My basement right now looks like a dirt road after a monsoon in March. Most of it is usually a pretty dry dirt floor. Now it is washing machine and dryer-sucking slop. I worry my cats will wander down there and never make it back upstairs again. We’re talking Bmovie quicksand.
As most Vermonters have noticed, the weather was a tad damp in May, June, and July. May 2013 was the wettest May on record. June 2013, with roughly 10 inches of rain, was almost the wettest June. We’ve had so many thunderstorms in July that one of my family’s six cats now lives under the couch. Not kidding. My wife and I slide her food and a dish of water under there two or three times a day. I have no idea what she’s using for her litter box, but my sense is that she’s pretending she has the window seat on a jet and the two passengers between her and the aisle are sound asleep. She’s going to hold it in until the plane lands. Her bladder must be the size of a hot air balloon.
Here are two fun facts about thunder and lightning, this first one courtesy of WCAX morning meteorologist Gary Sadowsky: Lightning is 50,000 degrees Fahrenplead heit. The surface of the sun? A mere 10,000 degrees.
Second, it is seriously terrifying to be camping near the top of a mountain in a thunderstorm. One summer night years ago, my wife and I were camping with her cousin and her cousin’s husband high on Mount Abraham. We were between the Battell Shelter and the summit.
Our tent was absolutely no match for the rain, which was running like a river between our sleeping bags and pouring through what we had thought was a waterproof roof. Nope. Not so much.
We were also being deafened by the thunder. At one point I said to Richard, my wife’s cousin’s husband, “This is uncomfortable, but not dangerous, right?”
Richard is way sportier than I am. He camps. He runs marathons. “Oh, nothing to worry about,” he reassured me, nearly shouting to be heard over the cannonade and the cascading rain. “This is cloud-to-cloud lightning.”
I reminded him that we were near the summit of a 5,000-foot mountain: We were in the clouds.
He thought about this, but only briefly. “Okay, then,” he said. “We should be really, really scared.”
In the last two months, rains have flooded parts of Richmond, Underhill, Huntington, and Jericho — among other Vermont communities. The storms have ruined crops and pummeled the pavement in Burlington. Given the perfectly natural human tendency to blame the messenger, lately it has been tough to be a Vermont meteorologist. “We joke that we have to wear disguises when we go out in public,” Sadowsky told me. “Or we simply don’t go out in public. People blame us. But they also with us to change things – which of, course, we can’t.” The reality is that weather helps define us as Vermonters. “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are,” Wendell Berry once wrote. That is especially true of those of us here in northern New England.
Our sense of self — our sense of place — is grounded in a certain stoicism when it comes to ice storms, blizzards, flashfloods, and droughts.
All of those have been the pivots around which I’ve written novels. Already this summer people across the state have endured a lot — and lost a lot. Make me mistake: The rains and high water the last two months have been devastating. But it can also be spectacularly beautiful here.
Sometimes, the sky is often cerulean the day after a blizzard. Same after a summer storm. As G. K. Chesterton observed, “Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.”
It’s only mid-July, which means that we have a lot of summer left.
Think rainbow. Sadowsky and his peers shouldn’t disappear into the Witness Protection Program.
At least not yet.
(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on July 14, 2013. Chris’s new novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” was just published.)