The Thunderstorm – Part I

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The lofty pine is oftenest shaken by the winds; High towers fall with a heavier crash; And the lightning strikes the highest mountain — Horace.

Meteorologists agree that during a thunderstorm there is a charge of opposite polarity in the upper and lower region of the cloud; however the exact processes by which this occurs remains, in part, a mystery. Collisions and freezing taking place inside the cloud cause a build up of electrical charge. When the electric field becomes relevant, it causes the surrounding air to become ionized, leading to the formation of plasma, which is much more conductive than the previous non-ionized air. A massive spark then occurs between the two charges within the cloud, or between a cloud and the earth surface.

Of all the different types of lightning, one is peculiar and has prompted many hypotheses, as well as legends such as the Anchimayen, mythical creatures the Mapuche people describe as children sometimes taking the form of fireball flying spheres. This rare atmospheric electrical phenomenon is called ball lightning. It is similar in nature, but not identical to St. Elmo’s fire; it has been reported by many eyewitnesses, but its existence is debated among the physicists due to the lack of scientific evidence. The term refers to glaring, globular-shaped masses which can largely vary in diameter and colour. These luminous balls tend to be attracted to metals; as for the weather conditions in which they are more likely to be observed, they are said to arise during an especially powerful thunderstorm, but they last longer than bolts of lightning, and travel in the atmosphere at a much slower speed. Their behaviour is quite unpredictable; and the noise which accompanies them is similar, according to reports, to the purring of a cat.

As I got into the refuge, exhausted and sweaty from the long hike, I desired nothing but to take some refreshment and rest for a while. I had been all day in an abnormal state of mind: I was in unusually high spirits, my stamina felt inexhaustible and my mind roamed incessantly trying to follow a meandering train of thoughts. All my senses were wide awake and kept delivering to my brain a somewhat amplified perception of reality. The alpine nature was not lush, but appeared to me so brightly coloured, that it was almost blinding. I had at first planned to walk to Pass Padon, but once there, an awe-inspiring view opened in front of me: the gigantic mass of the Marmolada, with its northern face consisting of uneven, dark limestone culminating in the immaculate gleam of the ancient glacier.

As I stood on a rocky pinnacle on the ridge, an abyss thousands of meters deep opened under me: but as I said, I was feverish. In my delirium, it seemed to me that if only I had stretched my arm towards it, I could have touched it.  So I decided to go on walking, and quickly descended to the bottom of the mountain, half running, half rolling; and once down in the valley, I saw lake Fedaia and decided to continue all around its perimeter. I saw animals peeking out of their dens, flowers and stopped to discuss with another hiker whether the minuscule white dots in the middle of a distant slope where sheep or cows. He was in a hurry, though, and strangely I met no one else on the way.

By now, the excitement was beginning to wear out, and I was feeling tired. I sat on a worm-eaten bench and listened to the waitress with genuine interest while she described to me the simple, yet nutritious menu of the day. After a while I was served my frugal lunch: not by the same girl who had taken my order, but by a gray-haired man, presumably the owner of the shelter.

“What a bright blue sky”, I said. I was feeling unusually chatty. “I can’t imagine a more perfect day for hiking”.

“You’d better be back down in the valley by mid-afternoon, or you might get into trouble”.

“Why? The sky is clear. It doesn’t look like it will rain anytime soon”.

“Living in this hard place, I’ve had to learn to tell the weather. We natives of these mountains can interpret signs you well-learned sophisticated city people can’t see”.

He turned to the window. I looked outside, too: the leaves were moving. In my feverish state I had not noticed that a gust of wind had began to blow and a few clouds were passing quickly over the peaks, casting dark green shadows on them. Also, I had not noticed the sweat on my forehead, and on the skin of those around me, wouldn’t dry up. The day had been annoyingly warm, the air muggy and stagnant.

“I’ll resume my walk in minutes. But first, let me enjoy this delicious soup of yours”.

“No hurry, my friend. By no means I want to sound unwelcoming. But weather is unpredictable at these heights, and it’s better not to be taken by surprise by a summer storm. I had a bad experience when I was young”.

The man moved the chair in front of me, and sat down at the table. Curiosity must have shimmered in my eyes, for that hyperactive mood had not subsided completely yet. Encouraged by my attentive stare, he started to tell his story.

Written in response to Writing 101, Day Seventeen: Your Personality on the Page

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