We had a very successful signing at Kate Birkel’s The Mystery Bookstore in Omaha this past Saturday. Kate had set out chairs for her customers, who all came at once, so I had to give a talk, and it got rather rambling since I hadn’t come prepared. But we sold a lot of books, including a set of my first series, written as Mary Monica Pulver, featuring Det. Sgt. Peter Brichter and his horse-breeder wife, Kori. Kate is going to close her store, probably late this year, which is sad. But, like me, she’s getting older and the work doesn’t get any easier.
A very strange thing happened on our drive home Saturday from Omaha. We were on I-35 somewhere near the Iowa – Minnesota border (I don’t know on which side) when we saw this broad cloud formation ahead. The sun had long set, but the sky was still blue and this formation was dead black. It was miles across and piled high with cumulus clouds, like black mashed potatoes. There was no lightning inside it, but we thought there was rain along the bottom in places. We drove and drove, and never seemed to get any closer to this formation, and began to realize it was really big. We drove and drove some more, and I noticed there was light coming out of the bottom, as if there were houses with lights on under it – it at first seemed to be right down on the ground, but then it was seen to be only close to it. Closer and closer we came and yet not coming up on it, it was strange, beyond strange, like an optical illusion. Scary. And HUGE. “The Gates of Mordor,” remarked Ellen. Towering high and higher, it seemed to mark the border between the clear weather on our side of it and horrible storms on the other. But why the glowing light? It got to be ridiculous, how we came closer and closer yet couldn’t get right up to it. It may have been moving north though it didn’t seem to be moving, nor were the piles of cloud changing shape. Then I noticed it was changing. It wasn’t as far from side to side, and the dead black of it was softening to a very dark gray. We finally – finally! – got up to it and saw that it was indeed low to the ground, perhaps a couple hundred feet up if that, and thinning fast. And it was narrow, very narrow, the light showing under it was from the sky on the other side of it. Under it at last, I looked up and saw it was a thinning dark gray. As we emerged, I saw the sky was dark off to the east and it suddenly began to rain, but not hard and not for long. The rest of the sky to the north and west was the same dimming blue as on the south side.
I have never seen anything like it. It wasn’t a wall cloud, we encountered one of those on our way to Bismarck a couple of years ago and that didn’t look anything like this and it led to unbelievable downpours. This? Meh.
So what was it? Was it a metaphor? An omen? A lesson of some sort? Maybe the lesson was, “Fear knocked on the door; I opened it and no one was there.” This thing was eerie, even scary, but ultimately harmless.
Some good news and another lesson: A collection of boat-owning volunteers in southern Louisiana called the ”Cajun Navy” has been rescuing people and transporting supplies in the flooded areas, using Facebook to coordinate their efforts. As one said, “In South Louisiana, we don’t wait for help, we are the help.” Well, God bless them and may we act the same if we find ourselves in a similar fix!
I have signed up to be an election judge this November. I’ve done it before, and it’s interesting, important work, though it makes for a very, very long day, all done by volunteers. This will be, I think, an historic election with a big turnout, and your precinct may need extra volunteers. Please consider it.