Clouds come from time to time, and give men a chance to rest from looking at the sun.Henry David Thoreau
Readers of my blog will know by now that I grew up in western Washington. That means I grew up under gray skies and frequent rain showers. My family never canceled camping trips because it might rain. Of course it might rain. We would never go any where if plans were dependent on the promise of clear skies. Our camping equipment always included rain coats, rubber boots, and plenty of dependable tarps, which my dad skillfully placed over the picnic table to assure that there would be at least one place in camp where we could sit on a dry bench and where my mother could prepare a meal. I recall even sitting around a campfire in the rain, hood pulled over my head, listening to the sizzling sound of rain drops fall on the hot grill, watching the steam rise from the fire.
I actually was rather fond of those rainy days. Since I have always loved to read, I would sit under the tarp with a book opened on the picnic table before me. It was not a bad way to spend one’s time, and I believe it taught me an important lesson about how to make the best of a bad situation. The sound of rain on a roof has always been comforting to me, a reminder that I remain safe and dry in a world that can be wet and cold and has no interest in making life easy and comfortable for me.
I suppose a correction is necessary here. It is not the rain that is comforting, but the satisfaction of staying warm and dry in spite of it. Most backpackers will at some point in their hiking careers encounter such challenges. One of my earliest nights in a rain shower occurred many years ago, before the days of light weight rip stop nylon and Gore-Tex. I had hiked to a mountain lake in an area that is now called the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, east of Seattle. The rain started shortly after I had set up my tent, a task that did not take long, for it consisted simply of lightweight plastic material that is held up in the front and back with two vertical poles, what used to be called a “pup tent.” I had bought it for thirty-five dollars at a local hardware store. It did not have a rain fly.
I did not even carry a stove in those days but instead cooked over the fire. My father had taught me well, and I became quite skilled at starting fires, even in the rain. After a quick supper of mashed potatoes with onion soup, it seemed silly to douse the fire with water, but I did so anyway, perhaps because I was hopeful that the rain would stop.
It did not. I retreated to my tent that was not much of a tent and sometime during the night awoke to find most of my belongings floating. I had stayed above the water on a sleeping pad, but the warm clothes I had taken off before climbing into my sleeping bag were so wet that I had to step outside of my tent to wring them out. In doing so I noticed that the nearby creek had overflowed its banks and was flowing through my tent, rather like a tunnel, a temporary diversion. I took down the tent with the aid of a flashlight and began the hasty hike back to my car just as the sun was beginning to rise and there was sufficient light to see the trail without a flashlight. It was one of those trips when I told myself, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” Fortunately such thoughts were typically gone the next day. All it took was dry clothes.
There were many more hikes in the rain. There were also many more gear improvements. Gore-Tex eliminated the need for heavy ponchos, which kept the rain off but the sweat in and were cumbersome besides. I have had a few more leaking tents but none so bad as that night in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. And I took several trips in which it rained for many days at a time, forcing me to alter my plans and hang out in my tent with a book. It may not be as comfortable as the tarp and the picnic table once was, but it is dry. And there is the added satisfaction of a pot of tea, which I keep warm by wrapping it in my down vest.
As an aging woman who cannot help but reminisce, I am surprised at how satisfying these memories are: sitting in the confined space of a small backpacking tent with a book and a cup of tea. I have zipped the down sleeping bag up around my chest to stay warm. I depart my tent periodically when there is a lull in the rain to perform camp chores, heat water for meals, answer the call of nature.
I carry these memories close to my heart as a reminder. Life is difficult from time to time, Storms happen. Rain falls. It is all right. I have a cup of tea and a book.