There were dozens of three- and four-foot-long pieces of wood scattered for 50 yards in almost every direction. Thickness varied from a quarter of an inch to nearly two inches in diameter.

"You have a lot of knowledge about the out of doors," my friend Beth said. "What kind of animal would have ripped that tree apart like that? Was it a bear?"

I had heard of a large bear in that area near Gilbertsville, but that big, old ash tree had sustained more damage than any bear could cause.

"It wasn't a bear," I said. "It was lightning."

A bolt of lightning blew away half of the tree during one of our recent summer storms, scattering debris everywhere.

Lightning can be spectacular and powerful. Its beauty is absolutely amazing at times. I have enjoyed sitting undercover and watching the brilliant flashes burn their ways from the clouds to the ground while lighting up the dark night sky.

And with lightning comes thunder. Remember the saying about counting the seconds between lightning flashes and the deafening claps of thunder? The number of seconds in between each occurrence is supposed to tell you how far away the storm is.

Don't believe it.

A few years ago, a group of hikers summited Algonquin Peak in the Adirondacks. As they stood on the rocky top of New York's second highest mountain, they watched a thunderstorm many, many miles away. Suddenly, a bolt of lighting came out of nowhere and struck the mountain. Luckily, nobody was killed. But a couple of backpackers needed to be carried from the lofty peak.

Have you seen that crazy commercial on television that claims men are more likely to be struck by lightning than women? My wife has a theory that it's because some of us don't know enough to get in out of the rain. Well, that's her opinion. I just think that men are more active outdoors than women, but I could be wrong.

Lightning is created by negative and positive charges, although early civilizations believed it had something to do with the gods. For example, the Norse god Thor was the "God of Thunder" who rode across the sky in a chariot pulled by wild goats. The Greeks worshipped Zeus, who threw lightning bolts.

I remember when I was small. I loved to run out into the rain and then beat it back to the porch when the thunder clattered. But probably my strangest recollection of inclement weather was one night many years ago, when a friend and I were running our coon hounds.

We had been cruising the corn fields and hedge rows, chasing those ring-tailed, black-masked creatures when it began to rain. No, it poured, and we were immediately soaked to the skin. The dogs were on a trail and we yelled in vain to get them back to the truck.

"Here Lightning! Here Thunder! Come on, let's go."

As the sky rumbled and flashed brightly near midnight, I felt quite foolish calling two blue tick hounds named Lightning and Thunder.

Seriously, when the gods start throwing lightning bolts, it's time to head for cover. Make sure you're not the highest object around and remember that lightning can hit the same place twice, contrary to popular belief.

Actually, we don't have much to worry about. Our chances of getting hit by lightning are only slightly better than hitting the lottery. So just sit back and enjoy the show.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. E-mail him at robrockway@hotmail.com.

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