I have done a bit of camping in my life — a very little bit, a lifetime ago. I always liked to know, however, that I’d be camping, instead of having the experience come as a surprise.
My sister Mary, mother Evelyn (age 96!), dog Chance, and I left for seven days of vacation at my northern Minnesota cabin the first week of July. Mary’s hope had been to escape the unrelenting heat of drought-stricken Oklahoma, where she lives, for the coolness of a northern lake and forest. Heat greeted us, however, when we arrived, and continued the next morning.
Throughout the day, gray clouds continued to build and cover the sky. Afternoon brought frequent lightning strikes, followed by immediate sharp claps of thunder. By late afternoon, a severe thunderstorm watch had been issued. Shortly before 7 p.m. we sat at the kitchen table, eating our dinner. Outside, the early evening seemed to be getting darker by the minute. Looking out at the lake as we ate, Mary and I noticed that, about halfway across the lake, a wave stretched the width of the lake. I’d seen a wave like that before, and realized a strong wind was pushing it across the lake, toward us.
We were now having an adventure vacation, a wilderness camping experience in a cabin rather than a tent.
One of the unfortunate realities of being caught in a storm at the cabin is that there is no basement in which to seek shelter. Mature trees surround the cabin, with a giant white pine outside the front door. If that tree went down in a storm, 75 percent of the cabin would be nothing but splinters, and we didn’t want to be in that part of the cabin. We quickly moved to what we determined would be the safest location, by the door that leads to the garage. As the wind hit and rain started to fall, my mother sat on the seat of her walker, while Mary and I stood close by, with Chance on his leash.
The wind roared and the rain blew sideways for a half hour. We periodically approached a window to look outside, hopeful that we would see the clouds getting lighter and the wind abating. When I looked out just as the crown of a tree by the beach incompletely broke from its trunk and whirled around like a top, I decided to stay away from the windows. We could hear trees crashing to the ground and debris clunking on the roof. I tried not to think about how my car might be faring, parked outside.
When the sky cleared …
When the storm ended, we ventured out of the cabin. We found that a tree had fallen about 8 feet in front of my car, blocking the driveway, and another had landed next to the car, about 2 feet away from it. The car was unscathed. A third tree had fallen on the one electric line on the property that isn’t buried underground. Eight to ten trees along the property line had snapped in half, but remained partially attached to their trunks. Miraculously, none of the buildings on the property had been damaged.
We learned the next day that the wind velocity had been clocked at 80 mph. Hundreds of trees had been blown down; electricity was out in much of the county (including at the cabin); and much damage had been done (broken power poles, windows blown out of businesses, a Dairy Queen sign blown off the building and into a lake across the street from it). Most importantly, and remarkably, no one had been hurt or killed.
Thus began three days of vacation without electricity or running water and, periodically, no phone service. The temperature daily climbed into the 90s. We were now having an adventure vacation, a wilderness camping experience in a cabin rather than a tent.
July 5, almost exactly 72 hours after we lost electric power, the light over the kitchen table came back on. We were inside at the time, and let out a spontaneous cheer. We had renewed appreciation for the miracle of electricity and the niceties of life that it provides.
On a gorgeous July 7, we left for home. Before we did, we had talked about our storm experience and its aftermath. The vacation we had expected hadn’t materialized. Instead, we were surprised by the satisfaction, camaraderie, and fun (toasting a marshmallow over a votive candle, planning “creative” meals with the food we had) that we had experienced, along with gratitude. When I heard the gospel text at worship a few weeks later about Jesus stilling the wind and waves, I heard it with a new appreciation.