Outdoor Adventure: Thunderstorm ushers in the beginning of spring
Spring comes on the sound of thunder; distant rumble, faint but unmistakable, the low-pitched growl of a beast awakening. You hear it in the darkness, lower the book, cock an ear as if in so doing you will discern something of importance. All that is important, though, is the thunder itself; hear that and you’ve heard enough. Distant thunder tells all, speaks to you as the sound of geese on high tells all.
The thunder tells of storm rising, tells of warm air touching cold, speaks of power hidden in the night sky. Thunder tells of season; hear the thunder and in it you hear spring time. Springtime murmurs in low pitch of thunder in the night as certain as you hear it in trill and symphony of birdcall in high cloud.
Winter is a silent season under a shroud of white. Snow falls soft as a sigh of sadness, a sigh of resignation. There is no sound to flake on ground, of one snowflake on another, building and drifting like sand. Winter cold and winter snow come on silent wings, shift and settle; soundless.
We live in the quiet time of winter; the land lies as if at rest, too tired for a breath, too worn out to raise protest or call. Winter is the silent time.
Spring brings rustle and movement and change so fast that every day is different. Lingering snow dapples land as a spotted pony; warmth comes, snow is gone. Lake ice turns hazy then gray then black; then gone. Ground lies brown and battered and worn; warm day, light rain, green breaks through. A green sprout one day; more the next; a yard-full the following.
In early spring rain falls in chill air; we hunch against the cold and the damp and our bones ache from it. Temperature falters and stalls like an old engine starting under protest. Sky lowers in gloom; hope and optimism seem buried in the mud and duff. Robins puff against the days of false spring; sandhill cranes sing their ancient song, dance as if in defiance of the gray days.
It warms, but slowly and we gripe of late spring and complain of needing a break after the long winter. A warm day spurs hope; our spirits rise. Then cold again and slushy drizzle mists our eyes and hope fades.
So it has been this spring on a seemingly glacier-slow move from winter to true spring. Springtime has been a thing of the calendar, a date on paper that is hollow in its meaning in the reality of this April and May.
Then comes thunder over the horizon in the darkness as if the season was lumbering forward on heavy feet, as if borne on the back of an ancient creature of weight and heft and in that timeless sound you hear spring as certain as if it was called out by trumpets and high-reaching music.
We heard the sound in the past week, the sound of thunder in the night but more than mere thunder; we heard in that the irrevocable sound of spring that has come.
We had a thunderstorm; another; a third. They came in darkness of night and in the dark of pre-dawn. One came in the time just past midnight when thunder grew and lightning flashed and tore the sky open with flash and bang, spark and roar. The white-silver light filled the bedroom with light; then dark. Lie in bed, count the seconds off; one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand…and then thunder crashes and the house seems to shake.
The dogs whine in the darkness; I see them silhouetted at the window. Thunder sounds; dogs whimper, come to the bed, sink into the covers. Rain falls hard; hear it in the dark. Winter is the silent season; a spring storm is another thing altogether.
At dawning the sky lightens to hazy gray. Puddles are deep on the sidewalk and in the driveway. I let the dogs out; Thor and Fenway bound into the wet grass. Riika holds back; only a few days from surgery she holds her leg off the floor, lifts her head to me, then turns back to the kitchen, finds a dog bed; settles as if under a weight.
I step out into the day. It is cool but fresh and the air has the fullness of a storm just passed. Is there any air as pure as that just washed by rain, charged by lightning, celebrated by thunder? Is there any air that matches that? I breathe deep, greedily taking in the freshness of the morning air as if it has more to give me than normal air. Then two dogs come to me, wet feet. Then inside; for them the air is just air and food holds more appeal.
I work inside on my day off, a house remodel of some consequence; plaster dust fills the air like smoke, clogs the room; the freshness of the dawn air is gone. I pull plaster and lath off papered walls, expose wood old and dusty and dirty. There is no sound of thunder; only hammer and pry bar. There is no flash of lightning, only glint of old nails pulled from wood to light; they fall to the floor, clicking like raindrops on tin.
By late afternoon I’ve had enough. I shake off the dust, toss pants and shirt to the floor; light dust rises like fog in the closet. I change into bicycle shorts and shirt, zip up a jacket; the afternoon has not warmed.
I ride on gravel roads, the old fire lanes that criss-cross large tracts of woods on the edge of town. The roads are still damp from the storm; mud kicks up off bike tires, spits at me. I don’t care; I’m riding and that’s all that counts.
I pedal over rolling lanes, climb hills, come down fast on the downside, the bike bouncing and rocking and I’m hanging on, in control but just barely. Then up again, out of the saddle, pedaling hard. But it all feels good and it feels good just to be able to breathe air that is clean and clear and washed pure.
I pedal over small creeks that are raging with spring rains, out of their banks and flooding the tag alders where woodcock rest in autumn. Low areas next to the road hold water; ponds filled and as I ride up to them the sound of spring peepers rises; then silence as I pass and they duck and hide; I see the ripples on the still water that tell where they are.
I ride for an hour, then more, through the spring woods and all that I hear is the sound of bike tire on gravel and the sound of my own breathing and the mechanical noises of a bike at work.
The sky is low with cloud and I feel the dampness of the spring day and I think to myself, “I may get rained on before I’m done,” and then I come to a fork in the old road; left for the shorter way back; right for the longer. I slow the bicycle, look up; clouds are thicker now; gray is turning to dark as the lake ice turned only a week ago.
I wonder if it will rain; I wonder if it will storm; I wonder if thunder will come down and if lightning will flash again. And coasting on the bike on the old gravel road on a day turning dark I hope the storm will come and that I can ride hard in a downpour with thunder overhead and if I get wet I really don’t care.
Then I turn the bike to the right and take the long way home.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander. Call (715) 362-5800.