A precarious tango

I have great respect for Mother Nature, but I’m not sure that it’s mutual. Opining about my weather nemesis is a favourite pastime. I sometimes tempt fate by mocking her whims, always lured back into a precarious tango where I think I can outwit her. Given her many life lessons to date, I really should know better.

First of all, there is not always method to her madness. It can be raining in the backyard, but sunny in the front; and if you take your umbrella, it won’t rain but if you leave it at home, it will. Thunderstorms have always been her preferred teaching tool with me, especially for lessons of the look-but-don’t-touch variety.

On the small, suburban street where I grew up, nearly every house has had some kind of damage from thunderstorms. Lightning strikes obliterated chimneys, cracked windows, blackened walls, fused dimmer switches, blew electrical outlets, and toasted a truck load of television sets. I observed the frayed nerves of the adults around me and learned to heed the watches and warnings, but sometimes the hubris of the young results in a little defiance.

In third grade, a late spring storm threatened just as the school day ended. My friend and I were determined to beat it home on our bicycles. We’d just unlocked them when an incredible array of lightning erupted. Tearing back inside, we told people we’d seen a fireball in the sky. They thought we were exaggerating until they examined the melted plastic casing on the chain of my friend’s bike lock. It had been around her neck at the time.

A year or two later on an overnight excursion from the main camp, my fellow campers and I held tightly to our sleeping bags as a relentless storm raged all around our droopy canvas tent. And then it hit, shaking the ground and evoking screams from every last one of us. A park ranger evacuated our group to the control station and we shivered together until the camp bus arrived. The next day was spent claiming our waterlogged belongings, sock by sock and shoe by shoe. Legend has it that lightning struck ground within a stone’s throw of the tent.

As a teenager, I played a fair bit of soccer. One weekend tournament was plagued by an unstable air mass with high winds. Just before a game, an eerie calm settled in but distant thunder could be heard. As the referee contemplated what to do, we all started pointing and laughing at each other as our hair stood on end. The game was called and we made it to shelter just in time. We had no idea how close we were to a sudden-death result.

In my 20s, a friend and I experienced a bizarre meteorological phenomenon while vacationing at a cottage. Just as a thunderstorm began, a softball-sized fiery orb appeared a few feet outside the sliding glass doors and then exploded. We hit the deck with ears ringing, shaken but unharmed. For those who doubt the existence of ball lightning, I can assure you that it’s real.

And then last summer, during one of those “special weather statement” kind of days, I glanced out the window to check on the band of storms sweeping through the area. The whole western sky was filled with astonishing cloud formations, lit from the outside in by the emerging sunset behind the dissipating front. Captivated, I went outside for a better look. After several minutes of staring in awe at the dramatic beauty, I noticed my next-door neighbour doing the same thing.

“You don’t see that every day,” he said.

I nodded, smiling.