A Quick Encounter between Fire and Thunder


Jekabs Bine (1895–1955) “Perkons (Thunder),” 1941. Oil on canvas, 53 x 65 cm.
The Janis Rozentals Saldus History and Art Museum, Latvia.

The next issue of The Pomegranate will include a special section on the revival of Paganism in Latvia, a revival that blossomed in that Baltic nation’s first period of independence, 1917–1940, or between the Russian Revolution, which released Latvia from the old empire, and the beginnings of World War II, when the small nation was scooped up first Soviet Union, then by the Third Reich and then by the Soviet Union again, a crushing embrace that lasted until 1991.

I was partway through layout on an article by the Latvian art historian Kristine Ogle on Pagan themes in Latvian art before World War II, when M. came in from the veranda, saying that she could hear the emergency siren from down the valley.

Drop editor persona, assume volunteer firefighter persona.  Over my clothes I put on my “wildland interface” jacket and pants, since the sheriff’s dispatcher was saying this was a report of smoke, not a structure fire. I grabbed pack, radio, helmet, and was off, soon to be driving one of our brush trucks (wildland engines) up a county road that might lead to the site. But nothing.

Eventually we ended up with another firefighter and me in the brush truck, two more following in personal vehicles, a sheriff’s deputy, and an engine from the Bureau of Land Management. We split up to investigate different muddy ranch roads — still nothing. So after an hour, we called it off.

It had already hailed briefly in the morning, and soon after I came home, another little thunderstorm went through. So it seemed reasonable not to worry too much, not this week. People are still jumpy after the fire last October that took out 15 houses near mine—a wisp of low-hanging cloud might have looked like smoke.

Back at my computer, I continued where I had left off on the article. I had been just about to place a graphic in the file, and you can see it up above — the god of thunder.

Thunder has been much in evidence today here in the Wet Mountains, but given the painting’s date, you have to wonder if the dark clouds over the peaceful Latvian farmstead were more than thunderheads.