Anticipation before the storm

A woman feels a pleasant urgency in the forward wake of thunderstorms.

CLOUDS: A winter storm moves across Saddle Mountain in Mineral County, W.Va.

I have always had a weakness for the slowly building urgency of incoming storms. The first distant smudge in the sky, the incoming wafts of moisture-laden air, and dramatic piling up of clouds are almost better than the rumble and glory of the thunder and lightning itself.

As children, my sister and I had a ritual of tossing our dolls into their small covered prams at the sign of such weather and cantering off around the block – simply to savor the sense of impending disaster with our dependent charges in tow. Never mind that their little plastic (or was it Bakelite?) teeth rattled at our pace. We had to make it home before the storm! And if we did, we launched on another round, disappointed but determined to push the envelope, rushing through the open garage door at the last possible moment before the sky opened.

Even today, I feel a pleasant urgency in the forward wake of thunderstorms. On a farm, there is always something to tarp or move to cover. Recently, as a front moved in, I walked (with an appreciative eye to the darkening west) and put lids over the buckets of collected sap – which would be boiled down to maple syrup the next day.

We've lost good sugar water to storms in the past – as well as hay, sometimes raked and cured and ready to bale. That was always disheartening, however spectacular the rogue storm responsible. I'd stand on the wagon pulling bales from the chute as fast as Charlie on the tractor could deliver them, but I never could quite wish a storm away – a delay was all I'd ask. Sometimes the timing would be exquisite – the last windrow scooped up just before a deluge. Oh, that edge! I could almost hear my sister urging me on.

One storm that I never saw coming as I sat ensconced in a movie theater still haunts me. The sound and video flickered, the big roof thrummed, and I realized I was missing it all for an ill-timed entertainment in my cushioned seat and dry clothes. I'd have gladly traded them for an open porch swing and a rain slicker.

The rain did arrive after I'd covered the sap buckets, spread hay in the barn racks for the cows and horses, and even walked to my neighbor's across the hayfield to pick up a document. It was an errand I might have postponed had the weather been more settled. I still like to push the envelope on storms. Yet crisscrossing the field there and back, I suddenly heard the high warblings of sandhill cranes, smelled the thawing earth, and realized: It wasn't just the rain I so keenly anticipated – but spring itself.

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