9 Tracks — 124 minutes total
Who is not in awe of the sudden transformation of clear blue sky, so calm and peaceful, to a dark and foreboding storm, armed with deadly lightning, high winds, and a deluge of rain? Storms are often so fierce and destructive that humankind once attributed them to the gods … Zeus, Thor, Indra … venting their fury by sending thunderbolts from the sky.
Even without invoking the gods, thunder, lightning and rain are one of earth’s greatest displays of unbridled elemental energy, so completely out of control and potentially devastating to life and limb. Yet storms are also life-giving and are key to the unending regenerative cycle of water moving from sky to earth and back again.
Thunder Gods features nine thunderstorms, gathered across North America over a twenty year period. They are noticeably different yet largely the same … primal voices that penetrate deep within and leave one spellbound by the sheer power and brute force that is on display.
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Theodore Roosevelt National Park, in western North Dakota, is a land of, dry, rugged badlands, with steep rocky slopes, gullies and canyons. There is minimal vegetation, but the habitat supports healthy populations of bison, elk and prairie dogs.
During one of our visits, we spend the night camped next to the Little Missouri River. The sky is clear for half the night, but then we hear distant thunder and a storm system soon arrives, with light rain and powerful gusts of wind that seem to swirl around our campground.
Sheltered by our tent, we lay awake listening, enthralled by the whoosh of the wind, the soft pitter-patter of the rain, and at times, the grating trills of boreal chorus frogs sounding off from flooded pools.
June 16, 2011 at 2am. Theodore Roosevelt National Park (north unit), near Watford City, North Dakota. Recorded by Lang Elliott.
While exploring Erie National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Pennsylvania, we take a late afternoon hike down a mile-long boardwalk that passes through swamplands and then terminates at a meandering creek in deep forest.
As we arrive at the end of the trail, we hear distant thunder and soon it begins to rain. A wood thrush flutes from a tall tree along the creek and we hear the burry notes of a scarlet tanager in the background. The birds, protected by the dense foliage, keep right on singing in spite of the storm.
We stand below a huge hemlock tree and enjoy the mix … the rain coming and going and birds singing throughout.
June 2, 2016 at 6pm. Erie National Wildlife Refuge, near Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania. Recorded by Lang Elliott.
Sage Country Thundershower
In the shadow of the remote Jarbidge Mountains along the border of Idaho and Nevada, we discover Mary’s Creek, which winds through dry, sagebrush country. In the evening, we set up camp next to the creek, just as a storm approaches.
The light is magical, with dark, menacing clouds in the distance and the foreground illuminated by bright sky overhead. A lone ground cricket gives stuttering trills from the sagebrush, and sierra chorus frogs call from wet grass at the edge of the creek … ribbit, ribbit, ribbit … such a fitting anuran celebration of the thunder and life-giving rain.
July 1, 2017 at 8pm. Mary’s Creek, south of Bruneau, Idaho. Recorded by Lang Elliott.
Wind And Rain
We are always excited by the arrival of a storm. Sometimes we even stand half-naked in the rain, though never on a hilltop or other place likely to attract lightning.
One summer day near where we live, we brave a storm so that we can revel in the feeling of rain splashing hard against our skin. We greet the storm while partially sheltered under trees at the edge of a meadow. A brisk wind blows the rain against our faces. There’s thunder all around, but we are unafraid.
John Muir endured a thunderstorm while clinging to the top of a tall mountain pine. An attractive notion, but we are content to experience the glory while standing here on solid ground.
Disclaimer: We are not suggesting that you stand half-naked in a thunderstorm … only fools would do that!
July 13, 2014 at 4pm. Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area near Newfield, New York. Recorded by Lang Elliott.
During Arizona’s summer monsoon season, we explore a remote mountainous region in southeastern Arizona. With saguaro cacti populating the surrounding hillsides, we make camp under tall cottonwoods along a small creek.
That night, we hear thunder in the distance … oh my, there’s a storm heading our way! Within minutes, it is breezy and raining lightly. We lay in our tent, enjoying the wonderful soundscape … thunder, wind, rain, and the gentle gurgle of the creek.
The bulk of the storm appears to have missed us. But we become concerned about flash flooding, so we quickly pack up everything and relocate on higher ground.
July 27, 2017 at 8pm. Coon Creek, near Roosevelt, Arizona. Recorded by Lang Elliott.
Big Cypress Rain Shower
We head for southern Florida in early June to listen for frogs and toads as the summer rainy season unfolds. It is drier than we had anticipated, and we are unable to find any good choruses. But one afternoon, while exploring Big Cypress National Preserve, a storm approaches, with just enough rain to encourage a few green treefrogs to sound off: quank, quank, quank, quank…
We are delighted to witness this meagre beginning of the season of rain, a rather low-key prelude to the massive storms and cacophonous frog and toad choruses soon to arrive.
June 4, 1994 at 3pm. Loop Road, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida. Recorded by Lang Elliott.
It is mid-August, nearing midnight, at the edge of a meadow in the rolling hills near where we live. A thunderstorm is passing over and a gentle rain falls. Snowy tree crickets chirp from shrubs and are seemingly undisturbed by the raindrops.
We are moved by this wonderful mix of sound … the chirps of the crickets, the rain and thunder, intertwined. We allow this lovely soundscape to flow over and into us. There is really nothing to think, say or do. Silence within opens the door, and nature comes rushing in.
August 11, 2010 at 11pm. Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area, near Newfield, New York. Recorded by Lang Elliott.
We spend the night at Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky. In complete darkness, we stand next to a clear spring that trickles from the base of a ledge and flows into a swamp. A storm is approaching. American toads trill continuously while spring peepers sound off in the background.
The soundscape is magical and soothing … the dreamlike trills of the toads and shimmering peeps of the frogs mixing and blending with thunder, wind and rain to create a splendorous symphony of natural sounds.
Would that we could be a frog or toad, at least for a moment, so that we could feel this watery world as they do, drenched and invigorated in the darkness of the stormy night.
April 9, 2000 at 8pm. Land Between the Lakes, near Golden Pond, Kentucky. Recorded by Lang Elliott.
At dusk, we notice lightning flashes in the distance and rush to a nearby wildlife management area, arriving just in time to intersect the storm.
A loud thunderclap, gentle drizzle, then heavier rain … the storm is not a big one, but there is lots of electrical activity. We are particularly impressed by some of the thunderclaps, which sound like bombs going off in quick succession. They startle us and shake us to our core!
The storm quickly passes and then all we hear is the gentle drizzle of the rain, enlivened by the rumbling, explosive thunder. Our adventure was well worth the effort. We feel refreshed and uplifted and are glad we did not stay home.
September 5, 2017 at 7pm. Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area, near Newfield, New York. Recorded by Lang Elliott.