This story was originally published on June 5, 2013
“This happened when I was a camp counselor and canoe instructor at a kids’ camp in central Ontario, Canada in the late 80’s. A couple of things to know about me: I am a very experienced outdoorsman, and I don’t scare easily. Even at the time that this story took place, although I was only 17, I’d already spent many nights alone in the wilderness. I know what sounds the woods make and what animals do what. What we experienced was none of the above.
Our camp was on an island in a very big lake with many rivers coming in and out and several portages to other lakes. While planning a three-day trip for my campers, I asked about one camp site near a dam and was told by the trip director that the site was ‘closed.’ The reason is that two summers prior, a group from the only other camp on the lake went there and, tragically, they lost a camper. A boy of about 11 drowned at the top of the dam when the counselors weren’t watching. Tragic. Nonetheless, I wanted to take my group there, and was told I could, as long as we didn’t let the kids swim near the dam. Done deal.
We arrived at the site on the last day of our trip. It had been very stormy for two days, but the weather had settled and there was no wind, although the sky was completely overcast.
There were a few strange things that happened during the day, such as a towel and t-shirt disappearing from a clothesline near the tent site. They somehow ended up in the water at the top of the damn several meters away, even with no wind. Twice I had to swim down to retrieve the items, and I admit, it crossed my mind while I was at the bottom that this may well have been where the boy’s body ended up. I have had many ghost experiences, and have learned that I’m just sensitive to them. Although at that time, I kept things pretty ‘turned off.’ Nonetheless, there was a creepy feeling growing around us, and I don’t think I was the only one who felt it. But no one said anything.
At dusk, we were gathered around the campfire. It was not yet fully dark, and we were washing up and tidying the campsite before settling in front of the fire to pass the rest of the evening. Our group consisted of two 17-year-old counselors and eight 12-year-old boys. We were laughing and horsing about when we first heard it. The sound stopped everyone in their tracks.
If you’ve ever heard a big tree fall in the forest, it does indeed make a sound; a really loud one. They make popping and cracking sounds, so loud that at first you don’t know if it’s gunshots or what. That’s what we heard. The evening was completely still with not even a breeze, but somewhere nearby (I would have guessed within 50 feet of our site) a big-ass tree fell. It took about ten seconds and we heard every part of it, right until it hit the ground. When a big tree falls, you can feel the earth shake and shudder. I’ve logged trees before, and this one sounded close. But apart from the sound, we saw and felt nothing else.
Everyone was terrified. My buddy was so jonesing for a cigarette that he was useless, and he had the same look on his face as the kids. I decided to try to be cool about it and told everyone that it was likely a bear pushing over dead trees looking for grubs. That was a stone-faced lie, and there about 10 good reasons why this was a ridiculous hypothesis, (including the fact that bears don’t do that), but I needed something to appease everyone and that popped out. I went with it, and they believed me.
‘Let’s build up the fire and make some noise, and it will scare him away,’ I said.
So we did. We sang, we banged pots and pans, and after 45 minutes everyone was chilled out. It was also now pitch black on a starless, moonless night. Then it happened again. However, this time it sounded much farther off, perhaps a quarter-mile away. Everyone looked at me for reassurance, and I said, ‘See? We’re good… it’s moving off.’ We were still mighty unsettled, but somewhat reassured that it did seem to be going farther away, which is what you want bad things to do.
We all relaxed and the evening wore on until about an hour later when it happened again. This time the sound was so close to where I was standing that I felt like a tree was going to fall on top of us. It was right beside me, I swear, but I saw nothing… I mean LOUD, and it was a big tree. Every pop and crack pierced our ears and made us jump. I fully expected it to fall right on top of us, but nothing happened. We heard it, but we saw nothing, and again there was no ground shudder when the tree hit, which seemed impossible to me. Everyone stood frozen in terror, looking for me to give the call to ‘run for your life,’ and looking like they might just kill me if I didn’t. My own fear finally took over, and I couldn’t hold it together anymore.
‘Okay,’ I said. “Let’s get out of here.’
In a flash, everyone was gone down the short path leading to the boats, including the other counselor. I had meant, ‘let’s pack up and do this orderly’, but no such luck. One kid had stayed beside me, so with his help I put out the fire and did a quick sweep of the place. We then went down to the waters’ edge to find the one canoe they had left for us. We paddled out into the channel and found the others rafted up and waiting. The first question I asked was, ‘who has a life jacket on?’.
No one did. Not one person. Not even the other counselor. WTF? I was already unsure if I was going to keep my job for paddling at night, but the idea of paddling across a big lake at night without life jackets was a guaranteed ‘end of summer’ for both of us… never mind the obvious peril.
Looking at the faces of everyone with the one flashlight that had managed to make it onto a boat, I realized there was no way anyone but me was going back there. Fuck. I had one camper in my canoe, so he climbed into another boat and I paddled back alone. They were so terrified that they wouldn’t even give me the flashlight.
Once I hit the woods, it was the kind of dark that is the same with your eyes open or closed. I started up the short trail to where the tents were. I fully admit that I was terrified, but I knew I had to do it, and that was it. I remember talking out loud as I wandered toward the site.
‘Okay, whatever you are… I guess if you’re going to get me you’re going to get me, but I need these life jackets, and I need to keep these kids safe.’
In retrospect, I knew what or who was doing all this, and maybe I was pleading my case a bit, hoping for mercy. I also kind of felt a bit of responsibility, and talked to ‘him’ in the way I would one of my campers. Perhaps that made a difference.
My plan was to find my way to my tent, as I knew I’d left my flashlight sitting in front of it before the lights went out. Without that, I’d never find the lifejackets or the path back down to the water. However, this proved to be unnecessary. I’m not sure if this is coincidence, but somehow, in the complete darkness, right after I said that, I took one or two steps and found all the life jackets piled together right at my feet. I’m an organized trip leader, and I like a clean campsite. However, I recall that we were having a lazy day and things were a bit disheveled. I hadn’t put all the life jackets in a pile that I recall. Further, I was with a group of typical messy and lazy boys and an equally lazy co-counselor, and I’m sure none of them did it. Nonetheless, somehow, in the absolute pitch darkness (I mean, hands out in front of your face, shuffling your feet rather than lift them), the very first thing I found was the pile of life jackets. Counting the life jackets as I picked them up, I found every last one and then turned around and was back at my boat a minute later. That still amazes me.
We paddled back across the lake at night and made it to the main camp. Everyone made fun of us, although no one had an explanation. They said we were lying and wouldn’t let it go. I can’t blame them. It was terrifying because we were all at the beginning of a summer in which everyone would repeatedly be going out to the woods.
I went on to become a full instructor and trip guide. I’ve done epic trips since then that others only dream of, but I’ve never experienced anything like that, before or since, and I’ve experienced everything out there except a Sasquatch. I’ve asked every old salt, park ranger, and aboriginal Canadian I’ve met about the experience. The only people who aren’t completely stumped by it are the aboriginals (First Nations Canadians). Their answer is simple:
‘That was an angry spirit. You’re lucky you were respectful to it.’
The last detail to add is that we went back the next day to retrieve the gear that we had left behind, but we found no evidence of fallen trees. We didn’t really want to linger there, as you might imagine, but I was pissed and wanted an explanation so I made everyone wait while I walked the woods in the daylight. There was not one tree down….. absolutely nothing to indicate that even a single tree had fallen the night before within several hundred yards of us.
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