Thursday, November 1, 2012

Stormy Weather

Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky
Stormy weather

As I arrived home earlier this week, I could see the clouds coming in from East, portents of a a collision of storms that would hopefully only brush us with some dust bunnies of clouds, pushed inland  by the wind until it finally grew tired of the task.  Barkley needed to go out, and I needed to walk down to the mailbox, but soon I would be inside and safe, a mug of tea brewed, some Lena Horne on the stereo, some conversation with friends I'd see in a day or two.

We initially didn't  get much more than wind, but then came the rain.   As the clouds passed overhead, billowing up and around the few small stands of trees like waves around monoliths, I felt a rumble of thunder pass down my spine. Driving rain needled laterally into my skin, precipitating not so much as raindrops but as tiny needles, trying to get involuntary movement from my muscles, driving me inward.

I am glad I was back at home, my trip cancelled, for I've seen enough on the radar to knew too well that this latest storm would cause deaths, people caught by the fury of such weather as is formed, people who recklessly chose to ignore the warnings and capable of fleeing, choose not to.  The wind itself is reminder enough for me, a light but sharp blow to the face that is not viscous, simply heavy handed, a admonitory slap from mother nature herself. I need to get inside.

I am sure my grandparents  sometimes wondered why they left the familiarity of their home country to settle in such a place, where the wind is a banshee across land as rich and raw as obsidian, and death is the only wrapping you may find if caught unawares. Then, I would imagine, they would awake, on those crystalline, pure mornings to see the sun on fertile fields of rich, dark soil, land stretching awake towards a heavenly horizon, an eagle free up above.  At such times, those signs seemed to those wondering homesteaders as to confirmation as to the reasoning of their journey.

I love this area as well, but I'm well aware of how dangerous it can be if caught up in the weather unprepared. It was something I instilled in the few people I taught to fly over the years. We'd sit in the classroom off of a hangar, pouring over charts and terminology, hands waving in the air to outline a point, driven by the wind that was increasing its tempo outside. Of the many classes I have taken myself as a beginning pilot, one of my favorites was meteorology. Even as a child I was fascinated by weather, by the unpredictable forces of the unknown, of the fire in the sky, the way the clouds gathered in clustered groups of virulent gossip, then disbanded.The first time I remember seeing a severe storm, I had to venture out to take a look. Houston - we have rotation.

I ran out in the back yard on the chubby legs of childhood, out of my Mom's arms, chasing it like a groupie, the viscous rain tickling like a stream through my red hair, the moisture seeping into me, making me feel completely fearless. Looking for something, the first marks of rotation, the sky twisting into itself in cotton like coils.

There's such strength when air masses collide and even as a child I wished to capture that, for there was only wonder in me then, no fear. On that day as a child where I glimpsed the great power of the sky and comprehended, I was told that it was God bowling up above, and I looked with glee upwards trying to get a glimpse of a tumbling pin in the celestial abyss, to participate in the autumn games of the gods.

Yet I was a child, not knowing yet of what real power was there, happily in jeopardy without knowing the danger, even as I raised my hands up to where the fierce clouds of Spring swam. Now tonight, the sky releasing its rain, gathering strength, clouds forming into a thick ragged blanket in which updrafts and downdrafts attempt to mate, I do the same thing, putting my hands up to the sky to absorb the collective power of this advancing front. But now I know from experience what I'm dealing with, the fascination undimmed. There's just something about it, feeling the change in the temperature and the pressure, the cordite smell in the air. Even as I understand the science of the danger, I'm fascinated by power of the sky and want to continually learn about the weather; over my nation, my state; the convergence of force and water and wind; the atmosphere that brings both rain and sun to our lives, tears and joy. 

I'm as enthralled by it now as I was then, those evenings as a youngster when I would lay on a blanket in the yard, or just on the grass, my eyes fixed beyond a point I could comprehend, watching heavenward. Searching for something that hadn't happened yet. A twist of a tornado, so far only seen in a book, a crackle of thunder, the soft, draping comfort of virga, rain that does not reach the ground. Waiting for the rumble of something within me.

When the thunderstorms over the mountains would arrive, it was as if the clouds had gathered for some boisterous party to which I was invited, lightning popping in celebration, the lights flashing like a thousand flashbulbs from ancient cameras, every clap of thunder shaking me with laughter. I was frankly smitten with the sky, happy to be invited and like a lingering house guest late at night, reluctant to leave.

