly clear skies with wisps of clouds hanging about. A cooling breeze. Watched Fire of Love with Amir. Wasn’t a fan of the stylistic flourishes but absolutely astounding footage from the two volcanologists. Katia and Maurice Krafft, so steadfast and absolutely in their joint pursuit of the volcanoes they love. The pursuit of scientific knowledge but also some unnameable feeling beyond the rational.

It’s something of the same compulsion that drives storm chasers I think. A compulsion I’m feeling more and more as I dive deeper into this work. An itch to travel, to document natural forces so much greater than oneself. Stepping away from humanity to get closer to humanity. sky

Cloudy, overcast day. Extremely humid, worse than yesterday. The air felt like hot molasses. Body heavy and sluggish, but managed to make the trip to Staten Island to pick up my trail camera. The local geese had wandered all the way out to the post office, the farthest I've seen them. I’ve grown quite fond of them over the weeks. Felt a twinge of sadness leaving them for the last time.

Read about cloud classification on the bus ride there and back. Studied the illustrations of cumulus clouds from Thomas Forster’s book and looked up to see low hanging nimbus clouds outside the bus windows. Later received a blog link from Amir that showed the illustrations in color. sky

Cloudy, balmy day. Classic summertime New York humidity. The air temperature 82° but the "feels like" temperature had to be at least 10° higher.

16mm workshop with Steve tonight. First time at Mono No Aware. Really warm and generous space, wished I'd visited earlier. Shot on my Bolex for the first time and realized I need to get a wider lens for it. I told Steve that I was moving to Milwaukee soon for an experimental film program, and he mentioned that the school has great facilities for 16mm and a lot of mutual contacts. Left feeling lifted in spirit and better about leaving the city for now.

Natasha sent me Instagram videos of the rainstorm yesterday. The stairs of a city park looked like an immense waterfall. Much more torrential than the rain I experienced between Sunset Park and Lincoln Center. sky

Surprised by sudden rain in the early afternoon. Overcast skies for the rest of the day. The overwhelming humidity of the morning broke instantly. A jarring shift in atmospheric sensation that felt a bit like teleportation.

Met Ingrid to watch a Taiwanese film her godfather directed. Not much to note plot-wise but appreciated the aquatic shots and sounds. The bright orange color of the main character’s fish shop uniform popped against the other elements. Orange:blue, orange:water, orange:wet, orange:melodrama, orange:loneliness—a synesthesic complementary color theory. sky

Mostly clear skies with a few clumps of clouds scattered about. Thought about going to Staten Island to pick up the trail cam but decided to wait for potential rain this weekend. Impromptu gallery visit and long chat with Amir after.

Read a passage in The Weather Experiment about John Constable and the importance of the sky and clouds in his paintings. He especially liked cumulus clouds for their chiaroscuro effect on the landscape. Many parallels to film where light is everything. “Madam, I never saw an ugly thing in my life, but light, shade, or perspective would always make it beautiful.”

Makes me think of the famous John Cage quote, “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

Duration and close-looking. sky