it started slow. pit. pat. while we all licked our forks out on the porch with the screens. then, pitpitpit. patpatpat. skies opened, all right, without so much as a telltale creak of the trapdoor. heavens flashed off and on, like angels were making a fuss with their flashlights. checking batteries. sending signals. playing flashlight tag, maybe.
nobody minded. the splash from the rain hitting the leaves in the garden just made for a mist. a midsummer‘s shower, while dining on just-plucked corn and sausages burned on the grill. what’s to mind?
we sat there till finally the drumbeat of rain on the roof slowed to a murmur. then we stacked all the plates and we dashed. last one inside is a dripping wet dishrag.
i lost, but only because i was balancing saucers and stopped to notice some lovely something there in the garden.
just as i slid closed the screen, it started up again. mighty fierce. crashing and banging. and lights flashing so steadily up in the clouds, i started to think maybe there’d been a run on double DD batteries. maybe every angel on high, and even a devil or two, was having at it with lightbeams.
always one to heighten the drama whenever, wherever, it comes, i turned out the lights. every last one. oh, there was protest of course, but i didn’t care. this was a lightshow on high, and i wasn’t missing one blessed kilowatt. oh, no.
and that’s when my big brother, one who’s not around these parts very much, well, he started to teach. he was, in the simplest terms, explaining the lightning, something i’d never quite stopped to try to figure out, ’cept that i knew it scared me, and made me run with my face all scrunched-up and my back arched as i dashed through the pounding-down rain and the puddles, certain at any step i’d get cracked on the backside and make like a lighted-up x-ray.
but back to my brother and his lecture on lightning:
“it’s the same as when you rub your feet on the carpet, then touch the top of your head or a doorknob, and, kabam, there’s a spark. static electricity, that’s all it is. as the cold air rubs against the warm air, there’s friction, then, kapow, lightning.”
that’s pretty much, word for word, how my big brother explained it. he went on and on. talked about how there’s three kinds of lightning: cloud to ground, cloud to cloud, and stuck inside a cloud. talked about positive and negative charges. talked about stability and instability, only he was referring to air.
tried to make me see how easy this was: warm air, down low, wants to float up. bangs into the cold stuff way up high, now on its way down, sinking.
laid out a simple equation. warm + cold = friction. when there’s enough of a buildup, when one side is more charged than the other, the electricity has to go somewhere, he tells me. that’s lightning, he says.
oh, i think, i get it, realizing i will now forever picture cold air in slippers, scuffing against warm air, the rug. when the lightning cracks i will forever picture a big doorknob in the sky, and the clouds yelping, ouch, when they get shocked by the frictional sparks.
“nature is always trying to strike a balance,” my brother goes on. water sloshing in a bowl levels out. a windy day, he tells me, is no more than air from a high-pressure pocket swooping into a low-pressure pocket with plenty of room. a melting ice cube in a tumbler of H2O is simply the frozen water chunk surrendering its chill to the room-temperature tap water it’s swimming in, trying to make all things equal, or at least in the same general temperature neighborhood.
he knows this stuff, inside and out, my big brother does.
he specializes in all things off the ground. he has been, since he was old enough to say, “pairpane,” obsessed with all things aeronautic.
he has flown itty-bitty planes onto itty-bitty spits of land in alaska, turned loopdy-loops over the sides of a mountain in montana, and now teaches folks how to fly super-duper jets out in long beach, california.
and while i don’t care much–never have, never will–for bombers, and my heart doesn’t thump even for bi-winged wonders, i did suddenly find myself enthralled by my sky-seeking brother’s knowledge of weather.
actually, mesmerized would be more accurate a term.
i could have listened for hours. i felt myself being swallowed whole by the topic of ebbs and flows and collisions of air. it’s all about cold and warm, and wet and dry, and up and down, and the simple exchange of ions.
the world, when you stop to pay attention to it, is really rather basic. we can, if we try to, understand vast chapters that seem, well, lightyears beyond our reach.
i think deep down i am a science geek. but the more i know about science, the more it makes me a geek of the God kind. i grow speechless, feel infinitesimally small, when i start to consider the fingers of God–or whatever name you put to the force behind the wind and the tide and the spinning of ol’ mama earth.
i marvel so at the great Brilliance that thought to make the tongue of the butterfly just long enough to reach deep into the throat of the trumpet vine. and what of the seasons that give each and every living thing–even those of us who merely stare out the window–a season to curl up and hibernate, after the long, hot summer?
how heavenly the sense that all the bursting of lights the other night was simply air banging into air of the opposite kind, and exploding in celestial hallelujah. and what about the simple falling of the rain that brings with it not only earth-quenching waters but essential nitrogen to make the roots of my new baby plants grow deep?
no wonder some of us sit with our nose pressed to the rain-splattered panes of glass. there is wonder crashing and booming just beyond the sill.
i, for one, don’t want to miss it. especially now that my big brother made it all make such pure and simple, heaven’s sense.
