Outdoor Adventure: A summer storm provides reflection and entertainment
Dusk came early on that late July afternoon; dark clouds rode a rising wind, pushed against air weighed with humidity. Skies darkened to the north even as the view to the south was of sun and benevolent looking white cloud. Stand, look north; then pivot and turn your eyes southward; two views of a summer day. The northern sky ominous; the southern holding optimism.
One was tempted to draw greater meaning from it, tempted to wonder about a glass half full or half empty; tempted to find illustration of optimist versus pessimist, but really, it was all just a summer sky. But on this day the weather was moving in from the north and the only meaning was one of observing the weather. Simply that; big weather coming in fast and hard and serious and from the north. Big weather putting the run on the blue sky and light cloud of a pleasant July afternoon in Wisconsin. Nothing more; nothing less.
We live with that. We live with the realization that every summer day when the heat builds and the humidity rises storm may follow. The heat and the humidity are tinder to summer storm; all that is missing is the spark.
I watched it come in, watched it in the sense of the modern era which is to say that I pulled up the weather radar on the computer screen and saw the storm build to the north and north-west, big splotches on the screen, amoeba-like; growing and spreading and holding menace. This storm built to the north and I turned from the screen to various tasks confident it would move, west to east, but north of us, up in Vilas County.
I worked in the backyard with the dogs and the cat for company. Fenway, still a puppy after a year plus, taunted Thor, egged him into a chase. Riika ignored the two of them; stretched out in the sun-warmed stonework of walkway. Lady, the now-old cat took shelter under a lean to of stacked wood; watched dogs as a haughty old matron watches young fools at play. The sun come down strong, built heat.
To the north the clouds built, light gray turning to dark; dark gray thickening to charcoal gray; deepening, climbing higher, moving gradually southward. I went inside, checked the radar once again.
The radar showed orange and yellow of big storm; north for now but edging south, closer now. I turned it off; back outside; more work to be done, but now with an eye to the northern sky which was increasingly dark and foreboding. I bent to the task; pulling siding off the back of the house in a major remodel project that has consumed my summer days as a fever burns off your energy and will.
I quit when I heard the storm siren go off; the klaxon horn that moans and wails when bad weather and heavy storm is on the way. I called the dogs, unleashed the cat and carried her inside. Checked the radar one more time.
Now the storm was an elongated blob, a pulsing wave that spread to the north of us and was moving, improbably, south; moving like a rising tide across a broken beach, moving south and moving steady and now just off the north of town.
I do what you do when you see big weather coming; turned off the computer, checked windows, took a cursory look out back for anything that might be damaged by wind or rain. Then I did what else one does when big storm of summer comes in; I went outside to look at the sky.
I went out the front door, closed it tight behind me; the dogs came to it, pressed noses against the screen; I could see the silver of the old dogs’ muzzles and the white blaze on Fenway’s forehead but other than that it was dark. I heard dog whine behind the screen, heard the rising wind in the tall trees.
I walked to the sidewalk. The sidewalk runs north-south and to the north it was now very dark; to the south sun still shone. In the block to the north and in the blocks to the south people stood on the sidewalk to view the storm. In the growing shadow of the approaching storm all color faded and the standers looked dark and gray.
We all took the same posture; stark still, arms crossed, heads tilted up; they looked, as I must have looked, like statues. We all stood there in that late afternoon, under heavy cloud above as the wind blew and the storm built. And I thought: This is how people have stood for ages, for centuries, forever; arms crossed, heads tilted back, looking at they sky, looking at the weather, looking at storm as is glowered in the sky.
Dark clouds overhead swirled, moved in opposite directions, counter to each other and in that twisting and twirling on of cloud I felt concern.
For all of our talk we rarely get close to the heart of nature. We may hike on twisting trails or dip paddle into remote waters or hunt deer in the bitter cold of early winter and in so doing tell ourselves we are on the edge of things. We may say that in all of these tasks we are part of the natural world and exposed and alone and vulnerable. And then, holding that thought, reach for the smartphone, snap a selfie and send it off to friends. Or, bring up texts or check the score of whatever team we follow.
For all of our talk, we rarely get close to the heart of nature. But when big weather comes the heart of nature comes to us and that is why we stand on concrete sidewalks with our eyes to the sky and see the storm and in the storm see the uncontrollable power of it all and in that know our place. For there is nothing we can do to stop the storm and no manner in which we can check its power. In the moments before a big storm hits we realize this.
The rain started; big drops falling and splatting on the street. I turned back to the shelter of my porch; the dogs were at the door and I let them out, all three of them. I held Fenway; felt him shiver, watched him lift his eyes to the storm. Thor and Riika went to the edge of the steps, heads up, tasting the scent of the storm. I did not leash them for once the storm hit I knew they would not stray.
The rain came harder; small hail began to fall; the sound of it cracking on driveway. Riika and Thor came up the stairs to where I sat; met my eyes, trembled.
Then the wind came up hard and gusty and blew rain and hail to where we sat and we all went inside. Outside it was dark and windy; rain came down hard; in the distance sirens sounded. The lights flickered, dimmed; flicked, dimmed; then failed.
It passed as all storms do but not before it dumped inches of rain on us and shut off the lights for two hours or more.
In the aftermath I took the dogs in the truck and we drove out of town. We saw two trees down in the half mile from home; the sound of chainsaw rose like a dirge. The sun broke through to the west; the sky cleared; the evening light was perfect.
I let the dogs out in the rich post-storm air and they ran as if recharged by the storm, as if they had not a care in the world. For them the storm was forgotten and this is how it should be in life. I followed behind thinking of big weather and rising storm and wind and rain and the sheer power of nature and how small we are and wondering, in the back of my mind, now long the power would be out, how long before I could get on the computer to see where the storm had gone.
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