Sleeping In a Storm

Waking up to a thunderstorm reminded me of a devotional story told by Rabbi Albert Lewis called “I Can Sleep Through a Storm”. You can get a copy in the resource tab if you want to use it, but it is about a handyman named Bill Jeffers who makes an inquiry to a farmer about his job posting and says his qualification is that he can sleep through a storm. He gets the job, lo and behold a storm comes up and sure enough this guy is found sleeping by the worried farmer. That is until the farmer learns that Jeffers had prepared ahead of time and all was well with the farm.

Other people, like me, have to learn the hard way. You may have noticed that I write, occasionally, about therapeutic wilderness camping. That is because the eight years I spent there has left me with several valuable lessons. One of those came in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm. Let me explain.

First you have to know a few details about the campsites. The camp is a 900-acre pine forest. There are a handful of permanent buildings, an office, a dining hall, a warehouse, and several houses for staff. Spread over the property are five small-group campsites. Every structure in the campsites are designed, built and maintained by the member of the group. It is the maintained part of that last sentence where this story originates. More accurately, it was the lack of maintenance.

Each campsite has four sleeping shelters. One is for the staff (the “chiefs”) and the other three for the campers. These structures are made using the pine trees. Trees (poles) are cut, debranched, debarked, and used for construction. There are upright poles (vertical) and side rails and ridgepoles. (Horizontal). Smaller diameter poles are used for the roof. The side rails and ridge poles are attached to the upright poles using a brace and bit tool (hand powered drill) to drill a hole and pounding a wooden dowel in the hole using a handmade wooden mallet. The roof poles are lashed to the tent using binders twine. The roof and the sides of the tent are covered with a grommeted polyvinyl tarp. (always yellow for some reason) The roof tarps are tied on using binders twine. This is the first thing to wear out. A wise group checks the binders twine regularly to prevent what happened to me.


There I am sleeping soundly in my tent. It was a late winter night, still cold and I was snuggled under eight pounds (literally) of covers. Storms make great background noise when you are sleeping in the woods in a cozy tent like this. Except when you haven’t noticed that the binders twine holding your roof tarp in place has stretched and rotted. In my slumber, I did not know that my loosened roof tarp was collecting water in what we called a cow belly. Directly above my head was a cow belly filled with what had to be ten gallons of water.


Just when my dream was getting good, the binders twine gave way and dropped that water directly on my head. The now freed tarp caught the storm winds like a sail. In rapid cognition, my eyes flew wide open expecting to see a prankster holding a bucket silhouetted in a yellow tarp. Instead, I saw an angry sky and a massive tarp flapping violently in the wind trying to break free of its remaining tethers. I instinctively jumped out of bed and wrestled an edge of the tarp back to the rooftop. It was a savage tug-of-war. I gained ground and then lost it. It felt like the billowing tarp was going to take me airborne while the near corner was slapping me in the head.

Finally, by jumping on my soaked bed, I got high enough to have the leverage to grapple the tarp to the rooftop. So, there I am soaking wet, shivering in my boxers, and still being jerked back and forth with every gust of wind and I realize. I have no way to tie this tarp down. I wasn’t getting any drier or warmer. I had to admit temporary defeat. I let go of the tarp, jumped off my bed and ran through the storm to the commissary tent and grabbed the binders twine box. Meanwhile, everything in my tent was getting more soaked by the second. I ran back, threw some clothes on and made sure I had my knife.

I measured off about 20 arm lengths of twine, cut it off and doubled it over. The wrestling match with the tarp was on again but this time I brought a knife to the tarp fight. With the corner of the tarp in one hand and the tail of the twine hanging from my teeth, I looped the twine through the corner grommet. Now I had a leash to wrangle the tarp down and tie it off at the corner of the tent.

The rest of my night consisted of tying off the remaining grommets, starting a fire in the potbelly stove and parading sleeping bags and clothing in front of the stove to get them as dry as possible before the sun came up to start the day.

I read a quote recently by an unknown author that said,

“While most are dreaming of success, winners wake up and work hard to achieve it.” 

I say a failure to check the twine and 10 gallons of water makes for great motivation for hard work. At least, it did for me.

What is your intuition telling you? Any “binders twine” in your life need replacing? We all might sleep better by paying attention to the little things.


Warmly (and dry-ly),


Rick Burris


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