White light splinters across the sky and the air seems to crackle as it dances through space. Thick clouds roll and tumble in our direction as the wall of rain approaches and overtakes our boats floating downstream. Everything is soaked within minutes—and I mean, everything.
Some fumble with their personal dry bags, digging into the depths, their fingers seeking the reassuring swish of the rain jacket they know they shoved in there day one, but now it’s at the very, very bottom obscured by snack wrappers and bottles of sunscreen. Finally, rain jackets are on and Gore-Tex be darned, all of the layers are soaked. The wind twists and twirls its way through the world. It sneaks up rain jacket sleeves and finds the small gap between pants and shirts that had been forgotten about until just now. Some have no rain jackets on at all and have made no attempt to reach them. The rain beats furiously against their exposed skin but they just sit and revel in the madness. Cheshire Cat grins spread wide across everyone’s faces, embracing the energy. Soaked to the bone and absorbing as much of the surroundings as possible, everyone begins to hoot and holler, and we continue to push downstream through the storm.
But why? Why is it that these powerful storms incite a childish wonder? What is it that makes a grown woman shout at the sky with glee in an absolute downpour?
I can’t speak for everyone, but storms make me feel captivated, raw, and present—marveled by the sheer power of nature. It feels uncommon in today’s world to be and feel present in only one place. Social media and television constantly bombard us with all of the things going on elsewhere; and our societies’ emphasis on work leads to hyper-efficient individuals who always look to the next task on a to-do list. I won’t argue that these things aren’t useful and that they don’t have a space in our culture, but they have fundamentally changed the way we exist and go about our lives. Being truly present has become a rarity. The deep connection that we once had with our immediate environments, and the people in them, has waned.
Getting outside for a prolonged period of time—whether that means going on river trips, backpacking, or wandering in the woods—is one of the best ways to try and feel this connection. Without access to the internet, we aren’t constantly reminded of other places and people. We are also much more likely to feel present in just one place, and appreciate the people we have around us. Storms add another layer to this connection. Not only do they strengthen this connection to our surroundings, but they also remind us that we are not in control. That the wildness in the world is so much more powerful than we are, and that we are small. I think that by reminding us of our smallness, we feel closer to the people around us. Storms humble us and remind us that we need each other.
I asked Jasmine and Bridie, two other OARS Idaho guides, to weigh in.
Jasmine says that storms possess a quality that make her feel “simultaneously small in the world and joyfully invigorated.” Though storms can be challenging and bring along a whole new set of rules to any situation in the outdoors, she says that when it comes down to it, storms “[make] her a child. A child who is wholly captivated and fully consumed by nature.” Which is why she goes outside to begin with, “to be captivated and consumed.”
Bridie says that when she is in the midst of a big storm, she feels as if she’s fully embodied in her surroundings, “held by the chaos.” She seeks these wild and untamed moments. About half way through our conversation about storms Bridie paused and mused, “Do you think we’d all just run around naked in storms if we hadn’t been told not to at some point in our lives?”
I have no idea, but I do think that the desire to be present and part of big, powerful storms is something deep down inside of us. They pull on some part of us that we don’t necessarily recognize anymore. Even those who don’t want to run outside and stand in the deluge are glued to their windows to watch the lightning dance and flit across the sky, to feel the rumble of thunder cascade up their bodies.
Big, powerful storms have a way of bringing us back to our roots; connecting us to the environment and the people around us. They recharge us and remind us of our smallness. Though the power of a storm in its peak is what most frequently pulls on that innate part of us, the period immediately following can be equally as captivating and I think represents what storms can do for us. The calm after the storm. The peace and quiet as the world takes a breath before re-emerging. Everything is swept clean, and all that is left is the rawness of the present.