Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10-15 knots, rain in afternoon

Last night we sat in the cockpit and watched the most marvelous lightning storm I’ve ever seen. The weather report said that the crackling remnants of Ingrid were spreading over our longitudal coordinates, and as the blue-white streaks blinded us, I could almost feel her presence around us, see her orange eyes, her intoxicating electric heart. We’ve seen some beautiful storms already since we’ve been sitting here--one last week where the lightning came so close that we could see each jagged arm where it echoed in the heart of the cloud--but this one took my breath away. You didn’t even have to be looking to feel the lightning. Each time a bolt shot down, we could feel the change in pressure, feel the electricity coursing through our skulls, like a sound high-pitched beyond the realm of hearing.

Each day out here the sky is like a changing canvas, painted and repainted by the minute. I can sit and watch as the cumulus clouds build into thunderheads, their tops shearing off as they reach the lower pressure in the atmosphere, taking on the distinctive anvil shape. They seem to lower over the water and brood, dark, grey, so close to the ocean on the horizon that the junction is an undistinguished black line. As they get closer, the sheets of rain begin to appear, and as they sweep overhead, I run forward to close the front hatch. It’s only at night, though, when the thunderheads gleam white in the black sky, that you can see that the lightning lives inside of them, trapped, jumping and bouncing off the towering walls of cloud.

At sunset last night, the sky was filled with cirrus clouds, the high ones made of ice crystals, that seem to capture the orange light of the setting sun better than any others. Later, as the sky darkened, the lightning began to appear, a little to the north, off Bird Point. Some strikes were crazed nerve networks, whole filigrees of light, trapped by the giant clouds. In others, the electricity gathered into one tensed spinal column, a thick tree-trunk of light, spiraling down the center of the cloud. Those were the ones you could feel before you could see, the ones that raised the hair on my arms and left the air crackling with power. Sometimes two arms of light would branch off of the edge of the cloud and join together before stretching down to diffuse in the water, creating a titanic tee in the air. It’s not hard to see why the ancient Greeks believed in Zeus, and the Norse in Thor. I can explain all of this wonder with science, but how in the world can you make sense of such beauty without recourse to the supernatural?

The sky is almost always our only source of entertainment, accompanied, perhaps, by the crooning of a CD from inside the cabin. The power of the atmosphere in these latitudes is breathtaking, almost beyond telling. Its scary, too, I suppose--Nappy told us the other day that he had a friend killed by lightning on a boat here when they were both teenagers. It’s worth it, though. How many people get to see this display, day after day? Are able to watch these systems sweep over, again and again? To feel the energy of the earth, so close I can almost touch it?

Say what you will. I feed off of it. I’ve never been anywhere where rainbows are a daily event, where a double rainbow, stretched from horizon to horizon, is so commonplace that its not even worth mentioning aloud. The light here has texture and substance. It changes by the hour. At moments, it’s so ludicrous and orange that I feel like I’m living on a movie set.

1 comment:

bob said...

In a few of your more recent posts you've focused on description of setting and you do it well. The trend with contemporary writers continues to be this exploration of the individual and her / his place in the world. Book stores are filled with memoirs and too much fiction reads like a fictional memoir. It's refreshing to read posts like this one illustrating a boat on the water under the sky.