Right now I am listening to one of this signs of the coming season in the form of a thunder storm. I love storms for some reason. The sounds of thunder, the watching lightening light up the terrain, and even the excitement of seeing lightening strike a tree, like it did in my back yard last year to me is something wondrous to behold. There is to me something utterly fascinating about the things that nature does. Be it the ever changing seasons to those big events such as a tornado, or a geological event such as a volcano or earthquake. My little inner science geek gets all giddy when I hear about weather or geological events, and know that our planet has a whole lot of interesting things going on upon or just under its surface every single day.
As with anyone else I am saddened when an event such as a storm or other natural event causes loss of life and property. I know that is part of the price we pay for living on this planet. There is little we can do but prepare defensively and get out of harm’s way if we are able, when such things occur. Yet my fascination with those events still remain strong. I like standing at a window watching a thunderstorm give off its light show, even though I know by a window is not the safest place to be, I also enjoy viewing videos of exploding lava domes, footage of pieces of glaciers falling into a bay, or the seeing a photograph of a Saharan camel caravan crossing by the camera’s point of view in the wake of an incoming sand storm in the near distance. For some strange reason, video and photographs of the glorious power of nature at work are not quite enough for me. Even though I have lived in places where mild earth tremors occur and once lived practically on top of an ancient fault line, I have never personally felt any tremors. Either my vantage point was sheltered from the modest movements of the earth, or I am attuned to only the more obvious occurrences. The closest I have come to any out of the ordinary weather or geological events was when, then Tropical Jeanne crossed through the NC mountains. Former hurricane Ivan had passed through just 10 days prior bringing strong gusting winds, but to me Jeanne was more memorable. I had never seen sustained winds like that, or rain coming at the house at an almost perfect horizontal. I spent the night with both storms with a close eye on the ancient Black Walnut tree that sat less then 20 feet from my house. I didn’t want the tree to fall on my house and foolishly thought my vigil would prevent such and occurance. I kept trying to imagine what higher winds or heavier rainfall would be like and couldn’t. Yet I was still curious.
One of my earliest storm memories was from when I was about five. It was summer and my brother Alan and I was standing in the carport, watching a summer shower. We were waiting on my mother so that we could go somewhere. All of a sudden a white ball appeared at the base of the oak tree across the street and then, in an instant, wound itself up the tree and out of sight, peeling off bark as it went. As the lightening ball disappeared, we heard a terrifying boom, which brought my mother running. She met us running towards the back door. We were all scared, but for me was born a fascination with the things our planet can wreak upon itself.
When I was about 12, I went to a church summer camp in northern Minnesota. Our camp was on the banks of one of the many lakes that crisscrossed the US/Canada border. The summer thunderstorms there were nothing like the ones from what I remembered back home in Tennessee. There lightening lit up the sky in many fingered arcs and the thunder, even ones distant, could like a barrage of cannons with lingering echos bouncing across the surface of the lake, quite unlike the rumbling rolling thunder sounds I was used to. The differences simple geography played in how a thunderstorm played itself out help my curiosity about all things “how the earth does things” grow.
I love to read about how nature works and see imagery of nature in action. I hear accounts of snow so deep that when the snowplows get done clearing the streets, that what has been removed is piled in large hills on nearby farmland. Stories of people literally digging tunnels out of their houses from that snow is just out of my grasp of comprehending having lived my entire life in the American South east. Monsoon seasons, dust storms, ocean waves taller then my house, ash falling from the sky in amounts to need to sweep off roofs, or seeing lava cut through a forest on its way to the see, are all known to me, but yet utterly foreign as well. All those things I have have read or heard about or seen visual imagery of in the form of photos or film. I have never seen any of it first hand. While I admittedly acknowledge that the science behind a great deal in nature is just beyond my mundane level of understanding, I still remain avidly curious. I have never managed to lose that child-like wonder about how the world works, still wanting to know and experience more of it. Even as I am older that desire has not lessened, but has instead increased. I am of the mind that my time here on this planet is a gift, and I want to enjoy all I can discover while I am here. And there is so much yet to discover.
A few years ago I was flying home from a trip. As our plane neared our destination, our pilot announced that we were nearing a weather front and that we may later experience some turbulence. From my seat by a window, I could look out and see a neat row of thunderhead clouds lined up in a slightly curved line heading south west. The late afternoon sun added tones of orange and gold to the western sides of the clouds, while the eastern side showed blues and purple hues. Below the row of pillared clouds, marching ever eastwards, a blanket of gray showed where the rain must have been falling. I kept my face pressed against that tiny airline window, until our descent towards our landing site took that gorgeous view out of my line of sight. I had never looked down on storm clouds before. Most of my fellow passengers with window seats weren’t all that interested in the display outside. But I was and enjoyed the view as long as it lasted.
I may never get to stand on a windswept plain and see a tornado rolling by, or feel the unsettling uncertainty of an earthquake shaking my vantage point, or gaze into the heat-filled maw of an active volcano, but I can stand on my back porch and feel snowflakes fall on my upturned face, or stand on my front porch and watch the night sky light up with heat lightening in late July. I can also see what nature leaves behind, in the form of new life following a harsh winter, when the first daffodils open up their yellow heads and dance in the coming spring breezes.
The great actor Sir Lawrence Olivier is credited with saying “Living is strife and torment, disappointment and love and sacrifice, golden sunsets and black storms. I said that some time ago, and today I do not think I would add one word.” In my observations of weather, nature and life on a personal level, I would have to completely agree. Life, as nature is fluid. Life as in nature will have periods of calm, periods of turmoil; periods of growth, periods of destruction; cycles of life and cycles of death. There is beauty there to discover to examine, to learn from and to appreciate. I may manage be able to begin to scratch the surface of what there is to find in this single lifetime.
“To pay homage to beauty is to admire Nature; to admire Nature is to worship God”-Anonymous