The first I will share is one I told myself "just didn't fit." Though I spent the year in Germany fulfilling a life-long dream of studying meteorology -- a precedent to my nerdy status as an official weather spotter for the NWS -- I felt it seemed strange in the book. Though I loved the story of the origins of my love for weather -- not that a Midwest gal needs much motivation -- it felt too American, too colloquial, and perhaps destined for a different book, that one I've always dreamed of writing called "Small Talk About the Weather." I'll let you decide.
The Amateur Meteorologist
The thunder cracked as if its only purpose were to wake me and force me to listen. I was seven, and it was the first time I’d remembered being awoken by the weather. Being seven, I naturally went to my parents’ room, but they, being parents, sent me back, claiming I’d be fine, I’d be fine. I had a unique determination as a child, and even then, I believed somehow in the power of fate. The next day, I turned on the Weather Channel, and to my happiness, there was a storm out over the western plains, heading right for me. I watched the radar flash, every eight minutes, until the red and yellow bracelet, as I thought of it then, made its way to the Lake Michigan shore. Then, I did what I had to do: Go outside, face the deck chair to the west, and wait.
Slowly, so slowly, the blue day became still. The wind that had come through my window that morning, a warm breeze bringing upon it the southern promise of buds blooming, had found its way to some other window, made another promise. Now, basking in the last rays of sun before it hit, I noted, as birds note in the canopy of sky above their nests, the stillness, that tense energy, as if the sky were holding its breath in awe of what’s coming. I held my breath, too, like the sky.
The squall line approached over the distant trees, advancing faster than seemed possible in a windless air. My heart, remembering the night’s crack, began its natural cycle of fear, but I made it until a bolt flashed in the nearby sky (its companion thunder cracking a reply), after which I scurried, as I probably ought, into the house, the safety of an open-view nest. I was ashamed of my fear, though I stood at the window through the whole of it, and promised myself that next time, I’d stay out until the end.
Another chance came soon enough, and I dragged the deck chair out onto the pavement, facing again stubbornly to the west, and reminded myself of my promise. The heavy drops of rain soaked through my jacket, and as it ran down my legs, shoes filling, I forced myself to stay. The lightning flashed around me, turning the dark evening trees into glittering, bending wands, and I closed my eyes, lifting them to the sky and letting the warm rain trickle down my cheeks like tears. It was a glorious feeling, this rain, the release of that energy out of the sky and into the earth, to hear it smack on the pavement, the roof, as it ran through the gutters, gushing over onto the deck planks. The thunder accompanied, not always the gong I'd thought it would be. Sometimes it was a tympani or bass drum, others a hollow tin, as if it’d struck a pack of triangles in the sky. It was the erratic percussion of a child sitting down to her first drum set. It was the pitter-patter no more, the soothing rain of night on tin rooftops no more, the soft mist laying itself in the meadow no more. This was alive, gushing, turbulent, and young in a way I’d not seen young before. The wild took me, and my love of storms became as real as any fear I’d turned to love – that first climb up my beloved pine tree, staring at the ground below; the scurrying of turtles across the road that I’d later bravely scoop up and save; the jumping over the creek to that other side, the side I’d never walked on nor explored – it became a world opened, a cracked-open shell, and I never looked back.
Many of the most important moments of my life can be measured by lightning. There were the first words I uttered to Patrick and the storm that gave me the courage to utter them. There were those flashes in childhood of some world beyond my own, some power so great that no one could predict or change it. And there was that storm in the backcountry of Vermont, three days into our honeymoon, on the shore of a lake we had all to ourselves. Crashing about us in the middle of the night, wind bending the tall pines and rain pelting the lightning-flashed globe of our tent, I thought of the tiny, defenseless nest around us. Erratic flashes illuminating Patrick, his damp sleeping bag cocooning him in dreams, I was in terrified awe. At any moment, the trees could snap, the lake could flood our tent, the winds could rip our food bag from the high tree branch we’d tied it to. But Patrick, as cozy as a baby in a gently-rocking cradle, lie there, giving himself up to it all. I’d felt then what it meant to be married, to give oneself up to a certain fate, to feel protected by what, in the grand scheme, is a mere tent in the face of a fierce nature. Yet, I knew too that he would help through any storm ahead, that we had each other.
Those spring days in Germany, writing my first novel, I watched the storms roll in in anticipation, inspiring a flurry of words, the energy I needed to write something of worth. The smell of soil walking through open fields on two foreign continents always failed to spur in me that motion of still tension before a Midwest storm, but the longing to simply see one storm (one real storm!) every spring threaded through my years abroad, tightening the bracelets of American radar maps about my wrist in close-knit friendship.
Being friends, I studied them, got myself a new textbook, did the exercises in the workbook, and listened to a weekly podcast on the weather back home. I took photos from our German nest of every kind of cloud I could see and recorded the weather that fell on that small village, from hail to hoar frost. It was a link to the farmer in my blood, the one bound to weather and entertained to no end by weather small talk; it was a link to that little girl, afraid of the cracking power of lightning, like that of love, and realizing that like love, the more I knew, the more I wanted to know. If I were to give myself a name, a metaphorical name, it would be Storm-Watcher, as I did in those first days of discovering, and for me, still, one of the greatest joys is to sit on a porch when it rains, to listen to even the loudest thunder crack a sky open, and to hold the hand of my love, who’ll never really understand my love for storms, just as he didn’t when I talked to him that first time, but will join me anyway in enjoying them if only in his sleep.
Should it go back in? Share your thoughts below.