A Socratic Rancher 8-9-10 | TheFencePost.com

A Socratic Rancher 8-9-10

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

Though most people are conservative around lightning (and with good reason) it has never kept me out of a good thunderstorm. When a big storm hits, I not only don’t stay away from windows and phones, I’m drawn to the Great Outdoors. They say storm chasers have never won the lottery, either.

I especially enjoy late July into early August, when the monsoon storms begin. The hotter it is in May, June, and early July, the more intense the monsoon storms are, as the Colorado plateau heats up, the warm air rises and pulls in moisture from the Gulf.

Back in 2002 when it was desperately dry, an early August day began without a single cloud in the sky. Often, this is a sign that by late afternoon towering thunderheads will loom. We’d been irrigating non-stop, the center pivots barely keeping up with the hot winds and high temperatures. But, as farmers and gardeners everywhere know, there’s nothing like a rain.

On that August day in 2002, we got a magnificent thunderstorm, raindrops the size of plums. I jumped in my pickup and drove out to see which fields were possibly getting the most rain, as the distribution of these storms is seldom uniform. At the first two fields I visited, the 4-inch rain gauges were overflowing. Lightning flashed, and thunder rolled, and rolled. A single roll of thunder lasted for fully 10 minutes. It just kept going and going and going, rumbling, echoing down the Valley, seeming never to stop.

Once the storm had subsided and I’d checked all the fields, I headed home the long way, passing a neighbor’s pasture. The sun broke through to the west, but dark blue clouds with greenish undersides lurked overhead. In one of the pastures, I saw two black bulls facing each other, their heads down, cowering from the storm, each trying to get his head under the chin of the other.

As I passed by, a bolt of lightning hit right between the two bulls as if aimed by Zeus. In a loud crack and flash, the two beasts flew apart, landing akimbo, twisted half on their backs, half on their sides. I stopped at my neighbor’s house to give him the sorry news. He thanked me as he shook his head, this being an unlikely pile-on in a difficult year.

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Several days later, an insurance adjuster called me for a statement, which I provided.

“It really doesn’t seem likely, does it?” asked the adjuster. “The bulls were facing each other, lightning hit between them. Is that really what you saw?”

“Yes.”

“You have to admit, it’s almost as if lightning struck twice.”

“It only struck once.”

“I don’t believe there’s ever been a case where one lightning strike killed two bulls.”

“Look,” I said, leaking irritation, “we’re farmers and ranchers here, not Halliburton.”

In a tone that did little to disguise his disbelief, the adjuster made a final comment, “Maybe bulls shouldn’t put their heads together.”

“I’ll make a note of it.”