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The Lightning Tree

The blazing light and loud crash happened at the same time causing us to get up and race to the window. We did not venture outside, instead, we pressed our faces to each set of windows. Nothing in the woods behind our house. Nothing to see in the woods by the creek. Wait, there is some smoke in the woods across the street. It was a small wispy smoke, lifted quickly by the wind and spread over the woods before being drowned out by the rain. After the storm, my family agreed to go see what the lightning struck.

The storm was an impressive one. Lightning sliced through the dark sky every few minutes, illuminating our windows. The crashing of thunder shook the windows while the wind threw rain at them. I generally enjoy summer storms, yet this one was stronger and wilder than our normal storms. It came up fast, the heat of the summer causing the clouds to build quickly and become dangerous. The wind hit first with all its fury. The trees around us yielded to its power, bending, bowing, and lashing their branches at each other. Leaves, nuts, and small branches flew through the air pelting cars, buildings, and anyone crazy enough to be out in it.

The rumbling came next. Faint, far away at first, then intensifying as the storm clouds came together. Thunder advanced with the wind. My kids started to watch for lightning so they could count and estimate how far away the storm was. The thunder grew louder and more frequent.

Finally, we saw the flash. The counting began: one, two, three, four, five. Five seconds from the flash to the thunder. The lightning was one mile away from us. The next flash was only two seconds away. Then came the crash and flash on the hill. Out went our power.

When the power went out, we used the lightning to find our flashlights and lighters for the candles. As the candles started to give off their warm glow, the bolts burst in to remind us of the storm. Vanilla, lemon, and pumpkin perfume the air in the home overwhelming any hints of the smoke from the hillside.

The storm dissipated almost as fast as it came. The lightning flashes stretched farther apart. The thunder slowed, softer and less scary. The wind stopped whipping the trees into mad dances. As the sun set over the horizon, the storm faded into the distance. Darkness enveloped us as we sat around the table playing Uno by candlelight.

Our power returned almost without us noticing. The flashing of clocks on appliances and the beeping of our devices told us the power had been restored. My desire to see if we could find where the lightning struck almost overcame my common sense. We decided to wait until the next day to go see if we could find where the lightning crashed into the earth.

Sun beat through the newly cleaned windows and Shenny, the wandering bernedoodle, woke me up early since she refused to go outside during or after the storm the previous night. She was ready to go out and let her nose lead her through the woods.

After I put on Shenny’s leash and pulled on my boots to walk through the muddy woods, I grabbed my coat expecting the storm to have lowered the temperature. As I opened the door, heat and humidity assaulted me. I took off my coat and grabbed the bug spray instead. After coating my whole body with repellant, Shenny pulled me into the woods.

We headed up our favorite trail, Shenny leading the way while I moved branches and sticks off the path. Less than a quarter of the way up the hill I found it. The spiral is unmistakable. The mangled lightning tree was adjacent to our familiar path.

The spiral track of the bolt started midway up the tree. The top of the tree was split open and the weight of it crushed and bent the nearby trees. My scientific mind instantly thought, “God made gravity, which will win this battle. The top of the tree will eventually fall to the ground.”

Shenny sniffed all around the base of the lightning tree. She dug at the bark which had been blown off the trunk. I wondered if the lightning strike killed any squirrels or birds. She didn’t find any creatures, dead or alive. I thank God for that blessing.

Looking around the tree’s base, I found where the lightning had entered the ground. There was evidence of a small fire, but it had not spread. Rain helped save the forest from the lightning. The whole forest was silent; no birds singing, no bugs chirping. I wondered if they were waiting for the top to crash to the ground. I decided I should head back to our path, in case the top decided to follow the pull of gravity.

As we left the woods, one of our neighbors’ sons was playing outside. He was eight and full of questions.

“Where were you? Why is Shenny panting? Where is Shenny’s water?” The questions continued until he finally paused to think as his mom came out to pet Shenny.

“We were looking for the lightning strike.”

“That scared me last night, we lost power, and I couldn’t play my games.”

“We found the lightning tree! Actually, Shenny found it on our walk. Do you want to come to see it?”

“MOM let’s go! Shenny can take us to the lightning tree!” His yelling drew some other kids and their parents out into the street.

“Lead on Shenny,” I told my hot and tired dog. She looked confused, but the woods are her favorite place so she led us back into the cool, muddy, dappled shade of the trees.

We stopped by the tree a safe distance away from where the top was leaning, just in case gravity won while we were standing there. I put on my science teacher hat and explained about lightning, thunder, and counting to find the distance to a storm. They told me what they could learn using their senses. They saw the bark blown away from the tree and the spiral path of the lightning through the tree to the ground. They smelled the faint odor of burnt wood and the sticky sap that had crystalized because the water boiled away. They touched the charred bark. They heard the eerily quiet forest. But we stopped short of using our sense of taste. They all agree to leave everything alone so that other people could find the Lightning Tree.

As I head home, Shenny and I agree to keep looking for interesting things on our walks. Things that make us pause and think. Things that bring questions to mind. “What caused this? What type of plant is this? What animal created that?”

Questions lead to learning. Learning new things encourages our brains to make new pathways, and connections. As I age, I realize learning keeps my brain working and I find I can recall memories quicker. I continue to learn new things every day.

God’s creativity made lightning, thunder, and storms. He made the sap that boils away to sticky sugar, the gravity that holds us on our planet and so much more. When you wander in the woods, look for interesting trees, plants, or even holes in the ground. Maybe you can find a Lightning Tree. Remember to keep our brains sharp we need to learn new things and science is one way to learn about the world around us. What can you learn today?



Hi, thanks for stopping by! 

Jennifer Wake is an Army wife, mother of 3 grown children, PWOC board member, teacher, trainer and women’s speaker and writer. 

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