by any chance did you catch the light show the other night? according to the weather people, who track these things, we here in chicagoland got as many lightning strikes in a few short hours as we usually get in a whole half of the year. oh, goodness. good thing i turned out the lights to take in every last crack and flash. i wonder, do you ever stop to consider the weather? either as wholly explainable science, or truly inexplicable marvel?
just happens today is the day of my true love’s original birth. he rarely happens by here, but in case he does, bless you for being my truly inexplicable marvel. you couldn’t have asked for a simpler birthday formula–blueberries and rice chex for breakfast, burgers on the grill for dinner. it’s one of the pure things we love about you. that, and a few hundred others. xoxox
two days from now my baby boy turns 7. could it really be? seems every other day at the launch of this eighth month is the birthday of someone i much love. happy blessed birthdays to the whole parade of you…
I have a VERY healthy respect for weather. When I was in 7th grade, my house was flattened by a tornado. April 3, 1974. Cincinnati. So when the weather turned threatening on Monday night and we checked the weather channel and discovered a tornado WARNING – not a little watch, but a full fledged WARNING – had been issued, we headed down to the basement. If it hadn’t been for the WARNING, I probably could have enjoyed the lightning show, but alas I was in the basement with the lights on waiting for the weather to clear and the WARNING to expire.
First things first … Happy Birthday to two of the coolest guys on the planet. I will never forget the cold January Sunday morning breakfast at the maple table listening to their conversation. That morning was pure pleasure. All the best.I find it ironic that as I type this, outside the window is a gray sky with lightening – the typical summer afternoon shower that we so deeply love here in the mountains of northern Arizona. With the majestic Grand Canyon a mere hour or two away, I sometimes forget how blessed I am to live here. The lightening show on the mountains is a sight to see … BUT, we must respect it as well. I lived in my house for less than two weeks when lightening struck our beautiful silver maple tree and within minutes it was burned to a crisp. I learned that day that you can enjoy the light show, but from a safe distance.hh … this fellow Buckeye knows all about the tornadoes … oh yeah.
Yes, after the early evening in the basement, then putting tornado-warned, wired, and wound-up kids to bed, the real business began at around 11:30. I wish your brother had been at my house because with every skull-cracking crash of thunder I was jumping further and further out of my skin. I have never heard so many big ones. They say it was 800 strikes per minute at the height of the storm. I don’t like lightning and thunder, no sir. No real reason, it’s just scary, and noisy, and it turns me into a five year old.One of the reasons I love Arizona, where I come from, is that it seems to me one of the few spots on earth that is not actively trying to kill you. Unlike the midwest, which is by turns merely terrifying and actually devastating. Living at the lakefront here in Chicago we used to see storms where great boulders would be thrown up out of the water onto the shore, great waves 20 or 30 feet hight would crash over the tops of trees. Then of course there’s the wind and the cold–but we won’t go there as it’s still August. Somehow I have managed to survive 22 years in this place without being struck down by some malevolent weather form or another. And I, and all of us who were here, managed to witness the single biggest thunderstorm ever in the history of our city. Bam, can you rent out that brother of yours for next time?
dearest h and p and j, holy tornado, batman, you have some stories to tell. h’s is the saddest. i cannot imagine being a little girl and finding my house flattened. i think i’d still be curled in a corner, and bless you h that you found that almighty miracle that allowed you the spunk to get up and go on. it’s simply devastating, and anything other than a sunny day might give me the willies. pjv, i can’t believe you watched lightning singe a tree to the ground. i keep thinking about what i’d feel like if i looked out the window and saw crispy-fried baby tree. considering i worry half the night when too much rain is making my baby plants curl up and whimper…i think it’s the brushing up against the unmerciful side of nature that is so eye-opening. it reminds us of our little tiny place here on the planet, here in this millisecond of passing time. (for the record, for what it’s worth, that is not nor ever has been in one iota my sense of God. i know plenty who were schooled in an unmerciful wrathful God, but not me. i was uber blessed, schooled in the ’60s when all was kumbaya and the red balloon, and i believed in a great big benevolent God, a God who took my hand when i was scared, a God who opened doors, and turned on lights down dark dark hallways…) but the waking up or living through the wrath of rain or storm or heat that won’t relent, that’s wholly humbling. jcv, your flying boulders on the shore is somethin’ i would actually be mesmerized by. long as i was safe behind a window, i find the power of the earth and seas something wild, and riveting. i believe, though, after all this talk and the thoughts of so many tsunami images and earthquakes, i will contain my deepest fascination for the gentler side of mama nature, the trickling down of rain that makes the roots stretch out and drink, and the mama bird teaching, urging, her little ones to fly. i will watch the lightning through the upstairs window, and whisper prayers all the while that all are safe, and no one’s house or tree is suffering at the mighty hand of unleashed fury…
