Sunday, October 6, 2013


Meteorological panel, Stein River valley, British Columbia, 
Canada. Figure 80, York, They Write Their Dreams on 
the Rocks Forever, p. 115.
On April 17, 2010, I posted a column titled Meteorology in Rock Art - Lightning, in which I discussed lightning symbols in rock art. Lightning is one of the natural powers that is manifested in very striking ways, and it played a big role in Native American beliefs and mythology. In They Write Their Dreams on the Rocks Forever, 'Nlaka'pamux elder Annie York discussed lighning in the meteorlogical pictograph panel in Stein Valley. What is particularly interesting to me in this instance was that she also identified one symbol as representing ball lighning. 

           "That sign comes from when the sun threw out his little children. You see that little person? That person is running away from the bad weather. Of course on the other side , that’s the sign for a lightning storm, the two zigzags. Below that, that sort of football, that shows the thunder. You see, a thunder comes in a ball sometimes. It rolls onto the earth and it makes a big clap! It hits the earth and does that.
            My mother said it went right through a house at Yale. They were clearing out a chicken house, and my mother heard the thing rolling in. She was brave enough. She opened the door as soon as she seen that thing and it rolled across the floor and went clean outside where it made a really big ditch. It’s a wonder it didn’t explode in the house.” (p. 116-7)

Lightning strike on Trinchera Dike, Colorado. 
Photograph Peter Faris, September 2009.

We have all heard of ball lightning, but how many of us have actually experienced it. Once, in my early teens during a storm in my hometown I was rummaging for something in a hall closet. This was a violent storm with seemingly continuous lightning, and although it was primarily cloud to cloud and with little cloud to ground lighning I was not particularly worried about our house being struck. While I was bent over with my head down in the closet there was a overwhelmingly bright flash with no noticeable sound of thunder (which I have only experienced on other time in my life when lightning struck particularly close) and a flash streaked down the hall over my back. I have always believed that I experienced ball lightning on that occasion. In any case, Annie's story of the ball lighning resonates very strongly with me, and now I have a symbol to picture it by.


York, Annie, Richard Daley, and Chris Arnett,
1993    They Write Their Dreams on the Rocks Forever, Rock Writings in the Stein River Valley of British Columbia, Talonbooks, Vancouver, B.C.

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