Sunday in the Park Teri Orr
July 28, 2007
My mother may call this revisionist history but I don’t ever remember being afraid of thunderstorms. My grandmother, who had a magical beach house in Oceanside, California, used to sit with me against the huge plate-glass window when summer storms blew in from the sea. The spray would cover the window with salt and we would squeal well, okay, maybe only I would squeal as waves would wash up closer and closer to the house.
Years later, when I lived on the water at Lake Tahoe, I would sit in my own living room and watch the lake storm up. Mountain thunderstorms are, by their very nature, so much more electric. And I would huddle with my two tiny toddlers around me and we would count the beats from the lightning to the thunder.
When I first moved to Park City in the late Seventies, summer thunderstorms came with a certain regularity, maybe three times a week, mid-afternoon and then left in time for a cool evening barbeque. The lawns stayed green, the flowers bloomed all summer and fear of wildfires was largely for other places, regions even, far, far away.
I have a little overhang on the porch around back where the wooden swing hangs. I have spent many a summer storm sitting safe and dry there and watching the weather move across the mountains. The smell of wet sage and lavender and rosemary always makes planting those, (mostly) annuals in this zone, worth the repeated effort.
This summer, we all know, has been a scorcher with temperatures breaking records and burning up plant life. Our neighborhood has had a mock competition for the brownest lawn and it had become a badge of some honor. The cosmos that brighten up the yard had stopped reproducing even though I been dead-heading them as Ron, gardener and jeweler extraordinaire, had taught me years ago. Ditto the pansies, chives and poppies. They had bloomed, then grown thirsty and stopped blooming.
But this week, when the rain poured down and poured down and poured down, the yard rejoiced. By no means of my own, the grass is lush and green, the flowers bright and blooming and the birds eating their fill and singing. And the storms so delicious. Light shows that exceed any manmade fireworks hit the night sky like strobe lights and jagged magic.
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Under the overhang on the swing, I think about all the reasons I was given for the noise thunder makes:
The scientific, which my adult son explains in exacting detail, of the electric currents colliding or something like that.
The cutesy "God is bowling" or "the angels are moving furniture."
And then, most recently from an interesting new show starring Holly Hunter on TNT called "Saving Grace" comes yet a more entertaining idea. Holly’s character, a hardboiled-homicide-detective-single-woman-spitfire, has ended up with her own angel, a guy named Earl, who chews tobacco and wears sloppy T-shirts. He tells her that thunder was God starting up his Harley, an idea he thought she might relate to. From the sound of the weather this week, God must ride with one helluva posse.
Personally, I have evolved to think of the storms as a kind of symphony heavy on the percussion section, of course. Bassoons and timpani and cymbals crashing with the occasional piano keys struck for effect. Last night was particularly exciting with the National Weather Service issuing a severe thunderstorm warning for the Salt Lake Valley. I made certain the windows were closed so the rain didn’t leave puddles on the inside ledges, but I left the screen doors open and then I sat on the swing. It reminded me of that great Ray Bradbury story I once heard him read from, "Something Wicked This Way Comes." It was ominous and yet thrilling. It created a moving symphony. With chimes playing in the wind and, I swear, a snare being brushed as the storm passed through.
In the morning, the birds were singing like string instruments and, in the still-wet yard, the cosmos were popping. Ditto the lavender buds and the tiny pansy faces, and the giant hollyhock flowers were ready to be turned upside down to be ladies in grand gowns.
I have been planning my meals around the weather. Eating outside is such a short-lived treat in the mountains. Breakfast on the front porch, dinner on the back deck. Right now every morning meal includes local just-picked raspberries and cherries and every evening meal includes sweet farmer’s market corn on the cob. In fact, last night dinner was just corn on the cob no seafood, no beef, no chicken, just two perfect ears of corn smothered in butter and salt and pepper and somehow so naturally sweet you just had to sigh at the perfection of it all.
The storms of the past week have been a gift. They have soaked the dry earth and dampened down the red-hot aggravation of the burning temperatures. Folks are smiling and greeting one another with enthusiasm as opposed to frustration and exhaustion. I know, I may be making more out of a week of thunderstorms than you would, but it so seems to have lifted everyone’s mood I thought it worth paying attention to. And if the storms return, as predicted this weekend, I will be happy to eat the bounty of summer and watch the light show and listen to the symphonic sounds surround another Sunday in the Park
Teri Orr is the director of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation that provides programming for the George S. and Delores Dore Eccles Center for the Performing Arts and the Big Stars Bright Nights Summer Concert Series at Deer Valley. Orr is also a former editor at The Park Record.