It starts subtly:
A flash in my peripheral vision,
and then a distant growl.
The air pressure slowly builds, and I become more and more sure that the intermittent flashes and the far-away rumbles are lightning and thunder.
Finally I admit defeat, and the smalls and I turn off all the devices in the house, clear walking paths through the morning’s play mess, grab flashlights and snuggle up under a blanket to watch the storm roll up the river.
Lightning stabs the mountains, Oregon and Washington side alike, the border meaningless.
We count, breathlessly, in anticipation of the rumble and roar of the thunder through the clouds– ten seconds means about two miles away, about as far away as Robert’s office. A new flash of light, and we count again– eight seconds, about as far away as the first park we discovered when we moved here. Then a long pause. Stillness. A drizzling rain.
I take some food scraps out to the chicken yard and do some quick weeding on the way– a handful of stray grass and a big curly dock plant from the skullcap bed– the chickens love weeds, and the clumps of soil clinging to their roots often hide woodlice and centipedes and other protein-filled treats.
And then, another flash of light over the river. I count silently to myself as I take off my yard shoes and open the bathroom door– five seconds, about a mile away.
Ithilien is scared of the “monster sounds” of the thunder. He stands close to me and puts his arms around my legs, shivering in a way that is mostly theatrical– he’s genuinely frightened, but the trembling is a voluntary affectation to communicate to me how scared he his.
We sit in the corner of the library and I hold him. I tell him that thunder is just a sound the air makes when lightning moves through it, and he is very safe from lightning inside the house. Númenor says that people build houses to keep their babies safe, an oversimplified version of a fact we’ve discussed before.
The lightning flashes. We count again, but I’m still saying the word “four” when the thunder rolls and crashes like a turbulent sea above our heads. Now we’re all under the blanket again, and Númenor whispers quietly, “Four means less than one mile– like maybe zero miles.” Ithilien buries his head in my shoulder, and says, in a small voice, “Zero means none, Mommy.”
Suddenly the sky opens, and rain pours down, with a rattling, chasing sound that– for once– actually might be approximated by rice falling through a maze of nails inside a hollow tube. I can see the chickens through the window, huddled in the door of the henhouse, this downpour too much even for them. They twist their heads up occasionally to catch and drink the drops of rainwater collecting at their rooftop eaves.
The rain changes to hail, buckshot-sized and coming down so thick and so fast that for a moment I think it might be snow. Another flash of light, and this time the bullwhip in the heavens cracks immediately after, before we can even start to count, rattling the windows and shaking the trees. The hail intensifies until I can’t see the back fence through it. Another flash and crash, directly overhead. The chickens wait patiently, their heads ducked inside the henhouse now. Ithilien whimpers quietly in my lap, and Númenor asks if the hail will kill our carrot seedlings. I tell him that I don’t know.
And then, just as quickly as it began, the hail is over. A few straggling stones send up miniature showers of their older siblings as they crash into the layer of ice droplets on the back deck. We open the back door to pick up a few hailstones with a spoon and look at them.
As the rain tapers off and we hear one final peal of thunder rolling away to the east, Ithilien is the first to pull on shoes and dance in the wild-scattered whiteness. He squeals with laughter as he slips and skids across the usually-unremarkable wooden slats of the back deck.
I peek into the containers of carrot plants, and am relieved to see their ashy-green fronds, beleaguered but mostly unbroken, among the sprinkles of already-melting frozen cloud. The chickens gobble up the scattered ice pellets with apparent delight. Númenor collects a bare handful of hailstones and gives a surprised yelp– “They’re so cold!”– as he casts them away.
The smalls hurry into jackets and hats and unseasonable mittens and race out into the yard, climbing to the top terrace to survey the damaged dandelion “wishes,” giggling at the greedily-pecking chickens, shaking the lowest branches of the trees to create their own tiny stormlets of concentrated raindrops and melting ice.
And thunderous laughter.
And flashing life.