It was not so long after this photo was taken. Roadrunner, Clark Kent, Zippy and I had eaten our lunches while swatting gnats at a shelter just before Tinker Cliffs. We were full of peanut butter, except for Roadrunner, who is from Germany. (Apparently PB is a uniquely American taste, like Vegamite to Australians.) The day was warm, and we climbed quickly to the ridge. The trail in this section of Virginia has stayed mostly atop ridges, and so has been unexpectedly dramatic, despite relatively low elevations. But this afternoon’s walk would prove to be the most dramatic yet.
It often happens that the sky on one side of a ridge will be robin’s-egg-blue, and on the other side will be hazy or gray. Such was the case that afternoon. To our left, the valley and town below bathed in peaceable sunshine. But to our right, the green hills and blue reservoir were topped by an army of dark clouds, which marched toward our perch at a quick clip. The light on that side was strangely yellow, and a foreboding breeze puffed our sleeves and made goosebumps rise on our right legs and arms.
We’d seen the chance of a storm in the forecast, so we crouched behind a tall, toothlike row of rocks to secure our dry bags and ready our rain gear. One by one, we emerged from the windbreak and darted forward down the trail.
Energy rose in the wind. The high-altitude, intoxicating smell of ozone filled my lungs. For some reason, I welcomed the rain. I had seen the clouds and knew it was coming. I suspected it would be brief, and then it would be gone. Best to accept it, relish it even, and let it go. Why hide? Why shrink? So I kept jumping between the jagged rocks and following white blazes, glancing between footfalls at the incoming spirit to the west.
It did not disappoint. There was no thunder or lightning, but the wild, windy rain was magic. It started with scattered drops and grew to a gusting, symphonic force. It filled the springs from below, the rivers from above, and soaked my right pants leg but left the left side dry, blowing in only from one side. The tiny speck that was me disappeared into the greater force of the front. I was only another mouse or moss or stone, subject and witness, not actor.
And then, the light appeared. Even as the rain hurled down and the gray squall pressed from above, the reservoir and hills below were illuminated. The sun had cut through, and though it was invisible upon the ridge, its light mirrored below. It was the light people see in near-death experiences. It was at once golden and white. It radiated and attracted. It was like a birth canal. And the land looked like Eden, like heaven, like Hawai’i, like the Appalachians before man touched them. We shouted and pointed. I was the happiest mouse or moss or stone. My heart felt as large as the mountain. Something touched me, though I couldn’t say what the message was. It was enough to be there.
The rain blew past and we began to dry off, savoring the glow and dwindling energy. Giant power lines rising from the reservoir’s dam sliced through the woods at intervals, buzzing and humming, and each time we entered one of their clearings, we were given astonishing, if unnatural, views. Roadrunner crowed over a fragment of rainbow, and I knew the storm was past.
We walked down the hill and I felt myself coming down, literally, but also as if from a drug. I felt content, inert, spent. The newly unfolded green leaves canopied over us, bright as the lithe, yellow-eyed snake Roadrunner had spotted across the trail that morning. Like me, the trees were still quivering from the squall.