Lightning In A Bottle

Lightening over Nantucket’s Madaket BayIf life is a collection of moments, all strung together and played back in contrast and context to one another, then the defining moment from last summer’s trip to Nantucket was that of a lone cottage against a wide, evening sky.

The photo was taken from a narrow, wooden bridge on the western edge of Madaket’s Hither Creek. The shutter of my Canon Rebel XT’s lens was flung wide to capture dusk’s fleeting light. The sky was clear. The water was still. And while the clapboard house, framed by open water and empty sky, was splendid in its isolation, it doesn’t feel lonely; a warm light shines from within.

This year’s sojourn to our quiet little spot in the Atlantic was full of moments, too many to catalog as I regain my feel for dry land, and my taste for the pace of things.

One image, though, speaks volumes.

The week was punctuated by ever-changing weather. Days were long and lazy, broken by low fog, light drizzle, slate-gray skies, then fierce blue and blinding sun in equal turn. Most evenings involved distant — and often not so — lightning, thunder, and rain.

Our northwest-facing, second-floor porch there above Madaket Harbor was the ideal roost to take it all in.

Monday night, then, found the island locked down again as storms brewed along the eastern seaboard. Flights were canceled. The usual periodic buzz off twin-engine, Cessna 402s had quieted. Ethan and Edward scrambled around the table as my mother, Christofer, Jennifer, Abbi and I finished our family dinner with the doors opened wide.

Just over my shoulder, there above the bride, a burnt-orange sunset was interrupted by a dramatically low and fast moving cold front that seemed to touch the tops of the trees. We moved to the porch one-by-one. The clouds passed quickly, turning the still water to a simmer, twisting the boats on the moorings, and bringing a chill to the air.

On the edge of the horizon, way to the south — past Tuckernuck Island, past Martha’s Vineyard, below Cape Cod — a dense wall of thick, dark-blue clouds began flashing. Ethan, wrapped in a blanket on Abbi’s lap, grew restless.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” my mom asked him.

“I don’t like lightning,” he said in his most-vulnerable, heart-breaking, five-year-old voice. “And I’m afraid of thunder.”

We took turns trying to explaining the phenomena of lightning and thunder as Ethan swung from exhileration (“That was a big one!”) to anxiety (“Oh no! What about the fishermen out there in the boats!?!”), as I tried in vain to snap one good photo (“Did you get that one, Uncle Benjamin?”).

We sat there — all seven of us huddled in blankets, jackets and caps — for over an hour as the storm moved slowly up the coast, confident that together, we were safe from the din.

Nantucket’s Madaket Bay

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