I sit, with the blinds and windows wide open to the elements.
Everything inside is turned off, no distractions.
I feel mist from the rain rushing in to caress me.
The world looks fuzzy though all the droplets parading to earth.
Like a celestial firework, the sky lights up, exposing it's details for a stray minute.
The deep rumble penetrates through my entire being.
I've tuned out everything else, enjoying nature's fierceness.
I remain aware that I'm not truly safe from it, as it can turn on you in a moment.
But only slightly, as I see the twisted fork snake through the air.
The crash a moment later rattles everything, but I hardly notice.
For a short period, I am totally relaxed by the fury.
I shall soon continue my life, my routine.
But for a moment. A moment of awe and beauty, from the chaos of the elements.
Lately I have been obsessed with dead trees. Not all of them, just the ones that leap out at me from a field, a riverbank, a swamp, standing alone in stark contrast to everything else. The ones that have been struck by lightning are my favorites. They're charged, electric; it's like the storm never left them. I take pictures of them because they spark something in me, much like thunderstorms do for Saige. I have an entire roll of film filled with nothing but dead trees, nothing but smooth grey stillness. I don't think there's anything quite as moving as dead wood standing in mute defiance of the surrounding green, reaching up for the air, the blue sky, the stars. When I see them I want to scream, or yell, or cry, or whisper like the wind over a field.

These trees are wise. They have lived, they have died, and they are beautiful because death is beautiful. "Nature's fierceness" as Saige calls it, is never more evident for me than in something it has already destroyed.

I lived for a number of years on the tiny island of Okinawa, Japan.

My apartment faced the East China sea from the seventh floor, about 50 meters to the beach. It was beautiful to watch the sunsets in the summertime. I could see forever from there.

When a storm comes up from the south pacific...

Think Gilligan's Island.

Lightning, wind, rain, ceaseless thunder, ripping the sky apart. I would watch as thunder storms towering forty thousand feet in the air bore down on our miniscule island.

The power and majesty of a massive storm is almost hypnotic.

That's one of the reasons I'm going to miss Oklahoma. When I'm sitting in front of my computer, oblivious to the outside world, when something subliminal catches my attention, and I look up and notice that sunlight is no longer direct. There's a feel to the air that even the AC can't get rid of, that pecular something that probably has something to do with the humidity, that I notice next.

Thunderstorm

I am drawn immediatly outside, sometimes stopping to grab the camera and the telephoto if I remember.
It's like opening a present - you never know what you're going to see. Sometimes the storm is still developing; a huge tower of cumulus clouds, the edges lined with white fire from the sun that has recently slipped from view. Sometimes the thing has already started to anvil, and you can see the virga beneath it, telltale signs of the first downdrafts within the storm. Other times the storm is huge, anvil stretching three-quarters of the way across the sky, grey bulk spanning the western horizon, holding the promise of high winds and a downpour, and perhaps some hail.

I wait for its approach on the roof; a foolish thing, but it affords a better view. The appearance of mammatus formations in the lower parts of the anvil signals winds so turbulent that they push parts of the lower cloud boundaries down, giving the previously smooth anvil a bubble-like apperance.

The wind is still at my back and the air still warm and humid; this is how the storm feeds itself: the updrafts already present suck in more air from below and in front of the storm; as this air rises it pushes the top of the storm even higher until it hits the top of the troposphere, where the jet stream pushes it out in front of the storm, creating the anvil. As the air cools, the moisture condenses, releasing more heat into the storm.

The updrafts keep the droplets suspended until they grow heavy enough to fall, which creates the downdrafts in the storm. As the downdrafts hit the ground, they spread out in all directions, including in front of the storm. Sometimes, as the incoming air bounces up and over the cooler downdrafts, it undergoes a preemptive condensation, creating a line of low clouds out in front of the bottom of the storm. Accompanied by downdrafts strong enough to do this, it is called a gust front, and is more a herald of a severe thunderstorm than thunder.

While this is happening, I watch the incoming line of rain on the horizon. Sometimes it is backlit by the sun; a curving wall of black in front of a blazing orange sky. The farthest horizon dissapears; the world shrinks slightly as the rain closes in, the menacing clouds of the gust front seemingly at eye level from my vantage point.

