Monday, June 08, 2009

This is why…

I think I was about ten years old. That year, like every year, my family had gone on a camping trip to somewhere in Europe. That year it was France.

As usual, my parents slept in the caravan (I've since learned you call this a 'camper' in the USA) and I slept in my Dad's ancient pup-tent pitched right next to it.

I loved that tent. My Dad had gone camping in it when he'd been my age. It was an awesome, old-school triangular tent with a thick rubber groundsheet and a heavy blue canvas fly-sheet. It was a tent that could keep you dry in a monsoon…which turned out to be lucky.

I remember being woken by an explosion.

It was so loud that the ground literally shook and I sat bolt upright in bed with my ears ringing. As my heart-rate slowly returned to normal and I got my bearings and remembered where I was, there was another deafening explosion, only this time I recognized that it was thunder…only thunder like I've never heard before.

It was unbelievably loud, and I mean that literally. It was so loud that it ceased to be noise and instead turned into something else, something almost corporeal. In the darkness of the tent it was as if each peal of thunder was a universe of sound. I was so loud that in the pitch black I could actually see it, each blast making my eyes seem to flash in clouds of color…and once the initial shock had worn off, I found myself smiling.

I unzipped one side of the door of my tent and tied it back. Before long I saw flashes of lightning on the horizon, each flash illuminating the camp as brightly as daylight for a fraction of a second, so bright that I could still 'see' the landscape for a few seconds after the flash had gone, a weird world painted in fading purple mist… an after image made of shapes that would twist and morph and shimmer before vanishing.

I remember watching with my mouth open as the lightning flashed again and again until it was striking so often that it was as if my tent were surrounded by a legion of invisible paparazzi. It was the world's most amazing lightshow. I watched the flashes and noticed that sometimes the flashes were white, other times blue… and every so often, a deep violet color that bounced of the trees, giving them an alien, other-worldly look.

A bolt of lightning struck fairly close and I was amazed at the sound. People think thunder is the sound of lightning but it isn't, it's just the shockwave. Lightning up close sounds like a metallic 'pang', like the noise you'd get by dropping a big steel pipe on to a concrete floor in a huge, empty aircraft hangar.

Amazingly, I wasn't scared. I was awestruck. Even at ten years old I had a deep appreciation for what I was seeing. It was the raw power of nature, a spectacle that was terrifying but astoundingly beautiful at the same time. A power your brain simply can't fathom until you've experienced it for yourself.

I can't remember if I watched the storm for a minute or an hour, but I remember the exact moment that the rain started. In less time than it took to blink the world went from being bone dry to looking like it had been raining for hours; As if some celestial special-effects guy had just flipped the switch from 'clear' to 'torrential downpour'.

I fumbled with the tent flap as the rain pounded down, finally managing to zip it closed… wanting to watch the storm but knowing what my parents would do if I flooded the tent so I could watch the storm.

I sat in the dark for a while, listening to the rain and watching the door of the tent explode with light with every flash of lighting. Eventually, as the lightning strike started to become few and far beween, I reached for my flashlight and flicked it on, bathing the inside of the tent in a warm, dim glow. Using the light, I found the bag of French potato chips I'd stashed away next to my airbed and sat and ate them slowly while listening to the roar of the rain pounding the canvas.

I don't remember falling asleep that night, but I remember having never felt cozier or safer than I did in that thirty year old blue tent with the orange door.

Then, about twenty years later, my wife asked me why I liked to camp in the rain.

1 comment:

rayray said...

"caravan" brits is so silly!

seriously though, awesome story.