I’m writing on Sunday night as a bank of thunderstorms rolls overhead. Lightening flashes and flickers, and the thunder rumbles deeply. We need the rain. It’s been hot and dry and lawns are parched. I’m thinking of my mother, who used to tell me when I was afraid of thunder that it was just the sound of giants bowling in the sky. She drew upon Washington Irving’s tale of Rip Van Winkle. We lived in the Hudson River Valley, not far from Irving’s home and a few hours’ drive from the Catskills, where the story takes place.
Van Winkle, an idler who seeks to escape his wife’s demands, wanders from his town into the mountains and comes across men dressed in antique Dutch clothing, who are playing nine-pins. He shares drinks and falls asleep, only to awaken twenty years later, after the American Revolution has been won. Still believing he is a loyal subject of King George III, he learns that most of his friends died for the American cause. The bowlers are rumored to be ghosts of Henry Hudson’s crew. His wife is dead. His son is grown. His daughter takes him in.
What would one discover, if she fell asleep today, only to awaken decades from now? I hope a revolutionary change as great as the one Van Winkle encountered—a more just world, a true democracy here at home, where all individuals are equally respected and safe within its borders. I hope she would find a planet that has come together to stop global warming and begun to reverse the devastation it has wrought. I hope, a time when science is taken seriously and the COVID-19 pandemic is a hard lesson learned and never repeated.
That’s what I hope. But we can’t assume, much as it would be nice to dream it away, that this tumultuous period will just work itself out on its own. It’s up to each of us to make it happen.
There are days when this seems overwhelming and impossible. Then I listen to the thunder and watch the lightening and think that as long as humans have walked the earth, we have survived storms. The creative spirit that spins thunderstorms into a game of nine-pins echoing in the mountains can envision a better world and find the way to it. We just need to stay awake.
Image: Breno Machado
Jayne Fisher says
Thank you for this uplifting entry Evie!
Evelyn Herwitz says
When I was a child and afraid of thunder, my aunt told me the EXACT same thing! I was googling and trying to find an origin, and found the Rip Van Winkle story, as well as your blogpost. I am curious how men bowling in the mountains (Van Winkle) came to be “giants in the sky”, and wondering if there was another source? I am not from that region of NY, I live in Virginia. My grandmother’s grandparents were German, and I wonder if she may have told my mother and her siblings that tale. I still think of it every time I hear thunder – we just had a big welcome storm here today too.
Evelyn Herwitz says
That’s great, Belinda! So interesting. I just did a little more searching, and it turns out that Irving’s tale was based on an old German folktale about “Peter Klaus”: https://www.worldoftales.com/European_folktales/German_folktale_6.html#gsc.tab=0
He, too, meets mysterious men in the mountains playing “skittles,” gets drunk and wakes up 20 years later. So maybe that’s how your aunt heard some version of the story. For me, growing up south of the Catskills, near the Hudson River Valley, the sound of rolling thunder was quite distinct. As I write now, thunder is rumbling nearby. Be well.