A summer afternoon thunderstorm in Florida is a sight to behold, at least on those rare occasions when our lives slow down long enough for us to view the event as a something other than an annoyance. If you live down here, you know how it goes: Darkening skies and winds whipping ominously through the trees warn of the approaching tempest. Birds fall silent. Then, a brilliant flash of light and a terrifying, teeth-rattling crack of thunder. The lightning bolt has surely split open the very fabric of the sky. Water cascades through the fissure, forming heavy raindrops that bombard everything below. Drainpipes gush. More flashes. More peals of thunder. Dogs and small children seek safety under bed quilts.
When I am fortunate enough to be home at the time, I can recline in my favorite chair facing the sliding glass doors and witness firsthand this most recent return to the earth of water that has been cycling on this planet for hundreds of millions of years. As it falls, it forms an animated carpet of cone-shaped, miniature explosions on the surface of my patio. Behind me, droplets rattle against the kitchen window to make sure I am paying attention. The tree frogs have erupted in a celebratory chorus of croaky, echoing rhythms, back and forth, back and forth as if they had been waiting all day for this very moment to arrive.
After about twenty minutes or so, the splashes begin to dissipate, becoming ever smaller and less frequent; finally they disappear altogether. Lightning is reduced to the flicker of a dying light bulb. An amorphous, undulating mist begins to rise from the patio like a ghostly apparition.
Old Sol, now low in the western sky, finally lifts the edge of the grey blanket of clouds and peeks under to see how things are going down here. The saw palmettos and shrubs take immediate notice. They suddenly seem more erect, casting a reflective glow in the amber light of day’s end as they proudly show off their glistening foliage, now cleansed of the matted dust and debris that had earlier muted its viridescence.
Above them, the spreading leaves of the mighty oak yield one last time to the weight of the remaining accumulation. Crystalline spheres roll from their waxy tips, culminating in a final round of sparkling spatterings and bobbings on the blades of grass below.
I rise from my seat and step through the door. The cooled, swollen air is clammy on my skin. All is still. There is a hint of ozone in the air. A distant rumble of thunder searches through the clouds to find me one last time as the storm rolls on to the east.
And just as this spectacle of nature seems to have drawn to a close, a shimmering, bejeweled rainbow materializes from the mist, crowning the sparkling, green canopy of trees below. Children are coaxed from their hiding places to see.
And, in the end, we are reminded of how fortunate we are to live on such a beautiful planet. Sometimes I worry we might break it.