"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


Sturm und Drang (Lightning and Natural Light)

It was hot.

The dog met us out front as we got out of the van. His usual full body wag was clamped down and muted to a few lethargic tail circles, his energy mostly concentrated on panting. It was the kind of hot, where when the wind blows, it burns your skin. He looked up at us, putting on as pathetic a face as possible in hopes this might be one of the rare afternoons we breech flea protocol and let him into the air conditioning.

The parched grass crunched under my feet as I walked toward the porch with a bag of groceries in one hand, and Styrofoam soda cup in my hand - long since drained, it's last drops among the quickly melting ice slurped noisily, like ants, up the straw. The dog followed close on my heels, his eyes never leaving the sliding glass door within the screened porch.

I set the cup down, and slid the door open. The air conditioning meeting my wet skin was like falling down, naked, into the snow. The dog stood with me at the icy threshold, front paws up on the linoleum, his rears still on the concrete step, enjoying it with me. He held his chest high, closed his eyes, and sniffed. He immediately came back to life, turning a couple of circles between our legs, tail wagging. I looked at my dad over my shoulder.

"Can he?"

"Yeah, let him in. Make sure he stays on the blanket." A southern dog needs to stay outdoors, no matter how many times he gets a bath. Fleas and ticks are a way of life.

"Come on, Le Mutt!" and the French Bouvier/Labrador mix happily bounded into the kitchen. He laid down straight away on the blanket, eschewing the unfamiliarity of the rest of the house and opting to make the most of his time in the AC.

After putting the groceries away, we settled into the afternoon. At my dad's house, those North Carolina summers were spent on the back porch. On the wicker furniture, scratching the dog's ears, and watching the horses mill about, twitching away the painful bites of the horseflies (I swear to God, lying dead behind the plastic cover of the fluorescent light above the tack room in the barn is a mummified green-eyed monster at least an inch long. I could feel the searing heat of it's sting between my shoulder blades, out of my reach as I ran around in circles, screaming and trying in vain to stretch my arm behind me to scrape it off, every time I looked at it). But with the heat outside, it looked to be a day indoors watching Tour De France coverage or Oprah, or maybe a video if we'd stopped at the rental place.

As my dad stood in the kitchen opening his first of many Natural Lights that afternoon, he noticed a breeze hitting the trees, and dark clouds building up from the west. "Storm's comin'. That'll cool things. C'mon, turn that thing off. Its porch time."

I stepped back outside through the sliding door and definitely felt the new breeze stealing away the heat from the back of my neck. It had a heavy dampness to it. I breathed in and felt, I knew, the sky was about to let loose like a soaked sponge being squeezed by a large hand. The leaves were rustling steady now, and though there was plenty of sunlight coming through them on our side of the house, the tobacco field across the road was quickly being covered by a gray blanket of shadow. The wind picked up and with it the spirits of everything around us. The cats came scampering back to the porch door, and meowed to be let in. The horses out in the pasture galloped and then walked, galloped and then walked, their manes waving like flags along with the trees. The new life in the air felt as good to them as it did me, stealing a sip of my dad's beer, it's salty, yeasty foam breaking the heat as much as the breeze did and I watched him scratch his shirtless, hairy chest, waiting for the show.

The first crack of thunder came like a car crash as soon as the last of the sunlight was blotted out, and it sent the horses into a full out run. Huge, sloppy, boulders of rain began to fall, hitting with a visible splash and spreading out within the dry blades of grass like thick ink on newspaper. Faster and faster until I could no longer make out the individual drops, until it was a curtain of water, until it was swirling down from the banging clouds, riding the wind to the ground.

I sat in safety on the porch in my tank top and shorts, and shivered almost sexually when a cool gust hit my skin. I laughed over the thunder, along with my dad, at the horses running, zig-zagging in the field, nipping at each othe,r as they made their way back to the barn. I laughed harder as he dared my 11 year-old brother, Duffy, for 50 cents to take off all his clothes and streak out into the field, touch the second closest horse jump and run back. "Tim! He'll get hookworm!" my stepmother warned as my dad howled while my brother's pink bare ass bobbed up and down as he made his way out to the jump. I could feel the splash of the rain through the screen and it was just warm enough. It must have felt like going for a swim out there.

It stormed until just before dinner, I took a few more sips of dad's beer, and when the sun came back out, it felt as though the entire outdoors were now freshly clean and hanging out to dry on the line. I took the dog out to play fetch and stretch my toes in the wet grass. Summer evenings in Central Carolina are about the closest thing to heaven I know. As the sun dropped toward the horizon, the pine trees began to whisper and seem to glow golden as the thunder faded away to nothing.

Dad finished his beer, and went inside to start making the hamburgers for dinner.

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