This is not about flying, but it is about the air, which has gotta be worth something. It’s a natural phenomenon you never hear of that I know is real because I’ve experienced it directly, more than once. Surely someone else somewhere, some time, has witnessed this phenomenon too, so I claim no discovery. Yet decades of admittedly casual research have unearthed zero mention of any such thing in publication or conversation. One more proof that being ‘unheard of’ doesn’t make something impossible.
I refer to it as atmospheric thunder for lack of any better notion. You could say ordinary thunder is atmospheric too, but it’s caused by an electrical phenomenon. The thunder in question here has no electrical component, static or otherwise.
Before starting this piece, I looked up ‘thunder’ just to be sure of my terms and, naturally, learned something. As children we were taught that thunder is the sound of air normal slamming together after air within a lightning bolt turns to plasma. Made plenty of sense at the time. But according to Wikipedia, the current theory on ordinary thunder is some kind of shock wave caused by extremely rapid expansion of superheated air. Fine. Now lower your eyes, because here’s where I revive that earlier theory to account for this other, less popular kind of thunder.
I lived for years in a ski lodge tucked below the peak of Vermont’s highest mountain. Between the lodge and the summit loom a pair of near vertical cliffs, really just two facets of one cliff divided straight down the middle by a very sharp edge. One November evening I was standing out front of the empty lodge on the flat below those cliffs and heard a sudden boom that sounded like a shotgun. From up there! And while I hastened toward cover, scanning the skyline, there came another boom, dissimilar and not as loud… Then nothing else.
This raised several questions. If it was a gun, or guns, had the shooters(s) ever seen me? Even if they were crazy enough to shoot at me, a shotgun at that distance was nothing to fear — was it? Also, two different reports implies two gunners, which is another worry…
Or were those sounds caused by something else? And if so, what? Should I climb up there and snoop around — or not?
Thick bouldery woods obstruct the base of those cliffs and dusk was nigh, so I left that for another time and wandered inside… and locked the door to my quarters, which I rarely did, and grabbed a big scary butcher knife on the way to bed. Next morning, I supposed I’d never know what or who was the source of that unnerving noise, and didn’t really care either, so long as it was never heard again.
Then some other late fall, a different roar came from the same cliffs. This time instead of a shotgun blast, it sounded more like coarse sailcloth being torn with great force, RRRIP. And where before one different report followed, this time the same RRRIP was repeated again and again, sporadically. I studied the skyline closely as before, and watched for any kind of movement in trees below the cliff. Nothing. Then RRRIP!
So having simply no choice and ample time before sunset, I scrambled up to take a look. As usual, from calm fifty feet down the trail, wind across the ridge was a robust thirty something, gusting with a punch common only to mountaintops. I stepped, uneasy with that wind at my back, to the verge of those cliffs, went down on my belly and crawled until my upper torso was out over the edge, right between the facets.
The air was flowing straight over the cliffs, more or less. Hard one minute favoring this face, then jibing to the other, then back. The first RRRIP tore my hat off, to never be seen again. Not just hundreds of yards closer to the roar, here my head was inside it. At a gut level it was terrifying, but I was too enthralled to turn away. Every next RRRIP though, made me more anxious to leave. Then came the coup de gras.
An especially intense gust formed a cloud of condensed vapor that lasted only a second or so, more than long enough to sere the image in my mind forever. The cloud shot out perpendicular to the cliff in the shape of a medieval jousting lance, twenty feet or so, right below me. Visual evidence of a powerful vortex that was probably there all along. And that RRRIP was more explosive too.
Good time to get my scrawny tuchus off them battered rocks before AEOLUS reached again for the shotgun…