thunderstorms, tiny life, & time away from time

photo creds: my friend Ian

When the rain started pouring down, I didn’t make any move to find cover. We had just returned from a sweltering, dusty, who-knows-how-many-miles-long hike through the Sierra Nevada mountains, so the brisk thunderstorm was a welcome surprise.

Our intern cohort (plus several advisors) had scaled slopes through a charred forest in search of the vast meadows we knew to be at just a slightly higher elevation. The forest had undergone a controlled burn in an attempt to protect and restore biodiversity—as fire clears long-dead organic matter, it creates room for new life to recycle those materials into their own success. As the burn flickers on, the older, larger trees continue thriving and supporting other life, from their roots to their canopies.

Back at camp, we were all still in our hiking clothes when we secured the rain flaps over our tents, helped our advisors prop up a large sheltering tarp, and barreled down the hill to the creek right next to our campsite. The rain was less strong there, each droplet barely making a ripple in the flowing water. As I stood on the banks, I found myself wishing for a fiercer downpour.

Once the rain passed, the dust had settled and we returned to the creek, this time in search of salamanders. After a couple hours of not finding a single one, we concluded that salamanders don’t actually exist (jokingly, of course (mostly)). We did find a couple other friends along the way, though.

We ended the night by hoisting up a white bedsheet illuminated by black light. Prior to this field trip, I likely would not have agreed to intentionally putting up a bug-magnet like this, but as more and more insects and arachnids gathered toward the soft glow, I grew increasingly excited about seeing the diversity of life that had been bustling around us this whole time, previously hidden from my oblivious eyes.

The previous night, we had used black light flashlights to hunt for scorpions—the arachnids glow bright blue under the UV rays and tend to emerge in the cool darkness. We flipped countless rocks and logs along the trails near our campsite with no avail. As soon as we returned to camp, though, one of our advisors waved us over to see a two-inch-long, fluorescent scorpion that they had just spotted under one of the cars.

Using forceps, they coaxed it into a collecting tube so we could take a closer look before releasing it back into a safe place. The scorpion looked almost fake, like a plastic Halloween decoration meant to startle unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. When we shone a regular light on it, we saw based on its shape and coloration that it was a Northern scorpion.

Our weekend in the field was bookended by thunderstorms—right before leaving, clouds crept in and brought with them a torrent of hail. We had been swimming in one of the high-elevation lakes when we saw the the previously sunny sky darken (we had also just released a small, friendly garter snake from a gentle photoshoot). The storm had started as rain that day too, but as soon as we hopped in the van to leave the lake, the hail swept down in increasingly large waves, battering at the roof all the way back to camp.

We’re going back into the field again next weekend, this time to the Santa Cruz mountains. While we were in the Sierra Nevadas, I started every early morning down by the creek, watching the water navigate through thick, green plants as water striders danced across the delicate surface tension in search of smaller things to eat. Away from signal, away from people, time stayed suspended in the air—while I’m determined to remain connected and situated within the time-focused world that drives my everyday life, I was happy to let the water be the only thing rushing forward for a little while.

photo creds: my friend Ian

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