I love a good thunderstorm. A few rolled through our corner of Northern Virginia recently. As I was walking Heidi, the dark clouds slowly crept into the western sky and that unmistakeable chilling calm settled over the neighborhood. The leaves on the trees were blowing upside-down, and the animals were making a break for cover. Heidi and I made it back home well before the rain began, but it wasn’t long before the first drops began pockmarking our deck. As the storm picked up momentum, I opened our deck door (with the screen shut) and picked up Noah so he could see and hear. I don’t believe this was his very first thunderstorm, but he certainly hasn’t seen very many, and I wanted to share the experience with him. I suppose it has to do with sowing the seeds of appreciation for the power and thunderous beauty of nature, and to show him that lightning and thunder are to be respected but not feared. He seemed interested, until he turned around to drool all over my shoulder, but I think I got my point across.
What is it about thunderstorms that enthrall me? I’m not sure, but it’s got to have something to do with my memories of watching storms when I was little.
I can recall many a summer afternoon when my family would while away the time on our front porch, each of us attending to our own hobbies. I’d be playing with action figures or something, crawling all over the place. My dog, Duchess, would be lying panting on the cool concrete porch floor. Mom would be reading. If my brother Bart wasn’t in the basement crafting some kind of wooden model, he would likely be reading too. And as for Dad, he would be whittling with his pocketknife, quietly surveying the neighborhood. This was relatively easy to do, since the porch was both covered by a roof and surrounded by cedar trees, offering a shady and secluded vantage point from our hill all the way out to the highway, at least three-quarters of a mile down the road.
So it was from here that we could see every car coming (not that there were ever that many) and which of our neighbors were home. But we could also see storm clouds cresting the ridge as they gathered steam to blow into our town. In the days when the only weather forecast came from either our newspaper, radio, or the local network news, it wasn’t always a guarantee that we’d get a warning when a storm was coming (and I was around six or seven in this scenario, so I wasn’t paying much attention to weather forecasts, anyway). The weathermen just weren’t that accurate either, so often, seeing those mean-looking clouds were our best indication to batten down the hatches.
In my memory, we could see the rain coming, gliding delicately over the hillsides. From a distance it might look like fog or mist, but as the invisible wall blew ever closer, I could begin to distinguish what type of rain we were facing. Maybe those big, fat drops pelting everything or perhaps more of a finely woven sheet of water.
In my earliest memories of storm watching, Mom would bring a blanket out for me and I would wrap myself up in it, sitting as close to the house as I could, still a bit timid. Duchess would also usually crawl under the blanket with me, either out of fear or wanting to be close to me as well. As the storm would gather strength, it would form flash flood rivers down our hillsides that would flow into our ditches, a maelstrom of renewal and cleansing. Sometimes the lightning was so nearby it would make us all jump and raise the hair on the back of our necks. But my goodness, was it all fun.
It was on that front porch where I first learned to count “one Mississippi, two Mississippi” after a bolt of lightning to figure out how far away a storm was. And there were very few storms bad enough to chase us off the porch, so I always felt safe. Somehow, watching the tempest just outside our doors made home feel even more like the refuge it already was.
So that’s the kind of appreciation I want to share with Noah. We may not have quite as good a place for storm watching these days, but that doesn’t have to stand in the way.
Anyway, perhaps Eric Clapton said it best.