Lightning, lobsters and babes in the woods . . .

12 Feb

The e-mail that follows was sent by one of my three princesses, the one that lives, loves and works in Virginia. She suggested that I tell the story of a camping trip we took in the summer of 1986, a jaunt that began in northern Virginia and took us through Washington D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania and back to Virginia—ten states, eleven counting Virginia, and the District of Columbia, all in just six days. We were really happy to get back home!

This is her e-mail:

Here’s a memory to get you started: Our road trip to Maine….you wanted lobster…I ordered chicken (no surprise there)…she brought us the food, then left. You called her over to ask for the lobster cracker thingies and she said, “That family over there is using them.” We were blown away that they only had one set—-something about “people keep taking them” or something like that. I don’t remember what happened or how long you had to wait, but it put a damper on your “famous Maine lobster” adventure.

Then the night in the tent in the campground…and the lightning and raining and horrendous thunder…seeing shadows of trees through the tent when the flashes occurred….then you whispered, “Where are your arms?” I asked why and you said, “Tuck them in and don’t touch the metal on the bed….JUST IN CASE.” Way to go to scare your kid, pop! This would have been spring or early summer 1985, I think. I’ll check the date on my slides to verify, though.

My daughter touched on the lobster snafu and the night we spent in a non-waterproofed tent while a storm raged around and over us, and one might legitimately say, with one of its components—water—inside the tent with us. At twilight that day we luckily stumbled upon a small state park in Maine with tent grounds, and we pitched our tent under the comforting arms of a giant oak, reasoning that its shade would be welcome the following day. The Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton said it best with the phrase that began his 1830 novel Paul Clifford: It was a dark and stormy night . . .

For us it was not only a dark and stormy night—it was also a very wet night that we spent in our two-person tent, an item we purchased new just before we began our odyssey, along with two aluminum folding cots, two light-weight sleeping bags, a one-burner Coleman camp stove and a Coleman two-mantle lantern, both of which used white gas for power. Using the booklet provided we practiced pitching the tent in the parking lot at our apartment, but decided not to follow the instructions to “waterproof your tent by using the waterproofing tubes included.” Since the skies were clear that day in Arlington, Virginia, we surmised, wrongly of course, that they would remain clear for the duration of our camping trip. They did not remain clear.

Note for campers: Do not—I repeat, do not—pitch a tent of any size under a tree of any size regardless of the weather and regardless of whether the tent is waterproofed. The absolute last place one should be in a storm is under a tree, whether in a tent, a car, a trailer, a wagon or just standing, sitting or lying under a tree. Trees and lighting bolts appear to have a passion for one another—everyone knows, of course, that lightning goes upward from the ground, quite often from a tree, and is met by its counterpart coming down from the clouds. We can pass this gem of knowledge we gleaned on our trip: Weather has an odd way of changing abruptly—in our case it changed so abruptly that we had neither time to relocate our tent, nor time (or the means) to waterproof it.

The massive storm hit around 9:00 p.m. and lasted for an eternity, with brilliant flashes of lightning and rolling thunder, sounds comparable to the sounds made by massive landslides with huge trees snapping like twigs—before the night was over it sounded like Mount Helena blowing its top. Of course my imagination was at high pitch, fueled by something similar to fear—no, not just similar to fear, it was fear. For awhile I feared that I could drown even if the lighting didn’t get me. Not surprisingly, my daughter slept soundly through most of the bedlam, awakening only when I whispered, “Where are your arms?”

At one point during the storm I imagined that I could smell sulfur, an odor associated with lightning strikes—some say brimstone, as in “fire and brimstone.” In 1983 in Arizona it smelled like sulfur. I was in a moving automobile at ground zero near the Arizona/Mexico border when a lighting bolt struck and mangled an aluminum guardrail just a few feet from my front-seat passenger position. Come to think of it, that may not have been sulfur I smelled, but I definitely smelled something!

We survived the ordeal of the storm and emerged from our tent, a bit bedraggled but bound to continue on our great adventure, and as time passed we began to remember that night as a fun time and one of the most memorable moments in our trip.

Prior to finding the state park where we camped that night, we stopped in a couple of travel-trailer parks to see if they allowed tent campers. Neither provided sites for tents, but a woman in the second park mentioned that “a nice family” owned and operated a camp nearby and accepted tent campers. While giving me directions, she included a but, a but as in, “But they only accept family campers.” Thinking perhaps that family size was a factor for admission, I told her there were just two of us. She repeated the provision that, “They only accept families,” with strong emphasis on the word families, and then I realized the reason for her repetition of the sentence. She had a good view of me standing in front of her, of course, and she could clearly see my daughter standing outside near our car.

