The clouds over the lake bed had grown to their darkest in the early afternoon. A thousand shades of grey churned slowly in large, defined shapes. The air below the clouds was as clear as it could ever be, revealing shapes and patterns in the mist only possible before great rainstorms. Soon, heavy drops broke the reflection of the clouds from the glassy surface of the lake. He grabbed the thick handle of his axe and pushed himself to his feet, starting the ascent back up to the cabin. Clearing the last trees from water’s edge would wait until the morning.
The creek served as a wise but haggard guide. As the thin stream of water cut away soil to rock over the years the brambles, roots and moss had filled as far as it could. The thickness of wildlife along the crags belied a desperation to reach the retreating stream. Slowly, he and it wound together along the hillside for a quarter mile or more, keeping each other company in the wilderness. As he climbed, the stream began to fill higher with water carried down from the northern slope.
He said goodbye to the stream as he climbed the steeper path east toward home while the stream turned west in favor of gentler ways to ascend the mountain face. Only a little way left to go, but the audible, growing roar from the west meant the rain would beat him there. He quickened his pace, zig-zagging and jogging up through the more worn path of dirt and leaves while hopping around the roots and jutting rocks memorized from so many walks down to the lake.
He made it to the edge of the trees just as the deluge began; the skies opened a torrent of warm rain in what felt like drinking glass-sized drops. His feet kicked out mud and leaves behind him as the sky soaked him from the knees up on that last dozen yards to the cabin. He laughed as his feet knocked their first two steps onto the hardwood porch, now catching his breath under the protection of the cabin roof.
It wasn’t as old as some in the forest. The thick log frame still bore the youthful, light color of the pines used to frame it. The edge of the heavy-shingle roof rested contentedly on large, round logs along the porch edge. The absence of wind permitted two worlds to coexist within inches along that perimeter: chaotic, uncontrollable wild behind sheets of water and the still, dry air of civilization.
He lowered the ax to the floor, leaning the handle firmly against the wall before returning to the edge of the porch. He stood under the broad awning and leaned up against a post, eyes searching just above the treeline. All of the definition he saw earlier in thick cloud formations had been brushed and sanded down into an unknowable haze. The sky’s expansive palette of grey had turned to mere shadows and suggestion of dark against darker. He questioned the stillness of the air despite the thick downpour. It was unusual, certainly.
His eyes sank into the trees as he took in the effect of the water on his forest. Large-leafed branches pelted with rain too far away to see clearly. In a storm, he mused, you must assume the strange pantomimes of distant trees are caused by the same rain you see and feel in front of you. It is both unnatural and entirely expected as one watches boughs drooping slowly and tentatively under the weight of the water until until a heavy shudder shakes the rain to the ground. The pines do not bend and sway. Proud and straight in the storm without wind to buffet and shake, the needled branches quiver slowly as what little water caught the tree falls down and away.
It is remarkable how many storms these trees have seen, he thought. Even in this young forest, the trees had stood for sixty years or more. When his father was a child they would have been saplings and sprouts, but in the years since then they’ve weathered thousands of dark days, many far worse than this. Sixty years of the snow and sleet that laid on their roots. Sixty years of the frozen winds and ice that wrapped around every branch. Sixty years of tasting the sweet gifts that each rainfall brought into the soil. It was a lifetime of storms as much as it was a lifetime of sun. He wondered if the trees were grateful for this fact.
His father had been a lumber man long before a patriarch. As such, a rainfall was a blessing for which his family was charged to give thanks for tending their wild crop. He remembered how his father would say how exciting it was for a tree to weather a storm and how, to a tree, every test from mother nature was a way to prove how strong and powerful it was. In his youth he and his father felled the largest tree he could remember seeing. Before moving on, they sat on the edges of the stump and counted the rings. His father showed him the years of healthy sun and rain, then years of fire and famine.
This tree had seen devastation in the forest and came through to stand alive and healthy. His father, a man whose dry smiles and hard hands hid a soft and nostalgic heart, remarked at how proud this tree must be to have done all this and be chosen to build something lasting. Thinking on this he now looked to his cabin posts supporting the roof. He wondered if that tree built another home, or another porch. He wondered to what family that proud tree had been given.
The first cracks of thunder could be heard in the distance, first passing from the west then echoing back off the mountainside. Occasionally a strong, single clap would break through the air sharply, but this was not a storm of sharpness and clarity. The thunder rippled like a thousand explosions tearing high across the sky. It would start in the southwest with faint bursts and grow louder as it arced above the cabin and out to the north. There was no lightening visible in the air; it was too high in the clouds to see anything. There was only the heart-shaking rumble of each new volley, the gods quarreling out of sight.
He turned and slid into a thick oak chair in the corner, rubbing his forehead lightly with the tips of his fingers. He thought for a moment about the remaining trees he’d finish in the morning. Then he smiled and imagined the dock he’d lay out along the beach and the boat he would drop onto that glassy water. He smiled, and exhaled sharply. Reaching his hand out he broke the solid sheet of water at the edge of his world. Below his hand he created a clear window out into the rainstorm. He smiled and breathed in deeply, leaning back in the chair. His father’s once-hard jokes had sweetened after all these years; it is hard to justify a writer’s salary when poetry writes itself so well during summer storms.