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Down on the Farm: First thunder

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After the desolate roar of those last spring blizzards, what fun it was last week to curl up in bed and hear the comforting crackle of the first thunder!

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Last Saturday evening, a storm cell formed just overhead. The billowing cumuli sent out strobes which made the swamp out front flash in stop-action like a nightclub dance floor on Hennepin. The house shook as if a coal train was rumbling by.

Unlike some storms, this one didn't blow off the side of oak down the drive with one violent crack. Just a constant rolling rumble, all so far above as to be harmless to the oaks and transformers below.

With the storm came a needed rain. One could debate its timing, but it is better not to quibble when rain comes, especially after last summer's drought.

I remember a dry spell in the 1970s when it got so bad that they held an interfaith service in town to beg the higher powers for relief.

To add emphasis to the request, organizers put three ministers of differing denominations in a Cessna 172 and flew them over area fields in a twenty-mile wide sunflower pattern at the very same time as supplicants filled the gym below.

History does not record if they sacrificed a goat.

The faithful's pious efforts were rewarded with three-eighths inch of rain a week from the next Tuesday.

Rain comes when it comes. All we can do is sit back in wonder and enjoy the storm.

I wasn't always so happy to hear storms. For some reason, lightening and thunder were my worst childhood fear.

When I was four years old, Mom and Dad moved our family from the city back to the farm. We spent first two nights back home under the pitched ceiling of Grandma and Grandpa's bat-infested attic.

The scratching and squeaking of the bats inches above my nose while in bed didn't bother me. But the thunderstorm that hit the second afternoon did.

Crack! A big bolt hit the massive basswood behind the office, killing it instantly.

I looked out the upstairs window. A ball of lightning rolled across the yard. For the only time in my entire life, I saw Grandpa break into a run.

Something's really wrong when Grandpa has to run.

What a start to our life on the farm! There had never been lightening like that in the city. I was convinced that not only had we moved from the city to the farm, but from the New Testament to the Old, to a place where locusts, floods of forty days, burning bushes and sacrifices of kids named Isaac could happen at any moment.

But thunder and lightning were the worst threat of all. Whenever distant rumbling began, I took my pillow, crawled onto the floor of Mom and Dad's room and plugged my ears so tight that those little cartilage tabs which protect the ear canal were worn raw by morning.

To obscure the lightening, I scrunched my eyes shut and buried my head in the pillow.

I slept very little.

I feared those thunderstorms, but for all the wrong reasons. Today, I think of the 100-year-old cottonwoods which flanked our trailer house. If one of those behemoths had keeled over, it would have squished us like bugs.

At the time, however, I was just scared of the big hit, the big flash with no time lag until the big boom, which meant the strike was close.

By high school, I loved thunderstorms. As the years have gone by, I have come to think of the 60,000 foot-high thunderheads which pass to the east at sunset in July as our prairie mountains, much better than actual granite mountains because you don't have to drive over them to get to Duluth.

Other parts of the country may have a more forgiving climate. They may be able to grow peaches. They be free of mosquitoes. But they don't have our mountainous summer thunderheads.

I made my peace with thunderstorms. But if one comes over which sends down a bolt of lightning just down the drive, one with the flash and the boom at the same instant, I admit that for a few seconds I feel like pushing those ear tabs in hard and scrunching my face into a pillow.

Old fears die hard.

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Eric Bergeson

Eric Bergeson is the third generation owner of Bergeson Nursery in Fertile, Minn., a business started by his grandfather in 1937. He also writes a weekly column for several newspapers in northwestern Minnesota. He has published four books, including most recently Pirates on the Prairie, which the Minneapolis Tribune called "a Minnesota cultural and historical treasure." You can read more from Eric at his website, The Country Scribe

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