by Merry Mercurial
Metallica rides it; AC/DC’s partial to its throaty echo. It formed the storm that damn near killed Stillwater. Its name is Lightning, Angry Scribble of the Skies, and it’s probably the manifestation of nature most closely associated with rock music–and probably because, the mythos goes, it is just so sexy dangerous.
In light of that, here’s something worth considering: your chances of dying from being struck by lightning are slim. HOW SLIM ARE THEY? According to Ronald L. Holle of Holle Meteorology & Photography (a man who surely knows his stuff in meteorology, photography, and their photoclimatic overlap yet uses earthlink email, so take his words with a grain of the ’90s), the best estimate for yearly lightning deaths, as culled from twenty-four vetted studies, is 4,101.(1)
Let’s hold that up against the population of Earth, and so as not to wrongfully deflate the figure, let’s go with 2015 data, as Holle’s report was presented in 2016. According to the stat-crunching folk at Worldometers, our 2015 humanage clocked in at 7,383,008,820.(2) Lightning, then, kills about 0.000055546459444701034 percent of us per calendar.
All of which is accurate but doesn’t have a very Hee Haw sort of tone so let me try again. HOW SLIM ARE YOUR CHANCES OF DYING FROM LIGHTNING? As slim as the chances of Courtney Love and Dave Grohl not just burying the hatch but sealing their truce with a baby they couple-combo name “Cave Glove.”
Drowning, on the other hand, annually kills 360,000 of us, give or take.(3)
Granted, that rounds out to 0.0049 percent, which I realize is still lint compared to Thanos’s 50, but we are talking about somewhere in the neighborhood of 355,899 more people, per year, killed by water than by lightning.
And yet. When the dark dome above starts a’flickering, all but the superbly FU
N-crazy among us take shelter; when, on the other hand, the sky takes on the kid-art blues and whites of summertime, we head in droves for pools, lakes, and beaches. Aaaaall that water. Aaaaall that opportunity to die while wet. (I don’t have stats to back this up, but I think it would somehow be worse than dying dry.)
I do it too. Head beachward when it’s warm. I was there recently, in fact, standing at the edge of the ocean, watching my daughter crash around in it as she yelled, “I’m coming for you, OCEAN” (yes, she threatens the sea; yes, she is awesome) and thinking about just how detonative this place has always felt. How thrilling it’s always felt to stand just slightly in it, looking out at just slightly more of it, imagining the grungy nightmare lounging in its depths.
It’s the closest most of us here on the sphere will ever get to the edge of the world. In the name of relaxation, you can stand with one foot still on earth as we know it with the toes of your other dangling in the uninhabitable frontier. Yes, yes, boats, swim lessons, life jackets, life guards, Coast Guard, mermaids, etc., etc. But the ocean is that realm in which we can survive only in specially crafted vessels, and then for only so long. Undrinkable. Endless from the perspective of any jelly-limbed swimmer far from shore. A worser monster in storms than any cryptid.
It is the wilderness minus letting you breathe, and it always wins. The lucid fucking nightmares I have had about this place: comedy-of-error nightmares, sometimes, that involve me trying to reach the island by unicycling up a swollen bridge off the mainland. Other nightmares are less dramedy, more straight drama. Standing planted in the sands while a wave bigger than Disney villains’ towers, bigger than Twitter shame, bigger than sex in the ’60s climbs from the horizon.
It’s scary. It’s fatal. And the fact that–outside of times bitches like Florence foist themselves upon our good time and we are strongly urged if not mandated to evacuate–we flock to it for fun is perhaps a sign of what hearty, unflinching stock we humans are. The fact that we see cold roiling death as something to party next to, camp at the edge of, fuck with our feet in, skip over top of in them big toys we call boats, etc., is as goddamn rock and roll as it gets.
Human: “Isn’t the water nice today.”
Ocean: “I WILL EAT YOUR BONES. I WILL SWALLOW YOU WITH CORONA BOTTLES AND CONDOM WRAPPERS. WAVE GOODBYE TO YOUR SPECIES FUCKER.”
Human: Kicks Ocean in the face. Or (how we usually say it) “splashes.”
The fact that we are a people who, in literature, symbolically equate the ocean with death but categorize some of our most lilting, lightweight, jangly sounds as “beach music” is, I think, a tidy summation of everything that’s right with us.
I wrote before about how satisfying it can be to hear well-placed traditional beach music within heavier rock, and here’s the hyperpedantic continuation of that thought. If lightning works because rock and roll is, before all other definitions, defiance in the face of danger (or danger itself, raw and gleaming), then the ocean is more fitting.
It’s why, no doubt, when I was standing at the edge of it and my daughter was bullying its low-tide waves, it wasn’t the bongo-laden ice-slushin’ good-time tuneage endemic to summer playing in my head but Alice in Chains. Shinedown. Hole. Led Zeppelin. The Raconteurs. Foo Fighters. Because fair enough that our beautifully frothy sounds are beach music, but ocean music is rock and roll.
- Holle, Ronald L. “The Number of Documented Global Lightning Fatalities,” paper presented at 24th International Lightning Detection Conference & 6th International Lightning Meteorology Conference, San Diego, CA, April 2016.
- “World Population (2018 and historical),” Worldometers, accessed September 3, 2018, http://www.worldometers.info/world-population.
- “Drowning: Key Facts,” World Health Organization, January 15, 2018, http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drowning.