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Twilight of the Brontoscopist


In the early light of morning, thunder rolled across the landscape. A strong clap, and then a rumbling that continued for some time. Last night the rain woke me, first a few drops, then a strong downpour. This isolated sound of thunder seemed directly connected to last night’s rain by way of the large storm system moving through our geography. Strong signals from the earth demanding my attention.

The sound of the thunder registered with my senses first. What was it? Thunder? An explosion? An earthquake? Do I need to react? Is this sound a harbinger? No, just thunder.

Just thunder. The emotional impact of the sound was immediate– my senses, my body, knew it was significant. Sound filled with meaning. Once my mind got into the picture I began puzzling over the scientific explanation for thunder.

Thunder is the sound made by lightning. Depending on the nature of the lightning and distance of the listener, it can range from a sharp, loud crack to a long, low rumble (brontide). The sudden increase in pressure and temperature from lightning produces rapid expansion of the air surrounding and within a bolt of lightning. In turn, this expansion of air creates a sonic shock wave which produces the sound of thunder.

The thought that there was a scientific explanation flattened out the emotional buzz running through my nervous system. Thunder drained of its power, reduced, explained by a physics equation. I began to think of the stories we tell ourselves about thunder. A Thunder God is generally the leader of the gods. Thunder and lightning are the physical signs of this god’s power.

A fortune teller might divine the significance of this morning’s thunder– unpacking and decoding a message from the gods. Brontoscopy is the art of divination by listening to the sound of thunder. Thunder coming from the left is a good omen, but thunder on Wednesday is related to bloodshed and the death of harlots. Hmmm… might be a good day to stay inside.

Thunder remains a powerful metaphor, but its power is in the language and poetry of men and women– not in the language of gods. And its scientific explanation stands firmly between the people and the interpretations of the brontoscopist. We turned a deaf ear to those messages, stopped tuning in to that frequency. As the 19th and 20th centuries unfolded, industrial man began to find his place, and we told ourselves the story of the Twilight of the Gods.

Twilight is a transitional period between light and darkness– not yet fully night. Scientific explanation operates under the energy-saving flourescent lights of the modern age. Light and darkness is a matter of flicking a switch. We don’t think of science as unfolding within the natural rhythms flowing from dawn to dusk. By creating clock time and the light bulb, science has extended its day to infinity. After all, it was only thunder. What else could it be?

Published in culture language risk tribes zettel

One Comment

  1. Stunning. The metaphorical weight of Thunder bows to the power of the sound, the indication of a great force whether a slamming clap or an endless bass roll. It finds its way into my poetry and so many conversations because once you do identify it, it is unquestionably the voice from above, a reminder to keep right sized and know that your fragile existence can be metered by a single sound…

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