As the gust front moves towards me, the wind at my back weakens, and then fails all together. There is maybe a half minute of complete stillness, the air hot and heavy around me, the sky incredibly dark - and then, over the soft rumble of thunder comes a new sound that my ears strain to make out - it is the sound of the winds, and then a wall of cold air slams into me, accompanied by the low roiling clouds of the front and multiple arcs of lightning.

I move a little closer to the ladder, watching horizon after horizon get swallowed by the featureless grey that is the rain, feeling the first stray drops hit my skin. I duck involuntarily as a brilliant spear-shaft stabs into the earth not 200 yards away, reveling in the feel of the sound as it rumbles physically inside of me.

The rain is too close now; I scramble down the ladder with one hand, the camera clutched in the other, shielding it with my body. I pause for a moment under the wooden patio cover, sheltered briefly from the worst of the rain. Even though the full force of the rain has yet to hit, the drops are already huge, making blat noises as they hit the cement, leaving dark spots the size of my fist. It takes a powerful updraft to hold the drops aloft until they reach that size - this one's going to be strong.

The powerful winds in the storm move ions about with such efficiency that the lightning, and the thunder, is practically constant. I stand just inside the back door and watch as the rain becomes a downpour. The whole sky lights up with sheet lightning, though the occasional bolt still slams down into view. On the edge of my hearing I pick up yet another sound - wait, yes, there it is again - the crack of a hailstone on the roof. I can see them falling in the rain now, peppering the yard, smashing to bits on the cement, ripping through the trees.

Sometimes this fury only lasts a few minutes; other times, several hours. I crack a book and sit by the screen door, listening to something I can't get out of my speaker system while I read, breathing the smell of the rain.

As the rain drops off and the sky lightens, I venture outside, letting the last of the rain dampen my skin and clothing, marveling at how green all the vegetation looks in the wet, listening to water drip off the plants and to the receding thunder. I can see the backside of the storm now, a roiling mass of grey and white, still building, lightning arcing everywhere. Finally the sun breaks through, and the brilliant white of the storm is banded with a double rainbow. All the colors; the sky, the leaves, the rock, everything, seem incredibly intense, almost luminous. I revel in the quiet; there are no dogs or cars to spoil it for the moment. This is sheer aesthetic pleasure.

They'd wake me up in the night growing up in Kansas...they have a manner all their own because there is nothing to stop them here.

The wind would whip up and tap on my bedroom windows like an announcement...an invitation. Then the rumbling of thunder, the blinding shock of lightning, and the melding of the two as the storm got closer until they were one. I'd pad down the hall in my nightdress, praying my mother wouldn't detect me, which she almost always did. On occasion, however, I'd slip under her sensors and out the door...hovering under the porch. My heart would quicken - the smell of ozone making me draw a deep breath - and in my gooseflesh I'd delight in the rage and chaos of the storm. I would fantasize that I was all alone, braving the elements...

I am Karana fighting the devilfish from the Island of the Blue Dolphins - I am Tenar struggling in the darkness from the Tombs of Atuan - I am Pipi Longstocking at sea! I am brave! I am fierce! Nothing scares me...the waist-length tendrils of my stick-straight hair swarm around my face like the Gorgon...I can turn men to stone.

I am electrified. My bones reverberate with a new timbre.

When it passes, I sneak back inside, exhausted and strangely calmed.

Is is any wonder I find storms incredibly erotic?

Everyone I know thinks of rain as a bad thing. There are clichés about it "rain on one's parade." There are pop culture references "It Can't Rain All the Time." When it rains people constantly comment on how dreary and depressing the rain is. My co-workers cringe as the clouds get darker. I love rain.

When I was growing up in Pennsylvania rain storms were a thing of beauty. I can remember turning out all the lights and sitting with my friends on the hall stairway that faced the front door, popcorn in hand, enjoying the natural light show flicker and dance across the darkened sky.

In my teenage years I remember lying on my bed, listening to the thunder with its mighty booms, or the soft rhythm of the rain drops like a familiar friend on a chilly autumn afternoon. I would watch as the trickles traced intricate patterns on the glass. When the power went out I would play card games with my sister and my mom by candlelight.

