Saturday, October 9, 2021

"It's Like Thunder; Lightnin'"

“The thunder? Don’t be afraid. It ain’t nothing but God going bowling up in heaven”     Numerous parents to their little kids  

Over the last week I have seen some evidence of the fact that it is fall again in our cycle of seasons. Goldfinches have appeared at the backyard feeders in their dark grayish coloring rather than their summer yellows. The colors on brightly colored flowers in the flowerboxes in the neighborhood have faded, and there are some leaves from them on the ground. The trees in the ACME parking lot are now a lighter green, and there are other trees in the areas with some changes in the tone and depth of their color. The temperatures are cooler, and the early morning darkness is longer and more pronounced. All of these say, “Fall,” and that is good for me.  

   The maples haven’t started changing yet, however, and that is a little disappointing to me. We have a lot of maples in West Mt. Airy-sugar maples, Japanese maples, red maples, silver maples and more. When they change, it is always spectacular and dramatic-bright reds, deep oranges, bright yellows and more. And the sidewalks beneath the trees are magically transformed into colorful leaf-carpets that look and feel as if we are in another universe. It is not fully fall for me until the maples start changing,  and I am a bit impatient for that to happen.  

   But the natural phenomenon that is uppermost in my mind right now is the amazing thunder, lightning, and rain storms we had in this area on Tuesday night. I have not heard thunder that loud and with all of that deep rumbling since I was a little kid, and it truly shook me. I woke up several times from the booms, and then I heard the wind and the rain slapping against the house and the windows. The lightning flashes were intense, and it felt like being in a movie version of a Stephen King novel. And I was immediately taken back to glimpses of my childhood growing up in West Philly.  

   For most of my childhood I shared a bunk bed with my older brother. When thunder and lightning storms struck, I was scared and often cried. I would have visions of the house being struck by lightning and bursting into flame, or of trees flaring up and crashing into the house. Our parents, and sometimes my brother, would try to comfort me by telling me that thunder was not to be feared; it was God bowling or the Devil and God fighting. And lightning was God chasing the Devil away from Earth or some such supernatural happening. Those tales would often comfort me.  

  As I got older, outgrew the fear, and found out the science of what causes thunder, I was no longer scared. But my natural curiosity and love of history led me to seek out ways other times and other peoples made sense of thunder and lightning.  And as making sense and finding patterns in the world is one of the things that make humans human, every culture and time had well developed explanations for these events. Lighting was often a weapon of the supernatural: the ancient Hindus pictured lightning as a weapon of the god Indra, and the to the ancient Chinese, lightning was the domain of Dian Mu, the wife of the thunder god. She told right from wrong and could deliver justice. The Iroquois had a similar idea; Hinon, their thunder god, was fierce, but he often intervened to help humans see truth or to rescue them. The Hittites and Romans saw lightning as indications of things to come, and it even figured into Roman political and military decisions.  Thor, as many of us know from Marvel, was the Viking god of thunder, and the Vikings believed that thunder was him striking his hammer against an anvil as he roamed the sky. The Bantu in South Africa believed in a lightning-bird, whose power could foretell the future and heal the sick, but sometimes it could simply wreak havoc. It had to be handled by medicine men. Clearly, the strength and intensity of thunder and lightning meant that they had to connected to some very important things in each culture.  They were not to be ignored or downplayed: they mattered.  

  While I did not get much sleep Tuesday night, I am glad that I had the experience of being taken back to a bit of my childhood. I find it interesting and good for me to look back sometimes and see where I have been, where my early experiences took me, and how they have influenced who I am today. Of course, this does not mean I necessarily want to experience those type of storms again; I think Tuesday night’s experience can last me for a while...(smile) But it was good to recall a younger me and a simpler time.   

   (Here is a link to an article about how different cultures looked at thunder and lightning: