Hail Storm

In Pittsburgh on June 4, 2011 at 12:00 am

From my Nature & Environmental Writing class. We were asked to maintain journals about environmental concerns. Photograph of frozen Allegheny River, taken from directly above.

I should’ve brought my bike, I thought bitterly as I dove into the rainstorm. Yes, I’d still get soaked, but at least the journey would end sooner. But I had no bike. Now I had a long road to walk, and the storm threatened to thicken.
            This was a typically harried day: Meet with Thesis Director, discuss My Future. Walk 1.2 miles to store to buy birthday gift. Walk 0.4 miles to another store to buy microphone. Arrive home, scarf down whatever was in the refrigerator, jump on bicycle and ride to Art Gallery. Emcee spoken-word show. Go home, write several thousand words and read an entire book by morning. Sleep for six hours, wake up, grade papers, head to work…

            But as I stepped through the sliding doors of CVS, the rain washed away these trepidations. I resigned myself to the elements — the heavy, shivering cold that overtook my body. My shoes squished along the sidewalk, until the rain fell in such painful sheets that I ducked into an abandoned storefront. The alcove was deep and filled with lumber and trash. I looked across East Liberty, nodded to a man with an umbrella, who seemed surprised that I skulked here — here, of all places.
            Lightning flashed across the gray sky. I counted: One… two… three… four… five…
            The sky rumbled cruelly. A little more than a mile, I thought. I might as well stay here.
            As I huddled and waited, watching my breath puff in the damp air, I was startled to see little white crystals. At first I thought they were undissolved road-salt, the stuff that municipal workers scatter on the pavement. But the particles were multiplying — hitting the ground, jumping, changing places. At first they were tiny, but now they grew. They streaked down with the rain, ricocheted against the concrete, littered the black soil around a potted tree.
            Oh, my God, I thought. It’s hail.
            The first time I saw a hailstorm was last summer, when I was stuck in a car, in a remote parking lot, in northern Quebec. The chunks of ice hammered the roof of the vehicle, threatened to crackle the windshield.
            This hail was slightly lighter, but the tinkle and ping of ice against corrugated metal still astonished me. Hail is considered unusual and unnatural — many Pittsburghers have never seen witnessed a hailstorm before — and it’s no surprise that the chunks of ice that fire out of the sky are called hailstones. Each looks like a milky musket-ball.
            The thunder continued to growl in the distance, vibrating through the metal frame. I was in awe, as I always am, at the colossal power of nature. My friend Emily claims to have been struck by lightning twice — and although I love lightning storms, I was wary of metal poles and saplings, electrical lines and the steel framework of the new Target. The rarity of lightning-related deaths has ever failed to comfort me.
            I glanced at my watch and cursed. I had to go home. Now. Rain or no rain, lightning or no lightning, pelted by ice or immune, I had no time. Whatever the cosmos might bring me, I had to step out, get my feet wet.

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