Early. Too early.
The clock spat red numerals through darkness: 5:25. Thatís a.m. I was frustrated. I wake up at 5:30, 6:00 weekends and canít get back to sleep. But weekdays itís all I can do to drag myself out of the sack when the clock goes off at 5:45. I know why. Weekends, I think of all the things I could be doing other than sleeping. I wonít say I donít like to sleep, but I do consider it a greedy consumer of my free time.
I stared at the clock and cussed it. Then I got up and made coffee, and after brushing the chompers and getting dressed, poured a cup of joe, let the puppy out of his kennel and we slipped quietly outside. He gets a cup and a half of food for breakfast, which he munches happily, a blond, lanky lad of classic Lab proportions already.
When Bogie finished breakfast, licking his jowls contentedly, he wagged his tail in plea for some fun time.
"What the heck," I said, and we took off in the truck.
A massive thunderhead loomed somewhere around Franklin. I could see it from the open space of the pasture upon our arrival. Bogie leaped from the truck when I said, "Come on," and set about searching for any scent that might interest him, but when I lowered the tailgate I leaned against it for a time, watching the broiling blackness to the east.
Lightning, jagged and spectacular, crashed from fold to billow. Far, though. Another, this time lancing in triplicate to the ground. The sheer majesty of the thunderstorm, the lightning, the churning power of it, fascinates me.
You know that. I write about it, probably too often. It keeps finding its way into these words, time and again. The beauty of it? Certainly. It is as beautiful as any force of nature I know. Perhaps itís the sheer, unbridled power of it. Thereís more of the energy of creation in those dazzling, broiling clouds than all of civilization can muster. It seems to fill the horizon from north to south, but lingers to the east. Perhaps itís the mystery of it that obsesses me.
Bogie leaps into the pond with a loud splash, startles me. I string up a little bamboo rod with a small cork popper fly and walk over to where he is. He is learning, slowly, not to swim where I am fishing, or to chase every little perch I throw back. Slowly being the operative word there. But heís only a pup. Heíll learn. I position myself so I can see the dark mass of storm across the water from me and cast a willowy bamboo fly rod to tiny perch. The meat-hunters cleaned that pond out of any fish of size; they came in droves with five-gallon buckets with which to carry home their bounty. No greater testament to the greed of our so-called civilization is needed than the way they obliterated that little pond in a few months, whereas everyone could have fished it for years with a little sense and stewardship. All thatís left are tiny bream, and my will-oí-the-wisp bamboo rod at least lets them fight a little.
Thunder makes the ground quake, and the pond quivers like a bowl of water on the table when the heavy-footed walk by. The entirety of it actually rippled from its edges inward. The lightning flashed first, and as it shot from cloud to cloud, it left a jagged, purple incision on my vision which floated away when I tried to look at it, fleeting, like black wings.
Bogie sits by me at the waterís edge and a breeze picks up. The storm might be nearing. Though brick and mortar and concrete and steel and combustion engines are mere hundreds of yards awayÖfor now, at least, they might well have never existed at all. If I turn just the right way, stand low enough on the inclined bank, I can imagine that all the highways are gone. All the stores and houses. All the utility poles and towers. Such is the power leaking from the lightning strikes, sizzling in the air, flowing from the distant rain.
The little fish are uncooperative. I look down and Bogie is sitting at my side, but heís not watching my fly line as he usually does. He is leaning into the breeze, neck stretched, and his ears are swept back, his eyes squinting and his nostrils flaring, inhaling deep, saturated breaths of the storm. Oh, how I wish I could know what he discerns. We arrogant humans place ourselves on some silly rung of the ladder above the animals, but a half-year-old pup can know more from the breeze than weíll ever divine. On that slight wisp, heíll know plants and birds and people, their scents brushed by the breeze and carried to him from where it began in the folds of the distant storm; heíll inhale power and vast, incomprehensible might, heíll know things that wonít even happen for hours or days to come.
Iíve come to learn a lot from him. We think of our dogs in terms that demote them: While they might not be building electrical circuits or driving cars, the dog at my side is more acutely aware of everything surrounding us than I can ever be. The storm, the air, the water, the earth, the plants, the bugs, the sounds. I envy him the things he discerns. I pretend, as all dog owners do, that I am training him, but in fact all I am doing is imposing my will on him. Come. Sit. Stay. Heel. At times, I wonder if I really have the right.
Once, before this pond was sacrificed to the demigods of greed, I wrestled a sizable bass with a light graphite fly rod from its depths while thunder boomed directly over my head and lightning crashed within a mile of my piscatorial battle. I remember thinking, Only a damn fool would do this, and replying at once to my own fool self, Gotta live a little. Youth is not necessarily wasted on the young. I wasnít about to break off a nice bass and just walk away, lightning or fire and brimstone. I landed the fish and escaped injury or death, and sometimes, when I am far enough from concrete and steel, high frequencies and fluorescent lights, I might just understand how and why.
Maybe one day I wonít come home, and theyíll send the authorities to find me. Perhaps Iíll be no more than a smoldering spot of charred ground, faithful Bogie standing guard over my soaked ashes, for my foolishness. I donít understand my own fear and courage sometimesÖI am absolutely terrified of flying, heights, snakes and fires, but Iíll stand transfixed by as a thunderstorm throw spears of power so fearsome the ground explodes when they touch it.
The storm is nearing, and I realize my fly line is limp out thirty-feet in the water, floating untended. I reel in and call the pup to the truck, where I take down the rod and stow it away. Restless, driven by insatiable, aching longing to know what is carried on the breeze, in the rain and across the billows, Bogie and I walk across the long pasture, toward the cliff-like storm front inching toward us. I wonder what I could see if my eyes were not so imperfect since birth; or what I might glimpse in the power and majesty of that storm if I hadnít been blinded centuries ago by gunpowder, razor-edged steel, relocations, allotments and reserves. But there are words I still understand, can swallow without choking, spoken by the Lakota warrior Black Elk:
Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.
Bogie quarters the field, zigzagging ahead of me, left to right. Now and then he pauses, faces into the wind and breathes deeply. The thunder is louder, the lightning is closer and, soon, the first drops of drizzle hit my arms and head. I call the pup to me and load him into the truck, seat myself behind the wheel. Iíll have to hurry, to cross the ditch before the soil turns to sludge, yet we are compelled to spend just one more moment, looking at the storm through the windshield, and Bogieís attention is fixed on it, too.
I pull away then, back to the concrete spine, and we turn our backs on the storm to head home. Five, ten minutes after weíre there, the sky shreds, rent by lightning, to drop cool, fresh rain, while Bogie and I sit in the doorway and watch quietly. Reverently? Perhaps. In any event, it was our own private expedition and subsequent vigil. The dog understands more than I. But at least I can share in the wonder.