Note: My daughter was twenty-three years old at the time, and I was rushing toward my fifty-third birthday, an approximate age difference of some thirty years. I said, “Oh, I see,” and turned on my heel and left, my heart and my chest swelling with pride, knowing that she actually believed that I could entice a female non-family member such as the lovely 23-year-old girl standing by my car to embark on an extended camping trip with me. As I pranced out of that office I felt much taller than I did when I entered—had I been capable of doing so, I would have snorted, whisked my tail and whinnied all the way out to the car.

Enough is enough, at least for now. I have been criticized and censured for making my postings too long—evidently some viewers’ truncated attention spans prohibit them from spending very much time reading, especially if there is a dearth of photo images in a posting. I will therefore terminate this posting, a tiny vignette, but representative of the memorable experiences we accumulated over the six-day period, and return at a later date with more details.

I promise.


Posted by on February 12, 2010 in camping, Family, Humor, Travel


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6 responses to “Lightning, lobsters and babes in the woods . . .

  1. cindydyer

    February 12, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    Thanks for taking us down memory lane, Dad. I do need to change the date, though. Karen was reading the posting and since she remembered us going on this trip, it had to have been in 1986, not 1985. I was already living with her, had wrecked the Nissan Sentra (which we were going to use to go on the trip a few weeks after), so she’s right—it was 1986. But I digress….

    I am tickled that you are nurturing your penchant for words and happy that you are finding bliss in your writing. You have a gift that you are openly sharing with (me and) the world. I am immeasurably proud that you are my father.

    Enough of this sappy stuff! 😉

  2. thekingoftexas

    February 13, 2010 at 2:29 am

    Hey, that stuff is definitely not sappy! Don’t stop, don’t stop! I need to hear more comments such as those. Actually, I have always thought that I had no more than a mere modicum of talent for writing, but you have finally convinced me—I now believe that I have slightly more than a mere modicum of talent.

  3. KathyM.

    February 15, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    I enjoy your writings because:
    1) I learn at least one new word every time I read one.
    2) They make me aware that I still don’t know many grammar rules, so I look to your writings for clues. I trust your expertise.
    3) They are entertaining and memorable.
    4) I really enjoy the pictures that go along with them. (Real pictures and/or the pictures conjured up in my mind.)
    5) They produce memories of my own.
    6) Last, but not least……there is always at least one LOL line in each writing! (You stallion, you!)

    Thanks for the stories and the time you put into each one!

  4. thekingoftexas

    February 16, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Thanks for visiting, and thanks for the comments—thanks for all six of them, and #6 in particular—that was, for me, an LOL! (#4 and #5 tie for the runner-up title of Best Comment Made).

    I believe that I speak for many, perhaps most, bloggers when I say that we live for—nay, we lust for—comments on our postings, whether positive or negative. Comments are the only measure we have of the posting’s impact—if any—on our viewers.

    To emphasize the importance of comments, I will now mangle and corrupt Patrick Henry’s closing thought in the speech he gave to the Second Virginia Convention that met March 20, 1775 at Richmond:

    I know not what other bloggers may say but as for me, give me comments—gimmie, gimmie, gimmie!

    Pat Henry’s original thought, as y’all (you all) certainly know was, “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

    Hey, I said I would mangle and corrupt the original!

    Sometimes a comment will have such an impact on the blogger that it prompts another posting. Such is the case in your comments on this posting. From among your thoughts I have extracted a seed, an tiny acorn that I will plant and nourish to create a new posting—a mighty oak, so to speak—stay tuned!

  5. sandy

    February 17, 2010 at 7:55 am

    What a lovely story. You write with such ease and your memories make such a wonderful story. It makes me remember times in my life that were not amusing at the moment at which they happened but, later brought quite a smile to everyones face. The memories we have make us who we are and are quite fun to remember. Especially, the way you tell it. Thanks for sharing it with me. You need to write a book of memories. Your writings are so smooth and fun to read. I’m bound to have grammatically messed up somewhere.

    • thekingoftexas

      February 17, 2010 at 10:48 am

      Good morning: Aue contraire, madam! You may have “grammatically messed up somewhere” but it wasn’t in your comment on this posting. And hey, let’s face it—when such complimentary thoughts are voiced, there can be no mess-ups—they simply do not exist.

      You cannot begin to understand the pleasure I felt at reading your comments on this posting. If you promise to continue in such vein, I will put you on my posting list and subject you to every posting I make in the future—but only if you promise to continue making comments, whether good, bad or indifferent. Let me know if you approve such action, and I’ll do it post-haste—that’s a threat as well as a promise.

      Why in the world were you up and awake at such an early hour—1:55 am, for goodness sakes!


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