The clouds are thick and dark and close enough to the ground that a crane, I think, could reach the plug that holds all the water inside. I am hoping that the center holds until I get home, but I have driven this stretch of Highway 301 enough times — thousands of times — to know that somewhere between Jimps and the intersection with Highway 46 that plug will pop.
I am paying more attention than I might ordinarily because, of course, Hurricane Florence is bearing down on the east coast and because, of course, today — Tuesday — is the first anniversary of the arrival of Hurricane Irma in southeast Georgia. In just a couple of weeks, the second anniversary of Hurricane Matthew will be upon us. Who wouldn’t be watching the sky?
In the distance there is a rumbling that could be thunder or could be the massive trucks that are my multiple and constant companions on this highway that I remember as a two-lane blacktop and that Daddy is quick to remind me he remembers as a dirt road. Keeping my eyes on my lane, I try to sneak a look at the dashboard to see if the headlights have come on.
Suddenly, just to the right, behind a convenience store that looks as though it may have already lost power, a bolt of lightning throws itself toward the ground like the spear of the gods the Greeks thought it was. Before I can start counting the lapse of time between lightning and thunder, the thunder itself fills the car. Like the radio bass turned up too loud.
“Wow!” The exclamation is involuntary. “That was close.”
And, then, before I can release my caught breath, I smell it. The lightning. Like electrical sparks.
I have never smelled lightning before. Never — I guess — been quite this close, but somehow I know exactly what it is. I will look it up later, just to be sure, but I don’t need to. I know.
The rain starts. I drive through it. By the time I get home it has stopped, but the clouds are still hovering, still pendulous. Still humming with the threat of bad weather. And I can’t resist going outside to walk around in it. Owen and I circle the yard over and over, brave enough to taunt the clouds, but not so imprudent as to get too far from cover.
If there is any punctuation mark to my days it is this — walking the perimeter of Sandhill and watching the sky change from day to night. There isn’t another human being for at least half a mile. My view of the sunset is impeded only by treetops and I keep track of the movement of the earth through the seasons by finding which tree is the last one to hold a glimmer of light before the sun is completely gone.
Tonight, the smell of lightning still in my head, I can see only a thin strip of bright burgundy. The clouds are blocking the rest of the light show — bright pink, glowing peach, gleaming orange. I can’t see them, but they are there. I know.
I am struck at that moment by two things. The first is that there is great value in knowing. The colors of the sunset, through every season, in every shade of the spectrum, I know from careful, attentive, consistent observation. That observation creates recognition and recognition creates appreciation and appreciation creates love.
The second thing is that there is also great value in the discovery of something new to know. The smell of lightning is now a part of my experience, my history, my story because of presence. Presence leads to awareness and awareness leads to appreciation and appreciation, as I said, leads to love.
If, then, what the world needs now is more love, I think we could start with more knowing. The kind that comes from observation and presence, the kind that comes from deep breaths and stillness, the kind that comes from smelling lightning.