Thunderstorms, Droughts, Poo…

I love thunderstorms.

I love raging-windy-loud-booming-flashing-scary-pounding-rain thunderstorms.

Thunderstorms clear and cool the air, take away the pressure of a stifling summer day with dark and ominous clouds that excite my sense of danger, and leave freshened air behind.

Thunderstorms in northern Virginia are rarely damaging.  Perhaps this I why when I see that hint of navy blue-purple swollen cloud, feel that quick cold breeze cutting through the heat, or hear that booming crack of thunder, I am not afraid or dreading the storm, but hoping it comes crashing right over my head.

A thunderstorm awakens and enlivens me, makes me crackle with joy and excitement.  And there is nothing like watching a storm move across the river toward you; it’s entrancing.

One late, intoxicated night at the river I came home from the local bar and no one else was there, the house dark in the pouring rain.  Full of happy (okay, vodka tonics), I went out to the big hill overlooking the river, and in the darkness I danced in the rain, laughing and jumping and twirling around, turning my happy, drunken face up to the powerful clouds and opening my mouth and eyes to the refreshing downpour as I delighted in the booming thunder and flashes of lightning from the opposite shore.

A warm summer rain, without thunder or lightning, works for me too.  Not as exciting as a good, loud storm, but invigorating nonetheless.  To illustrate, other favorite places for a good rainstorm, sans lightning or wind, are in the boat or while waterskiing.  When raindrops pelt against your bare, suntanned skin, they can land with round, plump, soft drops, or fast, stabbing needles, especially when you insist on finishing out your turn skiing, despite the weather.  Another favorite rainstorm location is in the river up to my neck, friends all around, and cold rain plopping into the warm water, splashing up and diluting our beer.

The dripping trees provide the music.

According to my Ma, the trees will tell you it’s going to rain by exposing the bottoms of their leaves to soak in the moisture.  To me, they seem to glow against the darkened skies as the storm clouds move forth.

A walk in the woods with rain sluicing down bright green luscious leaves stirs up that wet woody earth scent.  Rain on a tin roof in an old house in the mountains, drumming a soothing lullaby, lures you to sleep.  Rain on hot, dry concrete and asphalt, mulch and gravel.  A hot, steaming suburban smell wafts in the clouds coming up from the ground, meeting the drops as they fall.

Rain encourages growth and gives life.  Birds signal the end of a storm by singing songs that I presume celebrate the worms pushed to the surface for their snacking pleasure.

In 1999, three summers after my sister died, we had a drought.  It was the worst in generations.  I had been thirsting for a thunderstorm or just a plain old rain shower, and none came.  The news kept saying how our reservoir, Occoquan, was alarmingly low.  So, curious people that my dad and I are, we took my black lab Sadie (1994-2008) and went to the reservoir to see how low it was and what it looked like.  (Looking back, I wish I’d brought a camera.)  The water had drained away from the shores and left mud cracked in a patchy pattern.  I gazed at the exposed reservoir bottom and saw the drought as a representation of my life after my sister’s death, even three years later.  That dry, desolate reservoir was like my heart:  drained.  I longed for rain and thunder almost as much as I longed for my sister to be alive again, and a dry ache spread in my lonesome, dissatisfied soul.

In the thirsty, cracked pattern of the reservoir earth, there were old logs and balls, marbles, coins, fishing line, and lures.  Shoes, beer cans, and small sunken boats scattered the mud like vague memories from childhood.  Dad and I walked around the perimeter with Sadie and I think then it sort of sunk in that the drought was bad.  Sure, the grass was dried and yellow, the trees were beginning to look pretty sorry, and we couldn’t wash our cars, but to see our water supply a mere puddle surrounded by cracked earth was disturbing.

Also disturbing was seeing Sadie excitedly trot in a familiar manner to a fallen tree and nose around, her body language telling me it was something she’d like, but I would most certainly not.  “What do you smell, Sades?” I said, as I went over to her to investigate.  All at once I smelled the stench of human shit and realized that Sadie had just taken a lick of some nasty pile someone had left and not bothered to bury in the sand.  I yelled and pulled her away, gagging.  My dad chuckled at Sadie’s snack choice as I fed her leftovers of breakfast we had in the Jeep, trying to cleanse the human shit smell out of her mouth.  My dog did not eat other dog’s poop, but if she ever found goose poop, cat poop, or human shit, she thought it was treat time.

It infuriated me that people couldn’t bury their shit.  And believe me, if there was people poo to be found, Sadie would find it.  In addition to the reservoir incident, which was the first, Sadie found and snacked on human shit in the woods near a construction site behind my parents’ house (the calm, cool woods replaced with condos, Alexander de Paris, and Taco Bell).  Turns out the construction workers didn’t like pooping in the outdoor johns.  THEN COVER IT UP.  I discovered their unfortunate habits when I walked back into the woods and saw the ground dotted with wads of toilet paper.  I put two and two together:  dog with shitty breath, toilet paper dotting the woods floor.  Oh!  …Shit!

The third place Sadie delighted in a gag-reflex inducing snack was in the woods behind our condo in Chantilly—and it happened more than once!  “Who shits in the woods?”  I yelled at the woods, incensed.  “Nasty!”

At this point we had doggy breath mints for Sadie, because not only was the knowledge of her occasionally lapping up human shit gross, but the hot, steamy shit smell she’d joyfully breathe on you was dreadful.  “Haah, haah, haah,” she’d pant, a little dog smile on her face, her sweet brown eyes lit up.  She probably thought she was sharing a nice odor, and didn’t understand my squalling about her gross stink.  All other times I adored her and her own natural dog stink.

Haah haah haah

Alas, my poo-eating Sadie dog is two years gone, but glorious thunderstorm season is here again.  As I work on this essay, a storm has just passed and the birds are starting to sing.  And you may wonder, am I satisfied by the darkened sky and the rainwater standing on the deck?  My answer to that is this:  does a construction worker shit in the woods?

Yes indeed.

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