Watchers of the Sky

“…I don’t just wish you rain, Beloved – I wish you the beauty of storms…” – John Geddes, A Familiar Rain

One of the most alluring yet frightening things to watch is the gathering of storm clouds on a hot Saskatchewan afternoon. As those billowy clouds start to accumulate, turn darker and hang lower a sense of exhilarating foreboding starts to creep in. All prairie dwellers know that those advancing columns of air can bring heavy rain, high winds and damaging hail. So why are we so mesmerized by them? (And don’t tell me that you’ve never experienced a bit of a thrill at the prospect of being caught in one of these maelstroms.)

For me, the answer might go back to my childhood when my dad and I would sit on the back step watching the clouds roll in. He was a farmer and all farmers, I have discovered, are pretty good at reading the signs of incoming weather. After all, their livelihoods depend on it, even though there is little they can do about it.

While my dad and I scanned the skies he would tell me stories and beliefs regarding the weather. Some of these old-world notions focussed on repelling the storms and I even had a chance to witness my Gedo practice one such belief. On this occasion (as a wicked storm brewed), he went outside, faced the clouds and threw an axe into the ground in an attempt to split the clouds. (Apparently Moses was not the only one to part things.) My other Gedo, according to my dad, would gather a broom, knife and a bunch of pussy willows (which had been blessed in church) and throw them out together in order to drive away the threat.

While my Gedos chose to defy the storms, my Baba was absolutely terrified of them and their possible fury. At the first sign of stormy weather, she would open the cellar door and have the grandchildren gathered nearby so she could herd us down below if any trouble should arise.

One time when my mom and I were at the farm, Baba nervously watched an approaching storm. My young cousin was walking home from the country school and Baba was concerned about her safety. My aunt went out to meet her and hurry her along. Meanwhile the lightning flashed and the heavens rumbled ominously. When my aunt and cousin came into sight, my Baba frantically yelled at them not to cross the fence as it was made of metal. However, as she was shouting this, she had both hands firmly clutching the barbed wire fence, all the while shaking it vigorously as she shouted instructions.

With the hot, humid weather in the past few days, I have taken up the family pastime of storm watching, but I have yet to throw any axes, brooms or otherwise. One thing is fairly certain: although I will always be a storm watcher, it is quite safe to say I will never be a storm chaser.

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