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Monday, July 18, 2011

Struck by thunder

Premonition and synchronicity

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been having what might have been a premonition.    Out on the range by myself I have a lot of time to think, and a lot of fence to fix, so much that I can’t always get it done before the afternoon storms of this summer monsoon.  One thought repeatedly produced by the constant banter of my subconscious has been: what would it be like to be struck by lightning?  If not fatal, would it be enlightening?  Spiritual awakening has been described as like being struck by lightning, but it has also been said to be an interminable process.  Enlightenment hasn’t come to me yet, through prayers for it or through meditation, so I had wondered if getting struck by lightning might actually bring a sort of enlightenment with it.  Apparently not.

Lately I’ve been reading about synchronicity in James Redfield’s The Celestine Vision.  Premonitions and strange coincidences, like thinking of an old friend and then running into them for the first time in years, are at the basis of this idea of synchronicity, important in Redfield’s philosophy and literature as well as that of the great psychoanalyst Carl Jung.  Until now I’ve been thinking that I’ve never experienced synchronicity, except for possibly a few occasions, nothing that could not be otherwise explained.  Of course, it can always be explained—like being in the right place at the wrong time.

I have also been thinking about my former supervisor and friend Mark Volt at the Natural Resources Conservation Service.  A man of the mountains, full of odd and funny sayings, mostly of uncertain origin, often of vague meaning, and usually inspiring rolled eyes.  Like “struck by thunder.” 

The first of the rain was falling.  I was standing next to a temporary electric fence of polywire, which is a kind of string with fine wire woven through it, an essential tool to manage the distribution of livestock grazing here in the high country. It wasn’t electrified; I had built it and just hooked it up to a more permanent electric fence of high-tensile wire.  I don’t think I was touching it, but I couldn’t have been more than a few inches from it.

The boom was not much short of deafening.  For a moment, everything was black—except for a line of white, maybe slightly greenish-yellow, light where the polywire had been.  Is that what the deer in the headlights sees?  I was on the ground, half lying, half sitting, fully stunned.  I have been shocked by electric fence before, and this was many orders of magnitude beyond that.  Struck by thunder, indeed. I saw the thin, charred remains of the polywire on the ground next to me.  My legs and feet hurt, but I couldn’t move them for the first ten seconds or so.  Then I could crawl.  After maybe thirty seconds I could stand on shaky legs and intensely tingling feet.  I willed myself to walk.  At this point I figured I was probably going to be alright. I got on the four-wheeler and rode it back down to the road.

 My right thigh still hurt, and for a while so did my right shoulder and upper arm.  Sitting on a log, I pulled of my right boot and sock and checked my tingling foot.  No uglier than usual.  I pulled down my pants and looked at my thigh.  There is a light red mottling there, at the height of the polywire, and extending in a line down to my lower leg.  It does not look or feel like a burn; the pain is more like muscle soreness.

Back on the four-wheeler, I raced the rain back down the mile or two to my truck.  I lost.  It came down hard, stinging my face and soaking through my light rain jacket.  Shivering and dripping , I climbed into my truck, started the engine and turned on the heat and defroster.  I drove off with the tailgate down, all manner of ranching equipment sliding out the back of the bed on the steep road.  After gathering the tools and fifty-pound salt blocks, and throwing the pry bar and spool of fence wire back in as quickly as possible, I drove into camp. 

I started a fire in my cabin and heated water for mate and hot chocolate (the spicy kind with chile powder).  I peeled off my wet shirt and jeans, pulled on dry ones.   I realized there was a ringing, or a high-pitched electric hum in my left ear. 

I sat by the fire, going over it again in my mind: the boom, the darkness, the white streak: struck by thunder.  As the shock wore off, I considered that I may not be enlightened, but my earlier wondering might have been a premonition.  If I weren’t such a skeptic, I would say this is a striking example of synchronicity.  The thought gives me chills, but of course that could just be because I’m cold.


  1. Fascinating. You've probably read A Match to the Heart, which Gretel Ehrlich wrote about being struck by lightening. It's interesting that we don't really understand what lightening does to us--each case is very different.

    I've been in two houses when they were struck by lightening and have seen lightening strike nearby several times when outdoors. (Most recently two weeks ago when a bolt hit a utility pole across the street from where I was sitting in my car reading and waiting for the rain to ease up. The hair on my legs stood up, which was weird because I'd shaved them the night before.)

    Like you, I have a weird feeling about lightening....

  2. Thanks Cindy for your comment. I wasn't aware of A Match To The Heart, although I had an opportunity to meet Gretel Ehrlich several months ago at a reading in Tucson. Anyway, I'll have to read it.

  3. I went back to the scene the next day and rolled up the charred polywire for about thirty feet or so in two different directions from the tree next to which I'd been standing. The tree itself showed no sign of having been struck. I now think it most likely that the lightning didn't strike me, the tree, or the polywire directly, but rather that it struck a pair of grounding rods right next to the tree, about four feet from where I was standing, and that some of the current went through me and through the wires. What is the diameter of a lightning strike, anyway? Whatever it is, I wouldn't stand within thirty feet of a grounding rod of any kind, and that includes a metal fencepost, when lightning is nearby.

  4. This story was published in Mountain Gazette 187 (April 2012), p. 31-32.