Southern Magic

Summertime view over Spring Valley Virginia

It would start with a cool breeze.

Okay, not exactly cool but less blazing.

Dark clouds would roll in over the hills.

I would take my place on the porch swing.


Thunderstorms in Spring Valley, Virginia were a sight to see. I didn’t want to miss a strike.

Our front porch, near the top of a hill, gave a commanding view.

I could see each strike in our little valley.

It fascinated me.

I’d see a flash and count until the thunder clap.

15 seconds, it was 3 miles out.

5 seconds, it was a mile out.

The rain was most intense when the lightning got closer.

The wind got gusty.

When the porch started getting soaked, I knew it was time to run inside and close windows.


One particularly gusty storm has ingrained itself into my brain.

I closed the windows and looked out through a front window over the porch.

The rain was torrential so there wasn’t much to see.

Just the frequent flashes and rapidly shrinking delay ‘til the thunder.

I stood next to a lamp that was turned on against the gloom of the dark clouds.


There was no delay.

The lamp flashed brightly and went dark.


Mere seconds later, lightning struck again.

I was still looking at the lamp. It lit up a bright blue for a second. Then it was dark.


The storm moved on and I reset the breaker and replaced that light bulb.

Nothing else was damaged since I had unplugged the TV and stereo (no other electronics back then in the dark ages).

The afternoon turned to a pleasant cool evening.

It was humid but not hot anymore.

The countryside had that

magical southern post-storm aroma.


I am tempted to draw a life lesson for you from that storm.

Instead, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Or you can just bask in that post-storm fragrance of damp grass, cracked oak and apple leaves, and soaked porch wood and watch the fireflies come out.


Those of you in the South know what I’m talking about.

If you’ve never experienced it, you need to take a summertime trip to somewhere in the rural south.

Then you’ll know what I mean by magical.

Close Encounter of the High Voltage Kind

Southwest Virginia in the early ‘80s


It was just beginning to sprinkle as we started up the trail. Thinking the rain would cool off our hike on that hot August day, we happily hiked on,

blissfully ignorant

of what lay ahead.

I was one of thirty some 17-year-olds spending a week at Lynchburg College competing for scholarships. After a busy day of classes, this hike at Sharp Top on the Blue Ridge Parkway was just the diversion we needed.

Our steep mile and a half hike did indeed cool off. The sprinkles turned to rain.

We quickened our pace when we heard distant lightning. Someone said something about a cabin at the top.

The true downpour started as we approached the cabin. We all crammed into the small stone building. No one was brave or foolish enough to go out to the overlook just beyond the cabin.

We were young. We didn’t worry.

Besides, we knew there was a shuttle that would take us back down the mountain. We’d hike the quarter mile to the shuttle stop as soon as the lightning let up.

It didn’t let up.

If anything, it increased.

And the last shuttle of the day would be there soon.

Half of the people in the cabin decided they would stay put where it was safe.

I was not one of those people.

A dozen or so of us rushed out through the deluge.

I couldn’t see a thing. I just followed the person ahead of me. Lightning crashed every couple of seconds all around. I got soaked to the bone.

After a couple of minutes that seemed like a couple of hours, we made it to the bus shelter. I plopped my waterlogged self down on the bench on the far side of the shelter, glad to be safe.

Then it hit me.

Technically, it hit the shelter and the electricity ran through those of us on that far side of the bus shelter.

It was lightning.

Oh, and deafening thunder.

It was literally a pain in the rear. Very painful, in fact.

When it happened, a girl seated on the other side started screaming hysterically. Once she calmed, she explained that she saw us all light up and thought we would die.

The only casualty that I know of was my digital watch, which started flying forward in time. We were sore and soaked and had a new respect for thunderstorms.

As for those stayed in the cabin, the college had to send out another bus. They didn’t return until later in the evening.

Whether we played it safe or braved the storm, we each came home with quite the story to tell.

This story has found it’s way into many children’s and youth lessons. It even into Wil Clarey, The Impossible Summer (as told to Wil by his grandpa). My lessons and my books tend to be filled with stories like these. They tend to grab attention and illustrate a number of points.

Do you have stories?

Let ‘em out!

Write them and share them. If possible, teach with them.

Don’t let them fade in your memory.

Oh yeah, and don’t go outside in thunderstorms!