When I moved to Texas the rain lost its romance for me for a short time. My "Native Texan" husband warned me about tornados and what to listen for and to watch for. He taught me to go into the bathroom and hide in the tub. I would lie awake at night, my ears straining for the first sounds of sirens. If I watched the rain out the window I was looking for funnel clouds. I could not laugh and have fun when the lights went dark.

Gradually my fears left me, and again I learned to marvel in the beauty of a storm. I read poetry by candlelight and listen to the whispering raindrops. Someday I will sit on a porch somewhere with my children and "Oooh!" and "Aaah!" as the lightning dances in the clouds. And they will not be afraid.

I grew up in Western New York, where magnificent thunderstorms are a rarity. Most storms there are of the very long, very gray, grumbling sort, storms that are nothing more than rain clouds with a flash or two. Still, I remember standing at my bedroom window, nose pressed up against the cool glass, willing for an unusual, beautiful stroke of lightning. I was fascinated with weather. I poured over weather books, a plain little ten-year old girl in ripped leggings and a t-shirt, pointing up at a cumulus cloud and prognosticating rain. It was always a vague daydream of mine to see a tornado.

I moved with my family, not too long ago, to St. Louis, Missouri. We arrived in the very middle of summer. To a New Yorker, Missouri summers are unbearably hot and humid. The air is heavy and the sun glares angrily, relentlessly down. I spent most of my time indoors and grew rapidly miserable with my new home. I did not quite notice the storms, nor anything else.

One night in May, about half a year since I'd arrived, I woke in the middle of the night with a terrible earache. It was with a sort of electric shiver that I heard the first murmuring roll of thunder. Padding to the empty middle bedroom, which has an enormous window looking out over the hills, I pressed my nose to the glass and waited. Lightning did not flash, it darted in sizzling strikes across the sky. Thunder screamed through the sky and the house creaked alarmingly with wind. Raindrops struck the window with loud 'rats!', gradually becoming louder and louder. Mammatus clouds shone in stark relief with every bolt, the only clouds of the sort I'd ever seen. I was mesmerized. Later I would learn that this line of storms spawned tornadoes only a county away, tornadoes that had destroyed a small farm town that had stood for 150 years.

That spring, I noticed that before every major storm, I would get a horrible earache. It was odd, I thought, but must be due to the dropping pressure. This had never happened in New York. Whenever I contemplated this, a strange reverence for storms bubbled up in me, not the cheerful naivete I had entertained as a little girl, but respect. I still longed to see a tornado, but I realized how terrible and great and wild they are.

It was last summer that I got my chance. My parents, brother and I were on our way to Yellowstone National Park by car. We had stopped overnight in Omaha, Nebraska, and, before sunset, had admired the beautiful, fan-like clouds. We did not connect these with the strangely intense squalls we had driven through that afternoon, or the vans with radio equipment photographing the clouds, parked on overpasses. My ear ached until I thought my head would split. It was not until the lightning flashed, that we realized the fans were the anvils of an enormous thunderhead, one that filled the horizon. My older brother and I ventured outside, as it was still clear overhead, to get a better view of the lightning. The night was sticky and strangely still. My eardrum thrummed painfully in unison with my pulse. We stood still, watching the unusually electric looking flashes.

"Dan," I said presently, putting an elbow on his shoulder. "Why is there no thunder?"
He did not look at me. "I don't know."
As I turned back to the storm and saw the mammatus, like an odd rash of the cloud's skin, I felt an inexplicable thrill of very real terror. My ear hurt. "Let's go inside," I whispered, unnerved. Dan did not protest.

It was only until we saw the weather channel and the doppler radar that we realized that the storm we were watching was a county and a half away, that there was no thunder because it was too far off yet, and that its clouds filled the whole sky even though we were miles from the storm. That night, I lay uncomfortably in my hotel bed, listening to the rain and thunder and the terrible, terrible wind. I was struck numb with fright. This was a storm, a real storm. I waited it out, feeling with special acuteness the throb of my ear.

The morning dawned bright and clear and hot. I learned an F3 tornado had hit just to the Southwest in the late evening, and that my family and I had been marveling at its beauty as it tore open a farm house and killed a man.

I have learned to pay attention to my ear and the terrible beauty of the clouds.

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