bam, you have done a wonderful job of taking my comments on weather and thunderstorms and lightning the other night…and weaving them into your blog! Never imagined I might find my aeronautical discussions ending up here, but, why not? It seems, I think, that as long as I have been flying, I have been endlessly fascinated by the sky and weather. God’s kitchen, as it is sometimes called. Yep. What causes this and that, in the sky? Why are clouds this shape or that….why is the wind doing this or that? For years I have been flying through the sky…and watching the cloud formations or lack thereof…I would wonder, and still do….what is happening here….trying to make sense of it…what ”weather system’ as we sometimes refer to it, is causing this or that. Understand that as a flyer, this is a course of study from which you do not graduate…but you continue to learn….and learn from. We call it experience. Gee, I could really get carried away here and write a lot….trying to keep this short. Did I mention that I have actually flown through a full blown mid-western thunderstorm, probably sorta like what we had at your house on Monday night? Yep, really did, many years ago. Amazingly, you might be interested to know, while we were in the midst of it….and talk about a wild ride….up and down drafts exceeding 1,000 feet per minute. Most would be RUNNING for cover. I was NOT terrified. Really. Can’t explain. Instead, I was awestruck by the power of Mother Nature…and immediately gained a very healthy respect for thunderstorms and weather. I was instead, fascinated by what I was flying through, and amazed by the way the airplane handled it, and was very impressed that the airplane stayed together….firmly intact, throughout. I gained a very healthy respect for the machine and its designer…..that it could survive that. Yes, in an attempt to learn more about thunderstorm weather, I have taken formal courses of study in weather radar, to gain a better understanding of that technoology, to avoid thunderstorms. I would still like to learn more about them, and do weather research, Really. Can’t explain. Won’t try. Thanks again for asking about thunderstorms and lightning! I love to share what I have learned about this, in simple terms….if someone is interested. No reason to make it complicate it. I will also be the first to tell you that I consider myself to be a student of both flying and weather. I don’t know all there is to know, and will always have more to learn. That is part of the fascination for me….there is alwys more to learn about this….it can be so simple, and yet so complex. I am glad that this helped you to have a better understanding of this, and for sharing it with others. Glad I could be a part of that. Ask me again, any time! jsm
Just realized that I typed ‘lightening’ rather than ‘lightning’ …. sheeesh. That there’s the pitfall of having spell check for everything … except this comment box, of course!Thanks for the tutorial jsm … I can tell you’re intimately acquainted with those puffy things we call clouds ………………..
Love it! Great to hear from another guy! I remember our next door neighbor’s Dad, father of ten, saying (during a softball game, playing shortstop) “make the easy ones look hard, and the hard ones look easy!” That was 40 years ago, but my brother John, the pilot, the teacher, the man, does what the excellent teachers all do. Makes the hard ones look easy. Now I get lightning. The teacher ushered me in. Painlessly.
i now have a very nervous nine year old on my hands. doesn’t matter that the sun is back to shining every day now…she is still shaking in her (rain) boots!Have tried everything i can think of to calm her fears, nothing is working. Any suggestions?
a simple, beautiful explanation from john. it can really be extended to how we work too- hot, cold, high, low. a whole swirling world of human pressure systems that bounce off of each other on the subway, in the grocery store, at the park. talk about a brilliant kapow. sometimes you want to sit in the window and marvel for hours, and other times dive under the covers. amazing.
ah, there is nothing like the joy of coming to a full table. here, wait, scooch over, let me squeeze in….(words to love, whenever you hear them; sure sign there’s company and a crowd all wanting in on whatever’s on the table…..)mom of 2 first. hmmm. wonder if a little science experiment would work. show her static electricity. tell her that’s all it is, up in the clouds. it’s the clouds scuffing their slippers on a rug. you know your angel, you would have the best clue of what would work. i find knowing eases anxiety, so a little science mixed in with my worries might wipe em away. but she might not like that sort of solution. jsm, a fine thing to find you here, to find so many appreciating your wisdom and learning on lightning. it is endlessly fascinating so i can see why you keep going to weather school. i might sign up for correspondence course. and laura, blessed laura, weighing in from the apple. your subway reference gave you away. or at least your new geographic point of comparison. i love how you took the truth straight from the weather map to the map of our insides–our souls, our psyches, our eternal and infinite quest to try to strike a balance in all things……if we spent more hours of our day in quiet calm, just think how rich and ever-more-tolerable our ups and downs might be. i think of the deep chinese understanding of balance. i think of china, today, on the opening day of the olympics. i think of how we’ve polluted them with our cultural and technological imbalances………i suddenly feel a low pressure system coming on…….gotta go kiss my birthday boy goodbye. he’s off to the ballpark with his daddy. waited all year for this day. he’s seven, my baby is…….
Here’s my wish for the boy on #7 … May your favorite boy of summer (aka baseball player) smack a homer to your section and may it fall into your outstretched hand (properly gloved, of course) and provide a fitting souvenir of this big day. Happy Birthday Little Man.