Mute lightning

Thu, 06/02/2011 - 4:35pm

This morning I saw a snapper ambling up the lane, moving, as they do, with an odd rolling gait. It wasn’t a large turtle, but it had a huge head, stretching out over the shorn grass. They appear every now and then, and I wonder where they are headed — it is a fair distance to a pond that will last the summer.

It was at least an hour later that I looked out, not for the turtle, but for a view of the glowing landscape that is June. I saw the creature settled, resting, near the cement slab that covers the old cistern. Perhaps I caught it in a moment of reconsideration and instead of striking off, surely following some genetically imprinted roadmap, it turned back, retracing the path taken from the big pond.

Or it struck out across the field, so recently mowed that the blue flag iris stand proud and bright along the swale instead of merely popping their heads through the tall waving grass that is usually going to seed by now.

Last year, I think it was a muskrat that I saw smashed on the road not long after watching one cavort in the tiny pond by my gate. It might have been the year before that someone ran over a turtle and left the crushed body within the crushed shell, just more trash, like a beer bottle tossed aside.

In the morning, the grass was already turning from its verdant spring hue, cooked by the sun. Then the storm came, rumbling around the edges of the sky, filling the radio with static. There were tornado warnings up in Massachusetts — later followed by reports of several deaths related to four tornadoes — and northern Rhode Island, plus assorted storm, wind, thunder and lightning possibilities across the region.

Then the power went out, before anything happened, before the rain came, as the breeze was turning to wind. It was too early to look for neighbors’ lights to reassure myself it was not just me, and even had it not been, the leaves of the trees have become so thick that looking would have been an exercise in futility.

Still, I went outside and wandered about the yard, wondering at the color of the sky and the feel of the air, not quite raining, yet, but cooler, the grass incredibly, impossibly, greener than it was at mid-day. I thought of the pile of knotweed in the barnyard, the stalks that had grown taller than the eaves of the house, not a great height when the house is a very old one-story Cape Cod, but tall enough to close out the light of the sun. There is so little sun there, on the north side of the house, it is not right to block it out.

So I pulled the stalks down, with their many leaved branches, down, flat against the ground and yanked, hoping their shallow roots would give way. Often they did, taking a small clump of earth with them. There is old vegetation as well, the same as the stand by the door, but worse, taller, having thrived under neglect. Old growth, more hollow gray pipes, came with them and I piled them high, thinking they would deflate in a few days time. I will not know until morning if they stayed in place, as such things sometimes do against all probabilities, or if they are strewn all across the barnyard, threatening to take root, a monster plant from a simple ornamental grown.

The wild roses, where I intended to start, will have to wait until they have bloomed, June’s pale flowers that every year gain a stay of execution for their thorny vines.

It was warm then, in mid-day, approaching hot, and I started opening windows to let in the summer-like air that even then held a vague threat of approaching weather.

It held off until evening, until that time that is a gift, any light after six. We had felt to be on the edge of the storm and we were even as it passed directly overhead and there was no time to count out a delay between the flash and the thunder. It was time to close the windows against the rain and I stood at one, waiting for it to worsen.

The rain lashed and I thought, as I often do when lightning comes, to go out on the road, the way the man down the road always did, fearful of being struck, again, needing to feel the security of rubber tires he was sure would protect him. I never think of it until it is raining, hard. It was temping, tonight, the grass so green, the very air seeming to hold the peculiar color of a storm.

The man so afraid had a junkyard, right on the highway, where there is now smooth green grass. I passed by it every day and never gave it a second thought until years later, long after it was gone, when some one remarked on the eyesore it had been. He had a garage and instead of a lift an outside ramp a vehicle could be driven upon, exposing its soft underbelly. He was a mechanic. Before there was zoning.

The storm this first day of June never grew fierce here, just some rain, a bit of wind, and lightning quickly moving offshore. It was gone before daylight ended, leaving the sky brightly lit with pale metallic color. Then, when it seemed safe to turn on the appliances, it showed itself not to be finished, lingering brightly white, chaining, beyond Clay Head but so distant, or so weak, mute lightning running around the sky. There was no sound; I turned on the computer and saw the severe colors on the radar, just to the east of us, moving away.

Hours later the wind still blew, rattling the forsythia against the window as it can, in fall, before I cut it low. It is far, far too soon to be thinking about autumn.

I wonder what happened to the turtle.