Friday, July 12, 2013

Lightning Storms on the Islands

It's a grey and muggy day here in Colorado - were I on Chincoteague or Assateague Island, I'd be smelling heavy salt air, and knowing that soon there would be a terrific lightning and thunderstorm that would soon clear the air.  I can see clouds lowering against the Flatirons, and the leaves seem to hang more heavily upon the branches of the trees.  Sounds from the two lane state road that is more than half of a mile away sound as if they are directly on the other side of the back yard fence.  The birds and squirrels are going about their everyday business, but in a hurried manner, as if knowing that the rain will soon be pouring down.  The breeze is fitful, and occasionally forceful.
    I can remember being frightened out of my wits by a couple of storms while I was on the islands, and by one while I was waiting for the Pony Swim while on the Coast Guard Cutter.  The first storm I remember took place while I was staying at my grandfather's house on Peterson Street -  I had stoutly told everyone that the storm wouldn't scare me.  It was a humdinger of a late-afternoon storm - blue-black clouds were piling up, taller and taller, and the wind kept gusting around, blowing first one way and then another.  I was sitting in a rocking chair on the screen porch, facing north, and I can remember how the wind seemed to keen through the screen.  The rain started suddenly, rattling on the oyster shells that covered the street (or the two tire tracks that had a strip of grass between them), and pelting the sides of the houses.  It seemed as if lightning was striking everywhere around us, and the thunder was making the house shake.  A shift in the wind caused the rain to spray through the screen and I was suddenly drenched in ice cold water.  It took my breath away - I must have made a sound as I drew my breath in, because I remember Cap'n Walt (my grandfather) looking at me and grinning from ear to ear.  He said, "Yoost like bein' in a boat on the fater! Refreshing, not?"   And I grinned back at him and yelled, "Yes!"  And we laughed together.
  The second big storm was on a day I was wandering around on Assateague - I had seen the clouds rolling in and the wind had picked up.  I was following a deer trail and thought I had plenty of time to reach cover, when a lightning bolt struck a pond about 50 feet away from me.  I jumped, froze, and then jogged over to some brick ruins that I knew were off to my left.  I knew I would get soaked to the skin - I had no umbrella or tarp or poncho - and, while there were three sides to the brick ruins, there wasn't a roof.  I just planned to have something taller than me to act as a shield, since the wind was getting bumptious.  The storm lasted 45 minutes, and lightning was striking the ponds and ditches, but I was huddled up against the brick wall, hunkered down with my rubber soled Keds flat on the ground.  I think I moved about four times, mainly to keep the wind from driving pine cones into me, and I know I was as wet as if I'd been in the ocean.  I can clearly remember the smell of the ozone from the lightning, and the enormous growls of thunder...  I think the storm on Assateague brought the natural world into focus for me.  I could easily have died and no one would have been the wiser, until the next day.  But my dumb luck held, and I have never felt closer to the wild things in my life....

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