Nature Notes - September, 2019
- story by James Inabinet, PhD
“Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, the rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen.” - Thomas Merton
Mid-summer, Spider Moon, golden silk orbs are everywhere. Some block my way. I duck here and side step there to avoid webs on the “barely a trail” trail.
Bored to death with the sweaty heat, I am shirtless, offering my body to the few mosquitoes without so much as a hand wave. Beads of sweat stop at my waistline, soaked up by cotton. Soon I arrive at my sit spot, a cluster of bushes, and plop down on a foam pad.
Through a hole in the canopy I can see the sky. It’s late afternoon and clouds are building.
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I listen for a while to forest sounds. I always begin mindfulness practice this way. I hear a cardinal to the north; cicadas are loud, primarily east; squawking jays fly over chasing a single crow caw west.
There’s silence for a while, and then more birds, a squirrel maybe. I’m not sure; it was a single squeak. I imagine I hear a faint sound of thunder.
Unsure, I listen closely for a while, more birds, the squirrel – it was definitely a squirrel. I hear thunder again, definitely thunder. There’s a storm to the southeast. I ignore it and begin my meditation. Thinking of nothing, I float inward.
After a while, I have no way of knowing how long, I am pulled back into the world by thunder. Looking southeast, I see dark instead of blue through the canopy. The storm is almost here. I decide to sit it out. It approaches quickly now; shifting winds animate tree tops. I settle firmly onto my pad, a kind of bracing. I look up and am ready.
Eyes closed, I focus on sounds and feelings, to hear the music of this place, bathed by rain, buffeted by wind–a flash of light, a huge raindrop–to see every flash, hear every thunder, smell the ozone, the cleansed air. There is magic in experiencing a storm. I am excited! The storm is almost here; it’s nearly dark.
The wind blows violently through the trees; falling pine needles prick my bare arms and back. The wind blows harder still, the thunder louder, flashes of light! Rain is falling, amazingly cold and hard – harder still! A flash of light north; wind blows wet hair; rain pricks skin. Thunder! The lightning is closer now. As air becomes water I close my eyes. Soaked through, I am getting chilled.
I open my eyes again to watch the lightning. I have to look down to see flashes; the rain makes looking up painful. I focus on the time between flash and sound. Twelve seconds for that one; ten for the next, then twelve, then five! I’m cold now – stuck here – what was I thinking?
I continue focusing on flash and thunder to forget about cold and rain. Maybe there’s medicine in this; I recommit. The air is charged; my stomach sinks like I’m on a roller coaster. I’m frightened – no, not frightened; maybe it’s alert, very alert, engaged, as storm and I become one.
A lightning bolt crashes very close. I didn’t count the time. Now I’m frightened. I focus again on the thunder; if there’s medicine it must be there, not in the rain. The storm begins to wane.
Lightning flashes are farther north and east now. Soon there are no sounds at all except distant thunder and water drops from trees. I am uncomfortable and that’s good; I want to feel it.
Soon I head for home, exhausted, although I cannot figure out why. I just blithely walk through the webs.
At home I reflect and feel I’m at a beginning. I am alive! The gift of thunder, its medicine, must be the gift of life for to hear thunder means to have survived lightning.
Today, as every day, I received a gift of life. It starts now and I mean to live it in a manner that recognizes the relationship between life and death, between thunder and lightning, and to a death that will eventually overtake me.
We never seem to think about life as precious gift so concerned we are with the “ten-thousand things of the world,” and so we take it for granted, and move through our life paths unconsciously, frittering that precious life away. Thunder teaches life. Thoreau says it, too, in Walden:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
I did not wish to live what was not life, [but] to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.