Only when the rain started in earnest would my mother would yell at me to get in the house, with the stern sound of worry only a parent can have. I would have to go on in the house, reluctantly, like a child chastised by a nun in school, head down, movements slower than conditions warranted, then faster, running as if the rain had washed away my chastisement, cleansing me of my sins.

Even when I was grown, a young pilot, I'd sit by the window looking out at the mountains, searching for that first sign of disturbance in the sky and the sea. As the storm built, so did my interest, each gust of wind against the eves like a knock at the door. Sometimes, if the storm was benign, I'd put on my rain gear and go walk out across the land, delighting in the feel of rain on my skin as my lungs drew in fresh air, cleansed of cigarette smell and smoke and man. Liquid crystal drops kissed my face. I laughed into the wind and was not cold.

Learning to fly in the weather out West was a challenge, many days were spent sitting in the hangar, waiting for the rain or the snow to abate, clustered like Maytag repairman around a ready airplane. Winter storms that came off of the Pacific coast were the most lingering and strong, coming on shore with the speed of a tanker truck, pushing everything out ahead of their path, pushing all the way into Montana and the Dakotas before they were spent. On days like that it was best just to go home and dream about flying.

For weather in an airplane is a whole other matter.When flying a plane, wind is the essence of your day. You want enough headwind to give you some good lift on takeoff, and not so much crosswind to cartwheel you when you come back. It seems that only those that love the sky, sea or outdoors, those truly in sync with nature seem to pick up on the inertial energy in the wind.So many things get blown away in a stiff breeze, so many things swept out of your mind with the wind in your face in an open cockpit. Repressed longings, fruitless desire, ghosts of sad reflection, a hundred thoughts never formed and a thousand words never uttered. Wind in your face, sweeping your head of any emotion other than the moment, until all is blown past you to tumble to the earth below.

So on these storm tossed days, when it was too rough to go out, in any airplane, we simply sat in the hangar with a cup of coffee and our flying books, watching the clouds build and the thunder roll. Watching the atmosphere of the heavens, contemplating the atmosphere of our lives, as the surface of the earth, the surface of our skin heats, particles of warm air rising with breath. Watching the storm build, rich offering calling for some bolder hearts than ours.

This week, as I watched what was developing, even as I prayed for those in the path, I though I know why I am eternally fascinated by stormy weather, even as I respect its might. Because the summation of the skies is a visible affidavit of all that's powerful and mighty in the atmosphere, in our selves. It's a cold blowing truth that there's something within all of us that can be gathered up, strengthened. Something commanding that can change the form of a life. The weather brings components of force, some deep innate working in our selves. Lightning cleaving the sky as a machete, the smell of cordite in the air lingering like gunpowder. Thunder echoing as a a brace of artillery booming under a gunmetal sky, the power of the sky a transcendent weapon that can form or scar, however we view it, the landscape of our world.

Still there are times, you just have to grap the beer and head to the storm shelter.

For I've learned the hard way that in just a moment things can change, what was once invincible, reduced to ragged form, and splintered dreams. What was once strong, laying broken, shadowy and dim beneath a disinterested sky. I've also learned that somewhere within us is the courage to pick up that which remains.

This storm is not going to go down quietly, another rumble of thunder, resonating like bass guitar through the sky.  I rush back from the mailbox, alone in the gathering wind, under a sky worn and gray, ripe with deep recognition.

The rain is so hard now I can hardly see, structures of glass and wood, the suddenness of buildings, clouds of morning mist all crossing my line of sight, my knee straining as I hurry towards the house. The storm thunders through empty fields as Barkley follows, somewhere behind me. I shout for him, hurling words into the darkness, waiting for an echo.

For just a moment, my grown up self was whisked away in a storm of time and space, and all that was left was a child cold and tired, wishing there was someone there with her to call her in, but that person is long gone. I feel the raindrops on my face, the rivulets falling from my eyes, salty and clear, leaving crystal trails down my cheeks. I move towards the porch on which a wet canine awaits, as light flashes around me, raising the hairs on my arms and illuminating my path. I walk on , toward the empty house where the liquid sterling of the rain calls to me from a distance, the staccato beating of water against my world, the might of a once in a lifetime storm moving through.

The storm is a powerful and strong, as am I. I look upwards, I will not look back.