Lightning, Thunder, and Stuffies

A grayish bluster and biting cool breezed in our faces as we paddled the Priest Lake to Upper Priest Lake Thorofare. My four-year-old mop-haired granddaughter, Sophia, rode in the bow seat of my 18-foot fiberglass expedition canoe while I hammered my carbon fiber race paddle for all it was worth. The unseasonably cool late spring run-off had given the swollen thorofare an in-your-face current, and my canoe was loaded for a weekend camping trip for Sophia and me. 

After an interminable slog against the hydraulic insistence of melt and current—eased only by the robust exhortations of encouragement by Sophia with her childlike wonder of nature and natural things—we entered Upper Priest Lake and immediately turned hard to port to beach the canoe on the sand at Geisinger’s Campground, the first of the official campgrounds on the lake. Sophia quickly explored our intended campsite and pronounced it “awesome.” 

There are more private, remote, and prettier campgrounds than Geisinger’s; however, they are farther up the lake, and I was experiencing a burgeoning bout of lumbar spasming as well as a stomach-churning sense of electric foreboding from the squall over the north end of Upper Priest Lake. I was gifted/cursed with a lifelong affliction of severe astraphobia by my mother, who would corral her five children into dark closets with her, whenever a lightning and thunderstorm erupted. It left an indelible scorch mark on my psyche. 

As the thunderstorm roared down the lake towards us, I went into panic overdrive mode and rapidly pitched our tent while Sophia bopped about excitedly as the skies darkened, the thunder rumbled, and the lightning crackled the ozone. 

I grabbed a few bags of gear out of the canoe and hustled us inside. She was incredibly excited by the storm and played with her rainbow hued “stuffies.” She gabbed non-stop about the arriving storm as it exploded and dumped gigantic raindrops, quite possibly the size of a phobia therapist’s bill, upon the tent. I sat cross-legged trying not to sob or whimper as I truly endeavored, in this moment, to cease the intergenerational transmission of absurd phobias. 

“Grandpa, can we go outside and watch the storm?” Sophia ask.

“No!” I exclaim, in spite of myself. “I mean, no, let’s wait it out so we don’t get too wet, ok?” My voice crackslike a 14-year-old boy squeezing zits behind a locked bathroom door being pounded on by siblings who really needed to go. 

I knew from previous visits to this campground that there was an aqua-toned fiberglass walled vault or pit toilet located a short, scared sprint into the woods from our tent. As the sky flashed like bulbs around us, with the subwoofers of god thundering above, I pro and conned holing up in the outhouse until the storm cleared. 

Pros: Fiberglass is a bad conductor of electricity or maybe it’s a good one, can’t remember. Has to be better than Ripstop nylon! 

Cons: If we get bolted, we will conflagrate in a hideous explosion of crap and screams. 

We stayed put. Sophia laughed and moved about the tent unrolling her sleeping bag, tucking in her stuffies, and modeling for me how non-phobes act in a storm. I just smiled a fake smile and rode the storm out in abject terror. 

It was over in less than 10 minutes. We exited the tent and finished unloading and setting up. Sophia stood on a big cedar stump and regaled me with a made up song about her hair being rainbow and about her great big muscles as she cutely flexed her arms and kept on singing. 

As the skies cleared and our dinner cooked over a fire, I was in my happy camp bliss state while my kiddo was having the best time exploring and goofing off. The lake lapped cheerfully against the quartz-rich sand. 

In less than a year I would legally adopt my adorable little nature angel and make the one pledge to her that mattered the most: that no matter what, I would give her a life that was magical. Whatever magic is or means, that’s what I wanted for her and me. Little did I know then that as she hustled out of the tent to play while the thunderstorm rolled past, she was already way ahead of me.

Robert Salsbury is a retired DSHS program director and lifelong Spokanite who, along with his daughter Sophia, explores the wonders of the local natural world. He was the runner-up for the Get Lit! and OTO Outdoor Writing Contest.

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