Soggy shoes, dripping trees and bright green leaves. Whatever would entice me to go camping in the pouring rain? Maybe just the fact that I can. Maybe because if I wait until summer arrives I’ll never take the time. Either way, on Wednesday morning Alyssa and I made a run to the store for a few groceries then loaded up the car. With the GPS set to Merrill Lake, Cougar, WA, we headed north on 503. We drove in light rain through some of the most beautiful countryside; the last curvy miles skirting Yale Lake before turning off toward the much smaller Merrill Lake. A wooden cutout of Smokey Bear let us know the obvious; fire danger was currently “LOW”. Neither a person nor vehicle could be seen as we followed the posted 5mph into the gravel lot. The lake spread before us and woods surrounded us. A wooden sign reminded us to release any fish we caught, haul out our trash, not stay more than three days, and be careful of our fires. Off to one side was an old fashioned water pump designated, “Not Potable”.
Leaving Alyssa and Tia in the car, I pulled on my hat and took a tour of the ten walk-in campsites. Pausing at an unlit bathroom with a lonely looking pit toilet, I quickly lost my smugness at having remembered my blow dryer. I was coming to realize that this was no KOA, but it had lots of potential and was definitely peaceful. I settled on site #6; up a little higher up for good drainage and a filtered view of the grey waters of the lake. The rain halted long enough for us to pack in our gear. Thankfully we’d kept it pretty simple, leaving behind most comforts and special cooking items. As we made our way repeatedly down the same trail we were able to take in the sights and sounds of our temporary home. Squirrels scampered lightly up trees, a blue heron called with a hoarse, broken honk over the lake. Due to heavy clouds, the evening was setting in early, making it impossible to discern the various little birds flitting about.
Neat paths dissected the woods; lushly lined with bright green sorrel, yellow violets, buttercups and a multitude of other plants. The forest was comprised of mature old maples, feathery hemlocks and wiry vine maples. Towering over them all were massive fir trees whose girth Alyssa couldn’t begin to embrace.
Once packed in, we quickly placed a ground tarp, positioned and set the tent, then threw a large tarp over all. This was promising to be a wet trip and we were going to at least be dry while sleeping. Thanks to daughter Telina’s advice, I’d come prepared with rope and duct tape. We used them as needed to secure the tarp over the tent and create a small entrance porch.
The empty fire pit beckoned me. I’m not a pyromaniac in that I love to torch things to see them consumed, but I do love starting fires to create something warm and inviting. And I admit I don’t want to resort to fire starters (or torches, as son Naaman suggested). I like sticks, a bit of newspaper and a match (but no, I’m not interested in using a flint and steel or whatever it is the cowboys used). It began to rain again as I scrounged the woods for dry stuff. Alyssa wisely worked on setting up inside the tent. An hour passed, then two. Occasionally I asked Alyssa to pass me a little more newspaper. I doggedly fanned my pathetic attempts with a battered paper plate with little results. Alyssa gently tried to question why I even needed to build the fire but I’d have none of it. I was determined to do this. I pondered though, if God may be working on my pride issue. Finally, I was licked. My thumb was bleeding profusely from where I’d caught it between the soggy log and the butt of the hatchet. I turned my back on the fire and told Alyssa, “That’s it. I’m done. If God wants us to have a fire, He’s going to have to make it happen!” I kid you not; she came out of the tent just in time to see the flames leap into life. I was almost giddy as I said simply, “Thank you. Thank you, God”. As the bigger logs caught and turned to coals we walked down to the lake. Low clouds hung over the water, contrasted by the dark hills on the opposite shore. With the sun obscured, not a hint of color touched the silvered water.
The need for supper drove us back to the fire where we roasted our hotdogs. Pulling our chairs up to the fire pit we enjoyed every bite of our sumptuous meal before the rain began to pelt us in earnest again. We crawled in the tent and, bundled up in four layers of clothes, beanies and fleece sleeping bag liners, we played several games of mancala. With our tent pitched under the trees, the rain didn’t fall in a constant, predictable pattern; it splatted randomly down. This made for some unusual sound effects and coupled with the solitude, excess caffeine, and lack of cell service, our minds began to play tricks on us. Our simple game became tense; I’d pretend to be pondering a move at length as I listened carefully to identify a sound. Was that someone talking? A car door slamming? I’d crawl to the tent door, heart hammering and poke my head out under the zipper. Nothing. We’d smile at each other and assure each other that we weren’t scared; after all, there may be big bad guys out there but God was much bigger. Beanies back over the ears and the game resumed. Over and over again.
At 10:30 we were snuggled down in our bags with the light off, sharing ear buds and listening to “Adventures in Odyssey”. I was peacefully dozing. Suddenly Alyssa sat up and motioned. I yanked off my hat to listen. Sure enough, there were people laughing in the distance and dull clanking sounds. I decided that it was someone bringing in a small boat; why in the pitch dark, I have no idea, but it was the best I could come up with.
The grey light of morning finally came. A raucous crow cawing overhead got Alyssa to sit up and face the day. She confessed that she hadn’t slept a wink. I knew better. I recalled some nocturnal discussions based on dreams. I hadn’t slept the best either but camping is about more than sleeping; it’s about experience, and discoveries and memories. It is the extremes that we recall in later years and take out to ponder; the darkest, the lightest, the hottest and coldest. It’s the in-betweens we often forget.
I pulled my wet coat on over my other layers and cramming on my soaked hiking shoes, I crawled out to make breakfast. But first, coffee. Oh, the glorious sight of steam coming up from the pot and the golden bubbles gurgling into the glass knob on top. Though the rain still fell steadily, things were looking up already. I ate my raindrop infused scrambled eggs sitting damply under the porch, gazing out across the lake. Alyssa cuddled Tia in the tent with a big mug of hot chocolate to wash the eggs down.
We’d planned to stay until Thursday but the wet, muddy shoes and coats said the logical decision was to pack it up and try again another day. I knew that it would never be the same when we came back. There would be humans to share this space with, sunlight streaming through the trees, boats on the water. But it would be good and we’d make more memories.
It’s Thursday morning now. All the laundry is done, the gear is packed away and the tents and tarps washed and drying in the garage. I’m glad we made that short, impulsive camping trip in the rain. I learned a lot. I learned that if you’re going to go camping in the rain you should pack mud boots and a real raincoat. I learned that, sadly, I fear my fellow man more than wild animals. I learned that if I’m not careful, fear can poke holes in my trust in God if I don’t pray away the fear. And lastly, I learned that attitude is nearly everything; circumstances are just there and it’s what we make of them that counts.