Nature's Fireworks

Scientific explanations of the exact nature and cause of thunder and lightening can be varied and complicated. To add to the layperson's confusion, meteorologists do not always agree with each other. They do agree, however, that it is a natural occurrence, just one aspect of the earth's climate.

Understanding these storms is not at all important to most people. Whatever the explanation, we are fascinated, intrigued, and even a little fearful of these majestic displays of nature's fireworks.

Last night, which was Saturday, August 7, 1999, I witnessed one of the most spectacular light shows I have ever seen. The thunder, also, was tremendous.

This is my summer vacation and I am here alone in a little cabin to do some writing in uninterrupted peace and quiet. I don't know when it started, but at 10:30 PM, there was lightening, all over the sky. It was fairly strong, yet the stars were still out. I didn't give it a great deal of thought.

At 11:30 I blew out the kerosene lamp and went to bed. The lightening kept getting stronger. By midnight it was just a constant flash after flash of brilliant blue-white light. The thunder was a continuous distant rumble, like something heavy being dragged across the sky. Perhaps it was the rumble of Thor's chariot. And it was now starting to rain.

Sleep was impossible with Mother Nature's powerful strobe lights flashing crazily, like something gone out of control. Within fifteen minutes, the lightening was accompanied by hard, driving rain and thunder with the volume turned up full blast! I checked the time periodically so I could record everything in proper sequence. I always strive for accuracy in my writing - even in a holiday journal!

I got up and looked out the window. It was like watching night change to day in the blink of an eye, and then back to night again. It was an eerie scene which was repeated over and over.

The thunder now cracked and boomed like cannon fire from some nearby battlefield. At times the rain drummed so furiously on the roof that it practically drowned out the thunder. After watching this dramatic display for a few minutes, I went back to bed.

By 1:00 AM, it had dwindled down to a light, musical pattering of raindrops and a faint, distant drumroll now and then. The lightening was much weaker and far less frequent. Through the sheer curtains at the bedroom window, I could see that the stars were actually out again! I could hardly believe my eyes!

It was one of the most powerful storms I had ever seen. It reminded me of another one I had witnessed back in the 1950's, when a house was struck, and damaged, by a lightening bolt.

This was at Pool's Cove (Fortune Bay, Newfoundland). We were experiencing a heavy, summer electrical storm, with no rain. From the back door of my grandparents' house, we were looking out across the harbour at the awe-inspiring sight.

Chain lightening danced on the dark waters of the bay, forming a non-stop zigzag streak. It appeared like a blinding stairway of light leading from the deep sea up to the heavy, black clouds above. The picture was frightening, yet fascinating. But lightening is dangerous and should be regarded with respect.

Apparently, a lightening bolt struck the smooth, unyielding granite face of Pool's Point. Like a bullet, it ricocheted back across Back Cove Pond to a house at the opposite end.

It was a two-story house, built by fisherman George Dodge, probably just before the turn of the century. Sometime in the late 1920's, or early 1930's, his son Bill added an extension to the house, turning it into a two-family dwelling.

When this storm took place, George's side of the house was occupied by his daughter Janet, widow of Tom Bishop. Son Robin, daughters Sylvia and Lydia, and Lydia's daughter Aurelia, were also living there. Janet's brother, Bill, still occupied his part of the house.

The lightening struck a second-story corner of the house, leaving behind splintered wood such as might result from an explosive charge. It crossed the room, hitting the opposite wall directly over Robin's bed. Luckily, it was during the day and the bed was unoccupied.

The Small holes dotted the wall over the bed, making it look like it had been peppered with a load of buckshot. General consensus was that the lightening bolt had probably shattered upon impact with the cliff.

After penetrating the wall, the lightening forged a path down through the bedroom floor to the kitchen below. It then went through the kitchen floor, right beside the leg of the stove. Presumably, it continued on into the ground underneath the house, for there was no other visible sign of it.

Looking out the front door of my grandparents' house, the first indication of trouble was the bucket brigade. Men ran from all directions with their water buckets. Since the house was built very close to the edge of the pond, there was no shortage of water.

The situation was quickly brought under control. What could have been a tragedy was averted by community spirit and working together. Very little fire damage was sustained to the home of Janet, who had been running errands at the time of the strike. Brother Bill's side of the house received no damage at all.

I am thankful that last night's storm, in all its terrifying beauty, apparently passed without incident. At least I've heard no reports on the news. This morning the world looks fresh and clean. The sun is shining brightly and the beautiful blue sky is dotted with fluffy cottonball clouds. But never forget that nature can be just as wild and dangerous as it can be calm and comforting.

© Fay Herridge
Published in Canadian Stories, Aug/Sep 2003

Non-fiction 1

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