I love lightning. I love watching it and the excitement of the wind and temperature changes and rattle of hail and heavy rain that accompany dynamism of weather. I have especially learned to love lightning from the safety of observing it from a train, a lookout, or any place inside looking out. I may have come to that pleasure of wonder from close encounters scaring me to the adrenaline rushing, heart pounding brink of dangerous situations. Most of those experiences were in the backcountry, far from the security of any building. The most vivid memories were from backpacking in the Sierra when the clockwork afternoon thunderstorms allowed us to plan for seeking the relative security of a site less likely to be struck.
I imagine one of these typical storms set off the fires raging in my former home, Yosemite, at least one of which has resulted in yet another huge wildland fire east of Half Dome. In discussing the fire, where and what is being burned, favorite places that will be drastically changed, if not forever, at least for the rest of my life, I learned of a fascinating paper by the National Outdoor Leadership School that describes in fascinating detail how lightning behaves and thus informs us in best practices for staying as safe as we can when away from the shelter of structures.
One statement struck me as sadly too true of our times:
“Backcountry lightning safety data is sparse, so these suggestions are “best hunches” by experts who study lightning safety. Random circumstance is a significant factor in where lightning might strike, meaning that these behaviors help reduce your “Las Vegas” odds of lightning injury, but can never make you safe. If you need to stay safe, you need to remain indoors in well protected buildings.”
(emphasis added by me)
Safety is what we are increasingly convinced by the media and lawmakers is the most important goal to pursue. But what if paying attention exclusively to our utmost safest choices robs us of the opportunity to experience the awe and wonder of being intensely alive and in the moment, without which, life may be too dull for words. Beyond that, is a safe life really a life worth living?
More and more wild land is being leveled and built into ever larger homes to drive to in bigger, heavier, “safer” cars and enclose ourselves in to protect ourselves and, to even greater detriment, children from the unpredictable wild world with all its risk and with that its wonder.
Yes, I can safely experience a sense of wonder and awe from indoors. However, I must at least be aiming my focus towards the outside to capture moments that are more breathtaking than any photo or video, no matter how highly defined, can ever be.
Just this morning, a calm, relatively grey dull day, no lighting possible in the immediate future, while standing at my laptop next to a window, so I can look at the screen while observing the yard beyond, a hummingbird poked its proboscis into a tiny lavender blossom on the shrub no more than an arm’s length away on the other side of the glass. She then rose above the plant and approached the window. Was she aware of me? or merely caught a glimpse of her reflection and took a closer look?
Am I more likely to be watching for and paying attention to these things because I have lived out among them unseparated by glass, or walls and doors? I know I am one of the lucky generation of Americans to have been allowed to roam more freely than any since. How do we make it okay for children to have experiences not hemmed in by too much safety? Which is the truer value? Safety? or experiencing the awe and wonder of the world? Would you be willing to trade either for the other?