A Summer Camp Storm

The shores of Lake Huron

Here we are! The height of summer. I thought I'd share a fun little memoir piece of mine with you this month, something to celebrate the season. What could be more summery than summer camp? 

That's my summer camp buddy, Lori, and me. I'm guessing about 1998. 

Camp Cavell, on the shores of Lake Huron is the quintessential summer scene of my childhood. All of camp faces the lake, bowing to its majesty. Only freighter boats, sailboats, and motorboats interrupt the view. Along the sandy shores we swim, kayak, and withstand frigid temperatures; we discover fossils and fish bones; deep in the cool wet sand we unearth the decaying remains of ships sunk long ago.

All the counselors at camp have nicknames: Sunshine, Toad, Gilligan, Angel, Bubbles, Freckles, Red, DJ, Band-Aid, Thumper. I am called Daisy. At age 17 I am no longer a happy-go-lucky camper; I am a responsible CIT, a Counselor-In-Training. So when the alarm blasts one long siren I know that I must report to the main office to learn how I can help during the approach of a tornado. They hand me a walkie-talkie and tell me to help DJ herd campers into vans headed to the house near the entrance. They’ll be safe there in the basement.

I remember the tornado from the year before. We huddled in the basement of a nearby home, maybe a hundred of us, including a church group renting the Northside cabins that week for a retreat. Young campers cowered in the arms of older campers. Counselors gave firm instructions to stay calm. Branches lashed in the wind against the small basement windows, while rain battered the roof, thunder boomed and shook the windows.  Flickering lights prompted worried moans and tears from the most nervous campers.

Then the lights went dark.

Before the screams and cries could even begin, the church group launched into song: This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine… Little by little we joined them. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine, our chorus of voices bravely sang in the dark.

Before the song was finished, the lights came back on. Wow and It worked! We sat out the rest of the storm happily snacking on cookies and making new friends with the church group.

But during this tornado, I am busy. As soon as the last group of kids is safely shepherded away in the van, DJ and I check in with headquarters on my walkie-talkie.

“Storm’s here Daisy. Find shelter quick.”

The Lodge at Camp Cavell 

The closest structure is the Lodge, a solid building with dark wooden rafters, stone fireplaces, and a long porch littered with Adirondack chairs. The air is charged with electricity. We look west at the forbidding black clouds approaching; an eerie green light hangs in the heavy clouds just above us. Trees thrash in the wind, shedding their leaves and bits of twigs in showers of debris. The front of my flimsy blue parka molds tight to my body as the wind whips around me. We make hast to the Lodge porch.

A small gathering of camp staff stands on the porch watching brilliant white crooked spears erupt in the sky over the lake. A heart-throbbing crack pierces my eardrums. Reflexively I crouch towards the floorboards for safety.

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr

We are spared. The funnel of the tornado weakens before it reaches camp. The sky still seethes with darkness, but the thunder hushes to a distant rumble. It is evening and the sun is low in the west where it appears beneath the storm clouds. Its light reflects in pink and magenta on the storm clouds moving east over the lake. A faint edge of a rainbow appears over the gray lake. It soon grows and lengthens into a full rainbow with the start of a double rainbow at its bases. The campers return in vans and pile onto the beach, cheering and laughing.

It is over. We are safe. The terror of nature has transformed into joy and beauty.  

I'd love to hear what you think of this story. What memories of your own does it bring up? Share in the comments below.