Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Ghost Story

My friend Calvin, author of the blog, “A Thistle in My Sensitive Area”, wrote a hair-raising post about a voice he heard while working in his office.  This being Halloween, I thought I’d share a ghost story of my own even though it has nothing to do with gardening.  

* * * * * *
Like many kids do, I grew up spending a week of my summer vacation at a camp.  In my case, it was Camp Spalding which is tucked away in the southern edge of the Selkirk Mountain Range in northeastern Washington State.  The main part of the camp consisted of a rustic lodge, seven cabins a couple outbuildings and about 230 acres of wilderness.  It was all snuggled in between a serene little lake and Grayback Mountain. 

One of my cabins on top of the mountain overlooking the lake.  Camp Spalding is in the background.

It was an important place for me because it was where I felt most like me.  I felt accepted, challenged, encouraged; all the things that a good camp should foster in kids.  And because of that I wanted to spend more and more time there as I grew up.  By the time I was 16 I was spending most of my summer there either as a camper or as a cabin counselor for the younger kids.

When I started college I worked on staff as the rock climbing and high ropes course instructor during the summers.  During the school year, when extra money was in short supply, I would drive up to Camp on Saturday mornings to look after the grounds while Bud, the full-time caretaker, enjoyed his weekend.  Spending my weekends up there was hard.  It was hard because I was in college and I wasn’t hanging out with my friends back in the dorms.  But it was also hard because it felt like a different place without a hundred kids running around and without the camaraderie of my co-staffers.  It was lonely and cold. 

I snapped this photo of snow-covered trees one weekend when I went back to Camp with my wife in 2007.

Some weekends people would use the camp as a retreat center.  Those weekends weren’t too bad because even though I didn’t know any of the people it was nice just having them around.  But most of the time it was just me and the dark quiet which was never quite as quiet as you’d think it would be.  There were always noises you couldn’t explain – at least not right away.  One noise, in particular, unnerved me.  It came from the lake, which was frozen solid.  I didn’t know what to think of the low moaning I heard.  “What the hell is that?” I asked myself.  I thought something was out there, on the ice, in trouble.  But the sound was coming from everywhere it seemed like.  It was coming from beneath the ice maybe.  Whatever it was, it just kept moaning.  The sound was both immense and quiet somehow. When Bud came by to check on me I asked him about the noise.  He laughed at me in a way that let me know he’d been there and done that.  “It’s just the ice shifting” he told me. 

Like most spooky occurrences, there was a scientific explanation.  Although I am not strictly a scientifically oriented person, I appreciate the comfort science provides.  When it can.

There was a weekend at Camp where I needed to be up there on Friday night to get the facility ready for a retreat starting on Saturday.  After I finished splitting logs for fires, mopping the lodge floor, and turning on the heat in the cabins, I went back to the lodge and lit a fire in the fireplace.  I had some reading to do for school so I put in REM’s “Automatic for the People” and put my feet up on the hearth.  In spite of the loneliness, it was all pretty nice.  Good music, an engrossing book, a strong fire, and an unlimited supply of hot chocolate at my disposal.  And then I felt something.  Nothing touched me but I felt something all the same.  I felt I wasn’t alone anymore.  I spun my head to look and expected to see Bud or maybe someone from the retreat that had arrived early.  But I saw, instead, a woman dressed from head to toe in gray walking across the lodge floor and into the kitchen behind me.  And then she was gone. 

Alphonse performing at a "talent show."
The fireplace behind him is where I sat on the night in question.

If I’m completely honest, to this day I still question if I actually saw what I thought I saw.  Part of me feels like I made it up or that I’ve embellished it in my memory as I thought back on it.  When it comes to ghosts, I’m more or less an agnostic.  I didn’t tell this story to anyone for a few weeks.  But I could never forget that feeling I had in the lodge that night.

Back at school I found myself in a conversation with a friend, Angie, who had spent the last few summers working at Camp with me.  We talked about everything those days so I opened up to her about the story, prefacing it with “you won’t believe me . . . Heck, I don’t really believe me, but . . .”  When I got to the gist of it, she started shaking her head.  “Stop, stop,” she pleaded.  “Did you talk to Joni about this?  Did she tell you to tell me this story?”   I hadn’t spoken to Joni, one of the cooks at camp, about the gray lady.  I hadn’t spoken to anyone about it.  But Joni had also confided in Angie that she had seen what appeared to be a nun, dressed in gray, walking through the lodge. 

I had been willing to doubt my own vision that night.  It seemed reasonable that my eyes were just tired from reading too much in a dimly lit lodge.  It also seemed completely reasonable that a drafty window could have made me feel something behind me.  There were enough real-world/scientific variables that allowed me to write it off as a weird occurrence.  But all that went out the window when I found out Joni had seen the same thing.  I don’t know how to explain that.

Camp Spalding shrouded in snow and silence.


  1. Wow - spooky! I don't really believe in ghosts, but you just never know..

  2. Who are we to say that spirits are just a figment of our imaginations? Nice post -- and I loved the photos. Very much like "The Shining." Happy Halloween.

  3. Amazing experience, very hair-raising. So is the drop-off behind your first photo, gosh, that's a long way down.

    I've heard the ice on Lake Michigan make those weird, other-worldly noises too. I wasn't alone either, and I was scared. I know our imaginations can work overtime once in awhile, but who can say for certain there are no ghosts? Happy Halloween!

  4. Chilling. I think I prefer to have heard, rather than seen.

  5. aiiiiiiiiiiii. I don't need hairspray tonight. lofted from the roots.