(Appeared in Sky Island Alliance publication)

Sitting on the edge of the porch one summer evening, I looked far to the southeast.  A few cumulonimbus clouds had formed over the Huachuca Mountains, and I hoped maybe they would head in my direction.  I was most interested in three thunderheads in a north-south line.  The first two were significant rain producers; the third, much smaller, had no rain shaft under it but lit up periodically with cloud-to-cloud lightning, as if it were a giant light bulb. 

Fascinated, I watched “light bulb” turn on and off, pondering the amount of current flowing and what was happening inside it.  Slowly, the whole system started to move off the mountains towards Rain Valley, and occasional distant thunder added some sound to the light show. 

As the storm system moved northwest, I noted Jupiter above the middle cloud.  Sure enough, the point of light was bright enough to be seen in twilight, and it was exactly where Jupiter ought to be.  The show was more interesting now, a giant gas planet with its own major storms seen from a rocky planet with its own storms right nearby.  I thought about the cosmos, storms and what it all meant. 

In the meantime, “Light bulb” kept discharging, as if to call attention to it. 

During the next half hour, the thunderheads and Jupiter moved, placing Jupiter above “light bulb.”  I was intrigued with the coincidence.  The thunderhead motion was a consequence of steering winds in the mid levels of our atmosphere; Jupiter’s motion was a consequence of the Earth’s rotation, although Jupiter has a proper motion of its own.  I pondered planetary orbits and steering currents for a while, watching the rain, “light bulb” and remembering that rotation of the Earth does affect our weather. 

I said a quiet thanks to nature for providing a nice show.  I was grateful, as I always am, for what I see in the sky.  It’s free to those who look, but it’s unfortunate that many don’t.  This was an unusual event. 

Suddenly, a bright green meteor flashed across the gap between Jupiter and “light bulb.”  In that instant, I had views of an object in outer space, one in the upper atmosphere, and a third just above the Earth.  In that instant, I saw and understood the three-dimensionality of the sky. 

Nature occasionally presents us with gifts.  As with gifts, the less the expectation, the greater the surprise and wonder.  There are no guarantees except one:  if you don’t look you will never see.

 After all, light bulbs aren’t any good unless they are turned on.


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