Close Encounter of the High Voltage Kind

Southwest Virginia in the early ‘80s


It was just beginning to sprinkle as we started up the trail. Thinking the rain would cool off our hike on that hot August day, we happily hiked on,

blissfully ignorant

of what lay ahead.

I was one of thirty some 17-year-olds spending a week at Lynchburg College competing for scholarships. After a busy day of classes, this hike at Sharp Top on the Blue Ridge Parkway was just the diversion we needed.

Our steep mile and a half hike did indeed cool off. The sprinkles turned to rain.

We quickened our pace when we heard distant lightning. Someone said something about a cabin at the top.

The true downpour started as we approached the cabin. We all crammed into the small stone building. No one was brave or foolish enough to go out to the overlook just beyond the cabin.

We were young. We didn’t worry.

Besides, we knew there was a shuttle that would take us back down the mountain. We’d hike the quarter mile to the shuttle stop as soon as the lightning let up.

It didn’t let up.

If anything, it increased.

And the last shuttle of the day would be there soon.

Half of the people in the cabin decided they would stay put where it was safe.

I was not one of those people.

A dozen or so of us rushed out through the deluge.

I couldn’t see a thing. I just followed the person ahead of me. Lightning crashed every couple of seconds all around. I got soaked to the bone.

After a couple of minutes that seemed like a couple of hours, we made it to the bus shelter. I plopped my waterlogged self down on the bench on the far side of the shelter, glad to be safe.

Then it hit me.

Technically, it hit the shelter and the electricity ran through those of us on that far side of the bus shelter.

It was lightning.

Oh, and deafening thunder.

It was literally a pain in the rear. Very painful, in fact.

When it happened, a girl seated on the other side started screaming hysterically. Once she calmed, she explained that she saw us all light up and thought we would die.

The only casualty that I know of was my digital watch, which started flying forward in time. We were sore and soaked and had a new respect for thunderstorms.

As for those stayed in the cabin, the college had to send out another bus. They didn’t return until later in the evening.

Whether we played it safe or braved the storm, we each came home with quite the story to tell.

This story has found it’s way into many children’s and youth lessons. It even into Wil Clarey, The Impossible Summer (as told to Wil by his grandpa). My lessons and my books tend to be filled with stories like these. They tend to grab attention and illustrate a number of points.

Do you have stories?

Let ‘em out!

Write them and share them. If possible, teach with them.

Don’t let them fade in your memory.

Oh yeah, and don’t go outside in thunderstorms!

The Sound of Silence


My legs burned.

My breathing was heavy but calming.

I leaned against a stump.

The moment my feet stopped, I felt the profound quiet.

My ears rang with the suddenness. My footfalls had been loud compared with the absence of sound that surrounded me.

True, the silence wasn’t complete. A distant plane faintly hummed. The occasional car could be heard in the canyon far below. But, those sounds were distant and very faint. Bird calls and faint wind song were all that could be heard close by.

I took out my phone and started photographing the view. As I concentrated on composing a scene with a weathered dead tree, Boulder Canyon below, and the morning sun beyond I was startled by a strange noise.

I turned toward the sound seeing nothing but a pair of hawks flying away. Then I realized, it was quiet enough to hear the sound of their wings beating.

I lingered on top of Sugarloaf Mountain for some time. I don’t know how long. There was no one else there and my mind soaked up the silence like a desert traveler soaks in water.

I made it back home before noon and kept busy the rest of the day with typical Saturday responsibilities. My legs were sore but my sole was rested.

At creation, God set the standard for rest – one in seven days. I do a lousy job of sticking to that standard. But, one thing I’ve learned is that my mind needs rest as much as my body does. Yesterday was a good day of rest for my mind. I need more of those.