With my fear of thunderstorms becoming a borderline phobia by the summer of 2014, Jill and I found ourselves at Trout Lake in Yellowstone searching for otters, but becoming increasingly wary of dark clouds approaching from the west.
Usually, when you see incoming inclement weather at Trout Lake, you have about a half hour to pack up the camera gear and descend to the car. Yet on this occasion, the true heart of the storm was approaching not from the west, but from the north and, initially, out of our sightline.
So when the heavens opened up and the rain began to pour, we took cover in the forest canopy. We could still see the sun to the west and assumed this would be a brief shower before the main event, some ways off in the distance.
I was on the lake’s south side, waiting to see if an otter would emerge from a known den location. Jill was on the north side in case an otter eluded me and went right for the inlet to fish.
I could see Jill from across the lake, wearing a bright green hoody. She could see me based on my pounds of camera gear and facial hair.
As we waited, the sun gradually was pushed out of the sky and the storm grew fierce. Suddenly it wasn’t just rain on my camera I was worried about, it was lightening and a muddy, slippery decent to safety.
And though what I thought to be the worst of the storm was still far to the west, I had no idea what was coming over the mountains from the north.
I waited for a few minutes and then I noticed Jill’s green hoody making a run for it. Again, given that she is to weather what I am to bears, if she was running, the storm must be getting worse and it was time to evacuate.
No one was on the lake any more. I felt stunningly alone, as I gathered my gear and created a makeshift cover to protect it from the rain during transport down the trail to the car. But as I began my descent, the storm started to pick up strength and the hillside became a slip and slide.
Worried about my camera and especially my rented telephoto lens, I elected to quit fighting the inevitable and start sliding down the muddy decline on my rear.
About halfway down, soaked and muddy, I noticed a person with a green hoody ahead – when all of a sudden a bolt of lightening struck a tree between our two locations.
We both dove for cover and both were fine, but to my shock, the person looking out from the hoody wasn’t Jill but another tourist.
Where was Jill?
She must have reached the car. She must be worried.
Together, the tourist and I helped each other down the trail as quickly as we dared, praying we could escape with our lives.
When we reached our respective cars, the tourist found her husband panic-stricken and over the moon to see that his wife was safe.
My wife, you ask? She was nowhere to be found.
My panic levels increased and after I quickly dumped my gear into the car’s back seat, I began running the one mile, 500 foot trail back to Trout Lake in search of Jill. Lightening and mudslides be damned.
As I reached the top, I started yelling like a crazy person. But as I started rounding the lake, the most amazing thing happened. The sun came out.
You see, Trout Lake has what you would call a microclimate and though it is a tiny mountain lake, I learned that it isn’t uncommon for the weather to be different on each shore.
When I reached the inlet on the north side, I found another green hoody-wearing woman peaking out from the wildflowers, calmly wondering why I was yelling.
Jill was completely out of view from the south side, as she was kneeling amongst the wildflowers, trying to capture a few macro photos of the scene after the recent, gentle sprinkling of rain. While she heard the thunder, she never thought it was as close as it turned out to be. Like on the other side of the lake.
And she had no clue of the recent drama, looking, as always, shocked to find me mud-covered and frantic.
Just another day in the wilderness for us. Jill gets the shots. While I create the story. We’re here all week, folks.
Founder of the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition, Simon Jackson is a storyteller, connector and movement builder committed to improving our pubic discourse and shaping a better balance between the needs of people and nature. His GhostBearPhotography.com column appears on the first Saturday of every month.