Camping in a thunderstorm

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(HOST) According to commentator Willem Lange, camping in a small tent during a heavy thunderstorm can be quite exciting – and he’s speaking from recent experience.

(LANGE) “Come on, Jonathon,” I pleaded. “We better snap it up, or we’re going to get really wet!” Jonathon appeared utterly unmoved by our plight. Videographers, though fussy about their electronics, are personally like the snapping turtle that won’t let go till it thunders. Jonathon’s even worse; a regular artillery duel was developing behind my left shoulder, and he appeared to have no intention of taking cover.

There was, in fact, no cover to take. Our dome tent lay flat on the grass. Putting it up requires experience, intelligence, and time. We were short on at least two counts, and the storm was almost upon us.

“Just give me a couple more of the Open,” said Jonathon, cool as a cucumber. Vainly trying to match his sang froid, I began the forty-second introduction: “Welcome to Windows to the Wild. Today we’re presenting one of a series of programs that show the beauty…” I went all the way through it, my memory much improved by desperation.“Good!” said Jonathon. “Now once more. I’m going to start with the river this time and pan to you. When I nod, you start.”

The next few minutes are, as 19th-century explorers used to write, better imagined than described. But Jonathon was finally satisfied he had his shot or that he was about to die. We got the tent and the waterproof fly pegged down just as the storm reached us. Supper was out of the question and survival only possible. Happy as a lark, Jonathon shot footage of sizzling lightning strikes, thrashing trees, and cannon-fire thunder.

An hour later I cooked up some pasta with cream sauce, cheese, and chunks of Spam. The river had risen two feet, so I pulled the canoe another four feet higher and put on water for coffee.

The Connecticut River, a huge zipper running between New Hampshire and Vermont, is probably the most underutilized recreational resource in both states. But that’s changing. Conservation groups have obtained easements for campsites along the river and maintain them with local volunteers.

On a hot, muggy morning Jonathon and I loaded our canoe below the power dam at East Ryegate and paddled down past Wells River to Howard Island. I’d brought my twenty-foot canoe because it’d make a stable platform for Jonathon’s video camera. But the wind was in our faces; and videographers at work don’t paddle much. By afternoon, I was feeling my age.

We recorded facts about the geology of the river. Then its history, from Abenaki habitation, through several wars, up to the river’s development for power dams. We battled the crosscurrents at Woodsville, just as the log drivers had one hundred years before. We counted three kinds of swallows, blackbirds, blue herons, kingfishers, hawks, and one bald eagle.

We were never out of hearing of the highways on either side of the river. But the campsite seemed isolated and away from things. It was almost a guilty pleasure that most people know so little about this lovely river flowing right through their midst.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

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