Electrical Experience

I have been climbing a lot of peaks lately. This is because my husband has decided to climb all of the 46 highest Adirondack peaks in one year. I am trying to keep up. It’s not easy. They are legendarily difficult peaks.

So when my husband hurt his knee last week (after two 15-mile hikes, a day of trail crew and a day of putting in a wood floor!) and had to rest for two weeks, I was not exactly crying in my orange juice. I went back to my relatively tame 4-miles a day with girlfriends. They only take an hour, I don’t get scratches, blisters or covered in mud. I can take time to look at wildflowers and catch up on what my friends are up to. It’s so much safer than those silly peaks. Usually…

Then last week, when we were about 2 miles from our cars, we got caught in a violent lightening storm. It just snuck up on us.

Most of the road was in the forest so we didn’t see it coming. After the first crack of thunder we started quickly back toward our cars. As we walked, the thunder booms got closer and closer to the lightening flashes. We debated whether aluminum umbrellas attracted electricity. I said no, though I still am not sure. I am a big believer in any comfort in moments of sheer terror, even if they are total lies. After one particularly violent crack we closed the umbrellas and let ourselves get drenched. No point in taking unnecessary chances! (It wasn’t until later that I realized my umbrella had a wooden handle anyway.)

Finally we got within a quarter mile of the cars, but we would have to leave the safety of the forest and cross an open expanse of field to get to them. The cracks of thunder were now simultaneous with the lightening. The storm was right on top of us. We didn’t dare go out in the open. We waded through poison ivy to get deeper into the forest and off the open road.

We stood there drenched and shivering while lightening pounded the hills around us. Finally I had had enough. After the next bolt lets run for the cars, I said. My girlfriend agreed. At least I think she did. It might have just been her teeth chattering. Anyway, the crack came and we ran. Never has a 1,000 feet seemed so far. We must have looked pretty funny, running full out, dripping wet, umbrellas flailing. God, I am glad no one got that on film.

Once in the car I took a moment to just breathe and feel relieved. Then it took a few minutes to clear up the steamed windows. I drove home slowly. Relishing the feeling of safety I felt in my little car in the face of one of the most powerful forces that nature can inflict in one pinpointed moment.

Gosh, I am looking forward to a nice, long, boring hike.

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About Sheri Amsel

Sheri Amsel has degrees in Botany and Zoology from the University of Montana 1980, a Master's Degree in Anatomy, Physiology and Biomedical Illustration from Colorado State University 1987. Ms. Amsel interned at the Smithsonian Institute in 1983 in Scientific Illustration, taught anatomy and biology at three colleges from 1990 - 1997. In addition, Ms. Amsel has published more than 15 nonfiction children's books, two field guides for adults, and illustrated a myriad of books and interpretive displays on nature and science topics. Ms. Amsel has done science programming at more than 300 schools nationally, developed more than 20 educational nature trails in New York State, and coordinates school visits to local nature trails for environmental education programs for the Eddy Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conservation and habitat preservation. Ms. Amsel created the Exploring Nature Educational Resource website with the hopes of sharing her science and environmental education knowledge and experience with science educators and students worldwide.

3 thoughts on “Electrical Experience

  1. That’s an ambitious goal–all 46 high peaks in one year, though I’m sure it’s been done before.
    ‘Recently read some of Bob Marshall’s writings where he did 14 mountains (13 of them high peaks) in one day! Supposedly 13600 ft total climb.

  2. Lightning is an amazing force. One of nature’s ways of reaffirming who is in charge here.

    I once had lightning strike fairly close by. In the split second before it hit my hair stood on end and a little voice in my head said “Lightning”. The strike was something I’ll never forget and though I didn’t get hit by electricity, it was a while before I got my hearing back.

  3. Just had an “electrical experience” here about a week ago.

    A particularly violent storm blew in very quickly and I ran outside to make sure that everything was tied down, staked down, etc. I heard a huge thunderclap that told me the lightening was quite close, so I finished my inspection and hurried inside. We heard several more loud crashes after that, then the storm moved on.

    Later on while inspecting things we discovered that a tree not 50 feet from the house had been struck. The lightening hit the tree at the very top (maybe 60 feet) and ran all of the way down the trunk to ground. It blew off a strip of bark the entire length of the tree. The strip varies from around 12 inches or so at the top and narrows to around four inches at the bottom. We found pieces of bark blown as far as 30 feet from the tree.

    I actually wish I’d seen the strike. It must have been spectacular.

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