A Hot and Snowy Day in Summer
WHEN we took care of a Girl Scout camp 8,800 feet up in the Rocky Mountains, I heard complaints about the heat from some of the people we worked with. To them, I gave advice - twice. "Wear long-sleeved, long-legged, cotton clothes and a hat, and you'll feel cooler." Both times I received incredulous stares from counselors wearing the minimum allowed in camp. My efforts to explain the sense of keeping the sun off one's skin to keep from heating up didn't seem to get through, so I gave that up. I also wan t ed to give this advice, "This high in the Rockies, don't complain when it's warm. Give thanks," but I knew that would bring more incredulous stares.
On June 21, in the mid-afternoon, clouds moved down from the higher mountains west of us. The temperature dropped. Big, wet, lazy flakes of snow drifted down from the dark clouds above us, a few and then more, until it was snowing hard. It didn't take long to build up more than an inch of snow on the ground, and the falling snow didn't slow down.
I drove up to camp and got my helper, the camp director, and the assistant director, and we drove to the first tent unit. The weight of snow will tear canvas and break ridgepoles, so while the counselors moved the Girl Scouts from tents into lodges, Margo and Bobbie moved cots to one side of the tents, put possessions under the cots, and Mike and I took the tents down.
The snow was already so heavy on the tents that we couldn't lift the support poles, and it was still coming down heavily. I decided speed was of the essence, and we abandoned all finesse. The ropes were so tight, with the weight on them, that many of them wouldn't release the usual way of yanking on the end of the rope to release the clove hitch. Mike said, "A lot of these aren't clove hitches at all. After this is all over, we'd better give a class in clove hitches."
We ended up cutting quite a few ropes. There was no way to ease the tents down, so we just aimed them the way we wanted them to go and let them fall. We moved as fast as we could. We hadn't taken time to change into waterproof boots or clothing, so we were all soon soaked.
WHEN the last tent of the first unit dropped onto the wooden platform, we crowded into the truck and headed for the next unit. The inside of the truck's windows steamed up. The heater didn't gain much warmth in the short trip before we hit the ground and sloshed through sloppy snow and started on the second tent unit. There were lots of comments, and there was quite a bit of laughter. One outcome of that day's hasty, hard work was that we knit ourselves together into a better team than we had been, and t
hat feeling of working well as a team lasted throughout the summer.
Dusk and then dark came with the falling snow. By the time we took down the last tent in the last unit, we were wet through and cold. I dropped everyone off, drove home, showered, and quit for the day. Or so I thought.
It kept snowing. At about 9 o'clock, the phone rang. Margo said they'd seen several bright flashes of light. We heard crackling over the phone, and I saw the valley light up with an intense, blue flash of light. I hung up the phone and drove to the staff office.
We stood in the front room and watched the snow come down. Twice more, we saw the brilliant flash of light. It was like lightning, but there was no thunder. I hadn't been site manager there long, and I didn't know enough about the place to figure out what was happening. No harm seemed to be coming from the flashes of light, so I went home.
About midnight, the phone rang. Strange and scary things were happening at the staff office. Lights were dim. The electric-stove burners got warm butnot hot. I went up and shut the electricity off at the office. Everybody who was staying there moved up to the big lodge. Then the power started acting strangely. I didn't have to do anything about it, because the power all over camp went off.
Everybody got through fine until morning. Losing electricity meant we also lost all propane, since the controls for the propane appliances are electric. The kitchen staff put together a cold breakfast for about 120 Scouts and 30 staff. We kept everyone at the big lodge and kept the fireplace roaring. All the little girls thought it was a great adventure, and the counselors did a good job of maintaining order.
I explored and found that the heavy, wet snow had weighted down the high power line coming across the pasture until one line touched the other. That had caused the flashes of light and the power outage. The snow was falling from the wires, and they were maintaining a safe separation.
The sun came out. The snow started melting. We got electricians out, and they tracked down burned wiring and had the electricity back on by early afternoon. Those of us who could be spared from other duties swept and shoveled snow off the downed tents to try to minimize the amount of water they soaked up as the snow melted.
TWO days later, staff from the Denver office and volunteers came up, and we worked all day putting tents back up. By the next day, camp was back to normal. The scouts who were there for that session had dramatic adventures to tell about when they went home. Intense, high-elevation sunlight heated up the mountain. I went into the main lodge to fix problems with the water heater, and counselors sitting on the front porch complained about the heat. I just smiled at them and kept doing what I was doing.