There are several stages to a good thunderstorm. At first, it’s frightening. Then it’s incomprehensible. Then you go under a desk and perhaps piddle on the floor.
I’m sorry, I forgot to add that you are a dog. If you are not, the experience is different. A good thunderstorm is exhilarating. Rain is a monotone lecture. After three days, we sigh and say, “Well, it’s good for the farmers” to show off our deep understanding of our state’s agricultural heritage, even if the farmers are wearing snorkel masks as they try to tie down the tractor to keep it from floating off.
After four days we are morose. Constant snow seems indifferent; it couldn’t care less what we think. Constant rain seems personal. “Hah! Events, ruined! Walks, spoiled! Freshly cleaned floors sullied by muddy dog paws; dank basements.”
We were warned that this summer would be cooler and wetter — which, to a summer-starved Minnesotan, is like saying dinner will be three-bean salad for the next nine weeks.
But then the thunderstorms come, and everything’s forgiven.
First, the overture: The house lights go down, the air takes on a green electric tint, the wind harasses the treetops. There’s a guttural mutter in the distance: “Here we go.” The first fat drops splat down; then steady rain; then the torrent and the glorious summer noise: long baritone peals that roll the length of the heavens, flash-crack detonations that leave you cleaved and stunned.
And then you whoop! Because that was amazing. And there’s more — mad white scribbles in the sky taking a path you’ve never seen before and will never see again. You count: “One Mississippi, two Mississippi. …”
(A quick aside: What do they do in Europe to measure the distance? Their rivers have such short names. Then again, they’re on the metric system, so they can probably say “One Danube, two Danube” and it works for them.)
The peak of the storm is the moment you start to worry, because this has gone from theatrical drama to an incontinent tantrum, and surely a branch will lance through the window at any moment. But thunderstorms always seem to know when they’ve made their point, and they move on. The rain lessens. The timpani are rolled to the other side of the stage. It’s done with you, and you’re a bit disappointed.
A few days before the 4th someone in our neighborhood lit a rocket, and it shrieked into the black sky. One rocket, no more. Birch the Dog sat up, alarmed: “Oh, no. This again. I’d completely forgotten.” The rocket was followed a few minutes later by thunder — nothing much, just a smoker’s chuckle — but for Birch it was as if the firework had banged into a switch that turned on All the Bad Things. He went upstairs and sat under a desk for six hours. For him, this was like being a superstitious peasant in the medieval era and seeing the sun disappear in an eclipse, then running to the church for safety.
Poor dogs. You can’t explain thunder to them. They’re wired to wake to danger, and they don’t know what’s really going on. They probably think we’re idiots, because we actually can fall asleep while it’s thundering, feeling snug and safe.
If only the dogs understood what was happening, but they’ve no idea what an angel is.
To say nothing of bowling.