Friday, July 13, 2012

Two faces of thunderstorms

A florescent flash appears, ripping downward from shroud of cloudy heavens to trembling earth outside my window.  Two seconds pass, and the skies rumble and shake, beating out a drum roll, a clash of raw power so great that I can understand why the ancient Greeks believed in Zeus.  The rain falls in fury.  And I lay on the bed, with blinds pulled midway, an unblinking eyelid of the window peering out at the summer storm.

Thunderstorms enchant me.  They always have. 

Before I lay on the bed, while the storm still revved its engines, I scurried to the shower, lit some candles, turned off the lights and stepped in under the warm stream.  I tuned my ears to the thunder and listened while I stood in my own rainstorm.  As a young girl, I read books of families in cabins with tin roofs and how they loved lying in bed listening to the rain's melodies, and how I longed to be there, to hear that sound.  Even now, I wish for a tin roof on rainy nights, so I content myself with an open window during a thunderstorm.  

Thunder and lightning and driving rains are soothing when I'm indoors, watching it brew from a distance.  It's a whole different world being caught in the throes of a thunderstorm.  The quaint idea of rain on tin, of light illuminating dark windows, of skies roaring, quickly dissolves into sheer vulnerability and adrenaline-pumping fear.  Majestic nature becomes downright frightening.  

I know.

Lightning illumines a memory, three summers ago, on Ross Lake in the northern Cascades.  Three girls in an aluminum canoe and one kayak in the middle of a lake at least a mile wide, cradled between mountains.  We've got a long paddle this day, around eight miles, but the skies are brooding.  We paddle hard, wanting to see how far we can get before we have to pull off.  Until the lightning stretches like a scar across the top of the mountains, and we count.  One one thousand, two one thousand - KABOOM!  Thunder bounces from one side of the lake to the other and the rain starts to pour.  The winds pick up speed across the waters and we strain our eyes to see a place to pull in on the long expanse of land in the distance.  It doesn't look very far to paddle, but we know in these waters, we've got a good fifteen minutes of strenuous pull.  The lightning-streaking-thunder-cracking-wind-whipping combo isn't relenting for us.  

And there, in the middle of the lake, I realize I'm just a tiny ant in a metal boat, at the mercy of nature, praying the lightning doesn't electrify the waters.  Here, thunderstorms are to be feared.

Driven by adrenaline, we make it to the shoreline and find a small wooden dock, pull our boats up on land so the water doesn't swallow them whole.  We're laughing now, nervous energy, wet clothes clinging to wet bodies.  There is no shelter but the trees, so we make our own canopy and ride out the rest of the storm in a happy huddle.
My love of thunderstorms is now tempered, rightly so, by that experience on Ross Lake.  But I still relish these rare moments of sights and sounds and smells through the shelter of my window. 

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