“You just had to be there.” Attempting to describe something indescribable.
As writers, poets, we often have to describe a scene, or try to. Sometimes the scene is invented, but we also borrow real experiences for our fiction, and we strive to faithfully put down words that will at least echo the actual situation we saw.
Nowadays we can take photos of most things. We can video a bit of a concert (though I much rather just watch) or take a panoramic shot of the top of a mountain. This helps convey to others the kind of experience you’ve had.
And sometimes that’s just impossible. There are things for which you just had to be there. And among those who were there, the phrase, “remember that time…” will always come up.
I had one of those last night.
The Perseid meteor shower was supposed to make lots of shooting stars, but it was cloudy. I went outside to read my book and wait to see if the sky would clear.
I’m in a village with 5 streetlights a mile from the next 5 streetlights and 20 from the city, so it’s pretty dark and we can see the Milky Way on a clear night.
Off to the north east a row of storms lit up the sky. They must have hung all along the Pyrenees, because though the wind was coming from that direction and I could hear the windmills on the hills between me and the lightening, I could hear no thunder.
And there must have been constant thunder, for the lightening never stopped. For the whole hour or more I was there I did not count more than a second and a half between flashes.
I’d never seen such a spectacle. It was like natural fireworks, like a light show at a concert but traced across a swath of sky, like there was a battle of the Gods taking place. Each flash illuminated a different section of cloud, their formations changing all the time.
And the strange thing was that up above me the sky was perfectly clear. I could see the Milky Way; though waiting for shooting stars was hard with the distraction and the light “pollution” from the show.
Taking a photo, or trying to, would be silly. I did try to record some video, but the camera could not do justice, so I turned it off.
There are some things you don’t really want to share with anyone. Like a cup of tea at dawn in the countryside, letting the first sunrays heat your back, watching dozens of swallows warm themselves on the telephone wires and listening to the drone of bees already in the lavender.
And there are others that you just have to share with someone, just so that someone else can verify how amazing the thing was that you saw, so that everyone can’t just dismiss it as imagination or exaggeration or wishful thinking.
Last night was like that.
I shared it with my mother-in-law.
My wife was too tired to stay out very long, so I told my parents-in-law to come out from the television and see the spectacle. My mother-in-law had never seen anything like it in the seventy years she lived in that village. We stood leaning on the garden gate and marvelled at it, listening to the crickets and cicadas in the balmy night.
And then, right in front of the lightening, we saw the biggest, brightest, longest-lasting shooting star I’ve probably ever seen, at least in twenty years. We both cried aloud and were glad neither of us had missed it – though it would be bard to miss, for it was long enough that you could have turned around and still caught the end of it.
When she reluctantly went inside, I shared the night with a glass of whiskey and watched for another half an hour. The sky above me eventually began to cloud over, and the storm cloud thicken, so the flashes were more hidden, and I decided to call it a night. And then, just as I turned, and though the sky was hazy then, another shooting star passed in front of me. It wasn’t as bright because of the cloud, but I could distinctly see the smoke trail it left behind it.
I’ll never see a show like that again, I’m sure, but as I watch the swallows take off in droves this morning, I know I was privileged to have seen it at all.