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Bayou-Diversity (28 July 2019) A recent night of thunderstorms temporarily assuaged the tree-killing drought. By mid-morning of the following day plants were displaying the reprieve in leaves with restored turgor pressure after weeks in a state of progressive wilt. Two inches of rain brought by the storm without a doubt saved the lives of some critically stressed trees. However, as is often the case with natural events, there were winners and losers in the passage of the midnight storm. Within a hundred feet of my house in the woods three bolts of lightning came to earth in rapid succession. One killed the computer that harbored the Bayou-Diversity programs. Backups aside, it was only a mundane tragedy. For me the greatest losses were two white oaks and a mockernut hickory that germinated when Ulysses S. Grant was president and whose sap of life was boiled away at the speed of light. The explosions that rattled our bedstead resulted from after the fact acoustic waves when the air along the lightning’s path was heated to 36,000° F – three times the temperature of the sun’s surface. The eyelid-penetrating flash of light occurred on the return stroke, the part of lightning discharge that is visible. In about 30 millionths of a second the trees’ sap, being a poor conductor, was boiled to steam as bark exploded along the long vertical seam. The prognosis is not good. Even if they manage to survive the winter, the wounds are ripe targets for bacteria and fungi that result in life threatening decay. In medieval Europe aeromancy was a term used to describe the prediction of future events based on the observation of weather conditions. My divination of the recent storm forecasts a trip to the computer store and a big pile of firewood. (adapted from Bayou-Diversity: Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country, LSU Press)


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