There was a lightning strike one morning while I sat on the back porch watching the rain, tucked under the eave, cradling my coffee cup. The trident strike forked above the hills to the west directly before me. I counted the seconds until thunder, four, and then came the boom of the rolling report in a wave. The dog hustled off to squeeze herself beneath the bed. The lightning was lavender against the white-gray clouds, a rare morning bolt here, where any lightning storm is rare. Spring might bring rainbows, occasionally an unlikely double bow, but little thunder.
I waited for another flash, but none came. The storm moved north only discharging the single bolt. I went upstairs and walked out across the street in the rain to fetch the newspaper. Sheltering it inside my jacket, I turned back to the house. For a moment, I stood bareheaded in the rain, distracted. The front garden was alight: purple wisteria hanging heavy like grapes, dogwood, rhododendron and lithodora blooming, a profusion that appears all at once in the spring to overwhelm the senses like the riotous confusion of a carnival midway after sundown.
Once I lived out on the plains, where the dirt was red and the rivers muddy with ochre. I came from this verdant valley, bordering rain forest, to prairie. There was only horizon out there on the open plain. I was at sea. I itched to get my back up to something, some hill or canyon wall, a modest butte, but there was nothing, only cloud. Until one day, the rising spring clouds, blooming thunderhead towers, became my mountains.
Every spring afternoon there was a thunderstorm on the plains. When the sky grew green and bruised in the southwest, a tornado might form from the wall cloud. In the very buckle of the Bible Belt, where warm moist air from the gulf meets the dry cold air flowing down from the Rockies, a dry line forms. That’s where a tussle between the two clashing atmospheres spawns thunderstorms, super cells, tornadoes. One spring I drove a dry line, it traced the highway, and I raced the coming storm to Dallas-Fort Worth airport. By the time I reached Dallas, the sky was black and swirling and I was deafened by thunder.
In a land with no mountains, clouds become mountains.