The Other 6

Off the Clock

I power down my phone and chuck it into the glovebox: no service, no weather app, no camera, no clock.

The guidebook described the lakeside campground as one of the great family destinations in California if you don’t mind the drive. But we live in Los Angeles—how bad could it be? The iffy part starts well enough but quickly turns into blind corners, steep drop-offs, and a maze of potholes, all on a one-lane road.

On arrival, I power down my phone and chuck it into the glovebox: no service, no weather app, no camera, no clock. For the next five days I don’t know what time it is.

In the morning, after my camp-stove coffee is ready, I sit down to look at the lake. From the hill and through the trees I see it lapping gently on the sand. The birds—especially the Steller’s Jays—are particularly noisy in the morning, having a look at everyone’s picnic table, investigating what might have been left behind. Chipmunks scamper from hole to tree to rock, stopping to chew their food on fast-forward. “Praise the Lᴏʀᴅ from the earth. . . . Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (Ps. 148:7, 10, NRSV). The jays and chipmunks remind me of the noise and rush of life I’ve left behind in Los Angeles. I nod in recognition and turn my eyes back to the lake.

The afternoon brings summer thunderstorms, so after lunch we keep our ears open for the sound of rumbles. The storms are easy to see coming across the lake; we sit on the shore and watch. First the high country, then the nearby ridges, then the trees around the water disappear in the rain clouds. We tidy up camp as the sprinkles begin and duck into the tent when the rain starts to fall in earnest. We wait it out, sometimes for minutes, sometimes for much longer. How much longer, I don’t know, because I don’t know what time it is. We listen and wait as “the voice of the Lᴏʀᴅ flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the Lᴏʀᴅ shakes the wilderness” (Ps. 29:7-8, NRSV).

Late one evening we’re sitting around the campfire when we hear a low rumble, the familiar sound of thunder. Flashes fill up the sky over the ridges and trees, but this time the storm is far to our south and heading west rather than north toward us. We turn our camp chairs from the fire toward the edge of the hill and watch the show. My youngest son tells me it looks like fireworks without the colors. I tell him I like it better than fireworks because of the wildness of its beauty. He doesn’t seem convinced.

After the storm passes, my wife and I get the kids ready for bed, then we sit a while longer by the fire. Behind the storm, a night wind picks up, rushing across the water and up through the stand of pines, firs, and incense cedar. The trees begin to sway against the light of clouds brightened by the full moon. The whir and whoosh of noise crescendos and diminishes, the waves on the lake below us adding a descant. Our tent flaps agitate against the stakes, and the fire consumes the logs to coals.

“The voice of the Lᴏʀᴅ breaks the cedars; the Lᴏʀᴅ breaks the cedars of Lebanon. . . . The voice of the Lᴏʀᴅ causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’” (Ps. 29:5, 9, NRSV).

About the Author

After growing up in the Midwest, Zach Vandenberg moved west, first to be a high school Bible teacher and then again after seminary to be a pastor. He enjoys exploring the West with his wife and three kids.

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