Rites of Spring

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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The calendar says it is official, the northern hemisphere began its lean toward the sun on March 20, 2014, and spring arrived. However, this year Mother Nature had other ideas about letting Old Man Winter retire. Slowly, though, he is retreating and the promised signs of spring are emerging. I saw my first robin the other day, and I know bluebirds and red-winged blackbirds won’t be far behind. I heard the call of spring peepers, spotted my first pussy willow and saw some over-eager teenagers sporting shorts on a 20-degree day.

It is also a fact of life that spring means mud and thunderstorms. I am not a fan of either though I know they are part of the whole deal. Every year we have mud everywhere as the frost leaves the ground. I cringe to see the ruts in the driveway, feel my feet sink in the yard as I walk to the house, and mop mud from the kitchen floor every night for a couple of weeks. I have learned to deal with all this mess each year, just as everyone else has. Thunderstorms are what I wish we could slide through spring without experiencing.

OK, I realize there are those people who find spring storms exciting, exhilarating and are mesmerized by them. Not me. They are scary, destructive and serve no real purpose in my mind. Why can’t we have just a soaking rain without all the bells and whistles? I will never understand what possessed Ben Franklin to fly a kite in a thunderstorm in 1752.

He set out to prove his theory that lightning is an electrical phenomenon that can be transferred to another object and recognized as electricity. He is lucky he survived the experiment as many who attempted it later did not. Franklin certainly did tempt fate when he sang “Nya, nya-nya, nya, nay, can’t hit me!” Later in his life, his house was struck by lightning but escaped burning because of his own invention of the lightning rod. How ironic. Apparently, Mother Nature does have a sense of humor!

Compared to winter storms, thunderstorms affect a much smaller area but are many times more destructive. The United States experiences roughly 100,000 thunderstorms each year. Thunderheads form when temperatures fall rapidly higher in the sky.

Though thunder is what sends little ones scrambling under the covers, it is lightning that does the damage. It forms when negative charges in the cloud attract positive charges in the ground. A “stepped leader” of negative charges descends from the cloud seeking a path to the ground then a positive charge from the ground reaches up to meet the leader and when the two connect, we have lightning.

Sometimes it is hard to tell, but thunder definitely does follow lightning. A lightning bolt heats the air around it to incredible temperatures, around 54,000 F. The heated air expands then contracts. As it cools it produces the boom we know as thunder. I know this is all as clear as mud, pardon the pun. It still remains that lightning is pretty scary stuff, and rightfully so.

It is too bad we cannot harness all this energy, for there would never be an energy shortage again. I guess some things were not made for man to harness and control. If we didn’t have the dreaded thunderstorms, maybe we wouldn’t appreciate the better aspects of spring such as the flowers, the fresh scent of the air after a rainstorm, and everything in nature coming to life again. Yes, nature does balance itself out between the good and the bad. I wouldn’t trade the renewal that spring brings for anything. So, come to think of it, snuggling under the covers with a good book the next time a thunderstorm hits doesn’t sound so bad at all.

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