When I was young, I was terrified of thunderstorms. Even low rumblings of thunder made my heart pound, and lightening drove me to tears. I was always afraid that our house would be struck by lightening and burn to the ground. I even remember coming home on the bus on stormy afternoons and searching anxiously for smoke over the tops of trees where my house should be, so my fear was very real, though unfounded.
Sometime over the many years since then, I not only lost my fear but developed a fascination, even a delight, in thunderstorms. Instead of putting as much space between myself and the windows as I can, I now stand in front of them, transfixed, watching the sky turn that eerie greenish hue that signals a big storm approaching. Next comes the wind, whirling the tree branches in a chaotic dance, snapping off leaves and sometimes branches themselves. The air is strewn with debris: twigs, dust, ripped leaves, corn stalks, random trash, making the wind visible. A low, menacing rumble, an angry giant walking, sounds in the distance and spreads into the yard, louder and more threatening. Then lightening, like a rent in the grey fabric of the sky, tears diagonally across the scene, chased by a sound of an enormous whip, or a pistol exploding. E.B. White, in one of my favorite essays, “Once More to the Lake,” describes a storm as an orchestra warming up: first the kettle drums, then the snares, the whole fracas as the different instruments contributing their sounds until it is a wonderful clash of noise. My version is less symphonic, less controlled, more dangerous and wild beyond begin contained in an orchestra pit, yet I love his metaphor, and it gets at some of the confusion and roiling noise.
Jagged thorns of white hot light pierce grey clouds, releasing rain that lashes in the wind. Cracking, whipping, bellowing, booming, the thunder, wind, rain, lightening moil and churn, battle for pre-eminence. Clashing and hacking, electrifying the sky, sinister streaks of mayhem blaze out, burst, then die to darkness. Sound takes over: the landscape bellows. Fields roll restless and tectonic plates seem to shift, grating, shrieking, rumbling. Sometimes a bolt charges the sky, a second of silence follows, then a bomb so immense that the earth shakes, enunciates its disappearance. I feel it even where I stand–warm, dry, and mostly unshaken. It quivers through the floorboards into my toes and travels up my legs like conduits and explodes in my brain. I am unmoved. I cannot move. I am riveted to my spot by the bolts that were just driven through my body.