At 2am on the last night of the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, Andy Hillhouse barged into the camp office where Morgan (a fellow camper) and I were jamming the blues on an acoustic bass and a resonator guitar. “There you are!” he said. “We’re going swimming. Do you want to come?”
Andy had been my Celtic guitar teacher for the past week. He’s from Vancouver, but his swarthy looks and evocative songs of lonely sailors made it easy to imagine him living on some limestone bluff overlooking the Irish Sea.
“Sure!” I said. I was glad to have an excuse to prolong my last night of camp with an adventure.
Andy, Morgan, I were joined by two other campers, Rachael and Katy. We grabbed some towels from the lodge kitchen and picked our way down the trail to the lake. The starshine and lights from the hall barely illuminated the swimming platform fifty feet from shore.
The water wasn’t terribly cold, but the night air had already chilled us. Gasping and howling, one by one we swam to the platform, lingered there for as long as we could, and then raced back to our towels.
As we huddled in our towels on shore, our teeth chattering, a sputtering fireball streaked across the sky, big enough to leave a smoke trail behind. “Wow!” everyone said in unison.
“Hey, I think the Perseid meteor shower is going on tonight,” I said. Another meteor scored the dark heavens. Several others followed a minute later.
“They all seem to be in that part of the sky,” someone said.
“I think I remember from my Astronomy class that the earth is plowing through a cloud of meteors, and that part of the sky over there is the Atmospheric Bumper.”
“Maybe it’s the cosmic fairy shooting meteors at the earth with her galactic pistol,” offered Morgan.
“That’d be a great band name,” I said. Another mote of dust exploded over our heads. “When I first started the class I kept calling it Astrology. My parents weren’t too happy about paying for their son’s Astrology education.”
Then we heard it: Guttural didgeridoo blasts echoing across the water, one 8th note per beat, keeping a perfect slow tempo. It lasted for a few measures, and then went silent. “What the hell was that?” I said.
“It’s a toad,” someone said. “You hear them all the time down here. It’s its mating call.”
“Let’s try harmonizing with it,” I suggested. We all burst out laughing. “I’ll take the 3rd. Someone else take the 5th, someone else the minor 7th….”
“That’s a great idea for a class,” said Andy. “To graduate, you all have to sing an E7#9 chord with the bullfrog.” We wait for the bullfrog to sing again, stifling giggles.
“Hunnnnnnh!” said the bullfrog.
“HUNNNNNNH!” we bellowed over the amphibian’s root note. It actually kind of worked. We cackled.
Andy said, “OK, next time, let’s alternate with the bullfrog. After it sings “Hunnnh,” we sang “HUNNNH” a minor seventh higher.
“It’s the intro to Purple Haze!” I said.
Later, we floated to the middle of the lake on canoes, lying back on the seats to stargaze. Across the water from the lodge came the barely discernable sound of singing. “Is that the Beach Boys?” asked Andy?
“God Only Knows?” I said.
“God only knows what I’d be without you…” sang Andy.
“God only knows what I’d be without you…” someone else sang in a round.
“God only knows…”