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It was quite a show

It began in the far distance, miles away from our view in the boat.

The storm was just a small, dark piece of the otherwise light blue sky. We didn’t even hurry home as we cruised along the edge of the lake. Mary Lou and I arrived back at the dock and continued visiting with my mother and her friends not knowing that we were about to watch a marvelous show by Mother Nature.

I always loved thunderstorms at Compass Lake as I was growing up. As long as there was no lightning, they provided a steady wind for sailing, cooled off the hot summer air, and occasionally would provide a dare between all the cousins to see who could withstand the bullet-like pounding of the rain as we skied at a fast speed.

At the first sound of thunder, you had to get out of the water, one of the few rules at the lake. At that point we would gather on the porch and watch the lightning as the storm gradually swallowed the lake. We would time the lapse between the lightning and the clap of thunder to determine how far away the bolt hit, a habit I still have today.

The storm continued to gather on the far side of the lake with the first streak of lightning probably five miles away. My mother’s friend was ready to leave the dock at that point, but I coaxed her into staying and watching. The sheets of rain were visible in the distance before being absorbed into larger, darker cells of the storm. The thunder boomed with increasing intensity as the lightning flashed across the sky.

The whitecaps came next as the wind picked up coming across the lake. The steady lapping of the waves at the shore added to the increasing noise all around us. Directly above, I would watch the boiling clouds to determine which way the storm was headed as it took over the horizon across the lake, first east, then north and finally south.

Darker and darker the entire sky became, highlighting the white trim on the houses a couple of miles across the lake. As the wind shifted directly toward us, we could make out the tune “Sweet Home Alabama” being carried across the water.

Finally, the line that always comes hit the far side of the lake. The rain moved over the far shore and made the houses in the distance disappear. When the last bit of lightning was only a mile away, I finally suggested we move inside.

In less than a minute, the line of rain had moved across the lake reducing visibility to 100 yards or so as the lightning and thunder completely surrounded us. For an hour the rain poured down before the blue sky appeared again.

Interestingly enough, I am writing this while sitting outside at night. The moon is bright enough to light up the yard but not so bright as to obscure the brightest stars. It is quiet and peaceful; a stark contrast to the fury of the storm.

In a world where we seek to be stimulated and entertained constantly by television, radio and the Internet, nature often provides the top-rated shows if we only take the time to watch and listen.

Rising to the test

Thirty-five years ago the nation watched as Richard Nixon resigned as the president of the United States. It was a true test of democracy as an unelected vice president took over the reins of office.

Since that time, the nation has had three presidents elected with less than 50 percent of the popular vote. We have had one president elected with fewer votes than his opponent. We have finished two wars and started two more. We have survived Katrina, Andrew and 9/11. Hopefully, we are beginning to pull out of the biggest recession in two generations.

Despite the present irritation with many elected officials, our democracy remains an amazing thing to watch. We often seem to survive and even thrive despite our leaders rather than because of their leadership.

The challenges we face today seem overwhelming. Health care, Social Security and an exploding deficit are not the biggest battles we have ever fought. History gives us encouragement by showing us the many times and ways this nation has risen to the test.