Out Divine Corners Way: August 2020

Out Divine Corners Way
by Jonathan Shimkin
There’s something uncanny about hail in July. I know the conditions for hail are determined not by the heat on the ground but by the cold in the clouds. Still, it feels like a seasonal disorder when chunks of ice drop from the sky in mid-summer, like one of those reversals of nature in Shakespeare that signal moral disorder in the social realm.
This year hail came early one July evening. The sky was divided between a cloudless blue to the north, and, to the south, what looked like an approaching wave – a dark blue-green boiling mass of clouds moving fast and preceded by a blast of cold air. Against the clear north a perfect rainbow appeared, colors sharply defined, the complete arch visible. There’d been no rain, so currents of moisture from the stormfront must have already been circulating in the upper atmosphere.
The wind was picking up; the air was getting colder; the light in the sky dimming. We readied for rain, but it didn’t rain. Instead, when the cloud-wave reached us, we heard loud clanking sounds as the precipitate hit the roof; stuff was bouncing around up there, peppering off the roof and pelting the porch, the garden, our cars. I went out for a look and picked a chunk of ice off the ground fit for a cocktail glass. The weather advisory had upgraded their forecast from “dime-sized” to “quarter-sized” hail. An ice pellet less than 5 millimeters in diameter is called “graupel” rather than hailstone. This was not graupel.
The hail fell with a certain relentlessness, the way troubles sometimes do. Robert Johnson, the Delta Blues master, seeking a natural emblem for the feeling that so haunted him, found it in hail: “I’ve got to keep movin’ / I’ve got to keep movin’ / Blues fallin’ down like hail.” Hard things falling from above, with an obduracy you can’t temper, no matter how far and how fast you keep moving: the very image of the blues, as inescapable as the sorrows we’re all heir to. Hail, like the rain, falls on the just and unjust alike.
When the storm finally passed, a second rainbow, just as big and brilliant, appeared in the same quarter of the sky as the first. So the hailstorm fell between these parentheses of rainbows, nature’s gentler aspect enfolding its fiercer – a reminder that the natural world contains multitudes, the lovely as well as the calamitous. Too exclusive a focus on the lovely risks sentimentality over nature, a sentimentality that curdles into kitsch; too narrow a focus on nature’s ferocity risks fatalism, stirring up doubts about the benevolent stewardship of the universe that can veer into nihilism. A due appreciation of nature demands a degree of nuance, a type of bifocal vision, that is a challenge to sustain.
When, the following day, the experience of the storm was shared with an acquaintance in Liberty, his comment was: “Hail? What hail?” The ice, it turned out, had been a very local affair, one of Divine Corners’ micro-climactic events. So Liberty got a pass, while my neighbor, working outside when the storm arrived, got bonked on the head with sufficient force to raise a welt.