In honor of our recent lightning storm, I thought it was time to re-share with you this column from Sept. 2, 1999.
Tinkerbell had one heck of a temper tantrum recently. A rare Central Coast lightning storm centered its fury over the ocean’s horizon and the hills around us that night, and we had a ringside seat in our living room.
The Pacific was far from peaceful.
Disneyland, eat your heart out. Mother Nature’s laser show beats yours all hollow. If the fireworks people could patent that exhibit, they’d make a Bill-Gates fortune.
Sure, I remembered all the parental admonitions about not going outside, staying away from the wall, not using anything that’s plugged in and, for heaven’s sake, stay out of the bathtub.
Don’t even think about the outside hot tub, you idiot.
But with dark clouds skittering over the face of the nearly full moon, and strike after strike of lightning hitting the surface of the ocean, the lure of the light show was much stronger than my need to be safe, or to sleep.
I woke Husband Richard — he’d never have forgiven me if he’d missed the show, and it was much better as a shared experience.
Bundled in our fuzzy robes and slippers, we huddled in the rockers and watched the parade of lightning strikes dancing across the sky.
What a moment. Safety be damned. Don’t do this at home.
Some bolts were straight down, no-nonsense streaks from low-flying clouds to the ocean’s face. Others came in obliquely, the Scud missiles of the lightning world. Still others wavered and writhed, even circling back up to clobber the clouds from whence they came, like electrified modern dancers doing their Martha Graham imitations.
Occasional strikes were short; others were the Empire-State-Buildings of crackling jolts. Some were golden, others white, still others muted to bright gray sheets of electricity from behind the clouds.
Analogies run rampant: The furies. Newsreels of long-ago war battles. Thor sending us message to reform. Mother Nature’s flash bulbs (I’m dating myself now.)
But somehow, just describing lightning as clashes of negative and positive electrical forces seems so plebeian.
At first, there was no sound. God had hit the mute button. It was like walking out of the silent-movie theater while the film was still showing.
Then, as the clouds slid along on their way, an occasional rumble of thunder would sound in the distance. Neighbors three doors down could have been practicing a drum riff. Gently.
We snagged our video cam and Nikon, and tried to capture the display on film, the better to back up our feeble descriptions. Fat chance, but we had to try.
This was not a good time to be a squid fisherman. Or on a nearby cruise ship. Or heaven help us, to be an instant-barbecued marine mammal. I could imagine egrets and herons, heading for the kelp diner and some fresh fried fish. Ugh.
What happens when the lightning hits the ocean, I wondered? Does the water heat up? Electrify? Turn to steam? Make more clouds that send down more lightning bolts? Or does all that energy just fizzle away? Meteorology 101. I must call the National Weather Service later to find out. Once a journalist, always curious, I guess, and always coming up with questions I can’t answer myself.
The show wound down. The moon pulled the cloud covers over its head for that last sweet sniglet of sleep before dawn. Then dawn began to stagger onstage as I was lost in memories.
“The light fairies are dancing,” said the long-ago little girl watching the lightning storm, a girl who had just seen Mary Martin as “Peter Pan” on Broadway.
My mom smiled, gave me a misty motherly hug and said, “I hope you can always see it that way, my love.
Dance, Tink, dance. Pirouette for me one more time. But keep us safe.