by Jancie Creaney
A thunderstorm in New York is two dogs barking at each other. And just like yesterday, I’m in the crossfire. When walking to the flower shop, I shimmied between a Scottie and a baby Boxer as they snarled at one another, tugging a respective leash stiff. Who is boss? I can’t say; this is between them.
Soaking wet in cotton underwear and an oversized soccer jersey, I am an animal—a 12-year-old in human years—sitting on a flooding wrap-around balcony in eastern Canada. This is where spruce and pine needles stick to the bottoms of your feet. This is where jewelweed grows in creeks. Having just run a lap in the rain, I’m catching my breath. I stretch out my leg from under the roof to wash away the blades of grass, the sticky conifer needles and the mini-rocks of the unpaved driveway. Suddenly, rain falls harder and massages my foot. The sky growls.
Emmy, our dog, is afraid of thunder and hides in the closet whenever it storms. She is also afraid of water, though her breed bears the name. She’s the youngest daughter of the family, and I’m the eldest, but I have been guilty of barking at her and instigating a fight.
In our backyard, a steep hill leads to a pebbled stream. Emmy and I hike down. I hold on to young maple branches for support stretching them as far as they go. We have different reasons for heading toward the running water. Emmy is thirsty and interested in the frogs. But she won’t linger with her paws in the brook because she’s still upset about an incident that occurred while on a canoe trip a few years ago. I paddled close to land; she mistook the reeds for a plot of grass, leaped out of the boat and sunk beneath the surface for nearly fifteen seconds. When she came up for air, she splashed around and seemed okay, if slightly stunned. But since then, she is understandably opposed to getting wet.
I visit the stream in search of ripe jewelweed.
You can tell they are ready when the seedpods are swollen. The plumper the pod, the lighter the touch needed to make it burst. I get a thrill out of popping the oblong envelope, especially when it takes no more than a brush up against my pinkie. Some appear ripe but upon probing them, they remain intact—they are the babies of the lot. Plump seedpods are mature, and a slight nudge activates explosive dehiscence, flinging their spores far from their parent plant. This is how they managed, as a family, to engulf the pond on our front lawn too.
Some mornings, before catching the bus to school, I slide cautiously toward the pond, which isn’t a pond so much as a broken water pipe that used to redirect underground springs. The steep dewy ditch isn’t enough of a deterrent; my obsession with the orange jewelweed and its pregnant pods is too strong. Sometimes I don’t find one ripe enough for my taste, so I head to the bus stop.
The jewelweed can achieve only a limited dispersal of its seeds without the assistance of animals. But if a raindrop falls heavy enough, it may successfully snap the sleepy spores.
Emmy waits all afternoon for me to get back from school carrying my empty lunchbox. Greeting me at the end of the driveway, she often insists on carrying the lunchbox in her mouth and up the stairs to the front door. Though it was first I who insisted, later she found it to be a fun activity. Maybe I taught her that it could be fun. Maybe I taught her, and intoxicated her, with an impulse to please.
Other names for the jewelweed are: Impatiens and patience.
A thunderstorm in New York and a thunderstorm in Quebec are two different kinds of romance. What is attraction without conflict? I don’t know but it sounds valid, rhetorical—like something I know subconsciously. The Empire State Building is hit by lightning an average of twenty-five times per year. New York tempts a storming sky. New York instigates a fight. Clouds, aroused, are responsive. Warm water erupts and lightning bolts take aim. Quick-tempered is the nature of this romance.
I stick my palm face-up out the window of my fourth-story apartment, dipping my covetous hand in their affair. Though I’ve grown to my full size, I’m nanoscopic in the city. Up here, in a glass box I call my bedroom; I sideline.
Another name for jewelweed is: touch-me-nots.
But they are begging to be touched, delicate and translucent. I do not care about helping them spread their seeds, not at 12 years old. The attraction is selfish. I touch them for me. I know this. The moth worm does not. It chews a hole through the skin and eats the seeds—the moth worm’s favourite food. It doesn’t intend to assist the jewelweed with dehiscence. Regardless, the capsule trembles under the worm’s nano weight until, predictably, the pod explodes and the worm is flung into the air. Punishment! The warning—touch-me-nots—is a warning for moth worms. Not me.
Emmy’s choice rivals are other animals, like frogs, like me, like dogs. Thunderstorms, I imagine, belong to a different weight class. And so, instead of greeting me as I return from school on a stormy afternoon, she remains upstairs in the linen closet. No chance of an altercation hiding in a linen closet, unless of course a mouse happens to be in there. Or a cricket. Or a lampshade, the ultimate threat.
I walk up the driveway in the mid-Spring rain—no Emmy in sight. It is certainly the warmest rain that has fallen this year. It is warm like a bath! I should engage, I should retaliate.
I change out of school clothes into barely anything and return to the porch steps. Raindrops so heavy they flatten the grass. Or is the grass bowing? Kneeling? Worshipping a God? And what brings me to the water this time?
I step out into the yard barefoot. This storm is making a mess. Runoff water gushes out of the gutter, pushing around the garden pebbles. And mud spots tessellate the stepping-stones. My soccer jersey sticks to my chest. Droplets roll off my nose and rest on my lip. My tongue guides them into my mouth. I run around the house, gathering grass between my toes, do another half-lap, and stop to check the jewelweed balsam. I have to know.
I kneel before the orange petals, lifting them to see the seedpods they shelter. And yes, many of them have burst. So, the rain got to them first. I’m happy for the rain, I guess.
I look for signs that the sky is pleased. Maybe the thunder is the sound of it celebrating. The lightning, like blue arms, reaching out for something to pop like a balloon.