I watched, completely engrossed, as the enormous, dark thunderheads roiled and billowed overhead. From my vantage on the summit of a knoll, I saw blasts of wind spreading out from the storm front, flattening the stalks of grass on the plain below me. They spread out like an ocean tide and dissipated on the rocky foothills of the cliffs I had climbed. The cries of the gale reached my ears, sounding as sentient and insistent as the howls of wolves. The ethereal mountains of the tempest advanced, and a cool spray played on my cheeks. From the fields, the wind carried the sweet, thick aroma of wildflowers toward me.
There I stood, absorbing the beauty before my eyes and the scent beneath my nose. Then, for a brief instant, I saw a cleft appear in the heart of the clouds, and a rich, purple light poured out of it; the last light of a setting sun, altered as it was by the laden clouds and flares of lightning inside the cathedral of squalls. The light struck the innumerable droplets of rain which fell before my awestruck face, and turned them into a dazzling curtain of amethyst tears. Each drop was a scintillating jewel in that collective sight which, to me, was worth more than all the riches in the world. Sometimes, a cloud would flash from within, and the rain drops would turn from amethysts to sapphires. Eventually, as of course they had to, the indigo rays of sunlight were again obscured by clouds; great, shifting shutters that rent the color from the liquid gems in the sky. Only then did I notice the mouthful of mist rolling down my tongue. Feeling somewhat sheepish, I closed my mouth and swallowed the warm liquid. And still the insubstantial mêlée crept toward my bluff. Already, my clothes were heavy with dampness, and I wasn’t keen on bearing the full wrath of the storm.
I turned, preparing to descend, but was delayed by what next I saw in the heavens. The squalls had opened, revealing a frenzy of lightning bolts that surged and pulsed across the velvet background. The blasts of energy sped downward, leaving in their wake glowing tracks of light in the streams of warm, rushing air. Wherever the bolts struck the ground, sprays of sparks fountained from the earth, and ripples of blue flame sped from the contact, flattening rings of grass. Now unhindered by the thickness of the clouds, thunderclaps boomed in the sky above me as if they were impossibly large drums. The lightning storm continued for some time, then slowly faded away as the clouds again constricted, redirecting the tendrils so that they flared up and around the thunderheads in jagged coils.
But before the heavens had completely closed, one final blast of electricity shot down over the only tree in the field, an ancient-looking oak standing tall in the grass below. As the bolt struck the tree with a brilliant flash and a deafening boom, the spark proliferated into hundreds of orbs of energy that splashed up through branches and into the air like a swarm of enormous, blue fireflies. There they hovered for a few moments, droning around the tree, before they all expired in little crackling discharges of electricity, from which drifted thousands of little, glowing specks of iron that were quickly swallowed up by the grass. As I beheld this glorious sight, I remember thinking, I am a part of this.
This scene was the most beautiful of chords in the lilting, pulsing melody of life; a gift of God to me.
The familiar feeling of rough terrain beneath my aching, throbbing feet shifted. Lifted from my daze induced by endless walking, I became aware of a silty loam sifting between my toes. I stopped, closed my eyes, and ran my feet through the sand, enjoying its cool softness, a welcome change to the sandstone paths behind me. I let the relaxing waves of summer heat wash over me in drowsing tides.
After several breaths of the moist, sulfurous air, I opened my eyes. The first thing I noticed was that the cliff wall on my left did not tower into the sky and stand thus, wall-like, as it had for the endless miles behind. Instead, it stretched up and outwards, curved far over my head and ended on my right, a hundred feet in the air. The breath caught in my throat as I grasped the immense scale of the sandstone cave I now stood in.
The cave ceiling was blackened with soot from fires lit under it by civilizations past. Next to me, a little stream gurgled over sand and shale as it meandered off into the forest behind me. As I gazed on, the sun emerged from behind the wispy clouds and seemingly ignited the little grains of sand, setting them ablaze and glimmering like tiny, iridescent pearls. At a pronounced curve of the cave, opposite my side, a slender waterfall poured down from the bluff on top of the thick shelf. Beams of sunlight struck the falls and cast a long, shimmering rainbow dancing down its length.
When I had grown tired of observing the cave, I turned and studied the landscape to my right. The cliffs curved to form a rough bowl, in the center of which was nestled large, flora-covered knoll. At the far end of this hill, a rocky projection erupted from the earth and connected to the top of the cave. An array of steps had been carved into the rock, so that one could tread from the knoll to the bluff with ease.
The hill was layered with ferns, flowers, and ivy-wrapped oaks. Small, blue butterflies fluttered gracefully up from the nets of vegetation, almost glowing in the beams of sunlight that poured over the knoll, turning the morning mist into shining, liquid gold. Pools of crystal-clear water collected in the clefts and depressions in the rocks on the hill, appearing like shining emeralds, for they all reflected the green sun as seen from beneath the oak leaves. In awe, I took in all these sights, absorbing them with a vampiric fervency. I loved this place. I could return again, and again.