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Casey Miller Headshot

Ode to Lightning

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Don Smith via Getty Images

It's 12:30 a.m. on a Thursday night. Why am I up so late? It's not homework. I'm watching the lightning outside my window.

After each sentence I type here, I glance out the window to see if more powerful bolts will flash against the stormy clouds. It's a cool spring night, and I am huddled up in three layers of blankets in my room. Each time a bolt strikes the night sky, my entire bedroom flashes in an exposed black-and-white, so quickly that I cannot make out individual colors.

Forget thunder. I cannot even hear the thunder tonight. Besides, thunder doesn't put on a show quite like these hot flashes of yellow. Occasionally a single bolt will drop down from the dark backdrop of the stormy sky. However, the most electrifying part of this natural display is when two, or three, or five lightning bolts flash at the same millisecond.

I can see my own face in the mirror at these quick moments. I don slightly curved lips pasted into a grin; I am as excited as a little 7-year-old boy would be, even though I'm a 16-year-old girl. Wide eyes define my features, because I am as awed and afraid of these heavenly lightning bolts as any young child, 20-year-old adult, or elderly woman would be. I am curled up into a ball under my blankets, and I don't recall whether I started out like this or I gradually pulled my knees closer as the cracks of lightning became louder.

More time is passing between each series of bolts. My mind is not clear enough to tell me to go to sleep, to tell me I have an English quiz tomorrow and that I need to get a few more hours of sleep. In all honesty, I have been absorbed in one of nature's most astonishing displays of power.

I have seen a lightning show as great as this once before. When I was driving with my family from Butte, Montana to Elko, Nevada, we passed through an arid and seemingly endless desert. Clouds covered the sky above us, but we had not seen the weather reports warning of a serious desert storm.

Finally, after miles of never-ending highway roads, the storm arrived. Immediately, rain poured down on our car. Our window wipers were set to the high speed, but we could still hear rumbling thunder over all of this.

And then -- did you see this coming? -- the lightning.

Just weeks before, I received a Canon EOS70 as a present. Eager to test my shutter settings, I decided to get my first great photo of lightning.

I did not have all the supplies I needed, but my lone camera was perfect for me. After 200 shots of blurry, half-focused, covered in raindrops, and completely hopeless photos, I captured the one.

It was simple. The barren Nevada desert lay across the foreground, while the dark sky filled up the rest of the space. And in the right, upper corner, there it was: a perfect little yellow lightning bolt.

I almost cried I was so excited.

Living in the Bay Area, I do not get to see many storms. When I do, it's simply magic. The true power of nature takes my breath away. Lightning is amazing. It is an astonishing feature in nature, not as destructive and menacing as a tsunami or an earthquake, but as magnificently terrifying and awe-inspiring.