While my friends in Nelson have been biking for some weeks now, until recently its still been darned cold up here. The days are long however, and the sun is always shining, so the wilderness has been calling. I had some time a few weeks ago to get out and do two camping trips in one week. As with most things up here, they were both memorable and legendary.
The first camping trip was with my friend Barbara, also referred to on this blog as Camping Barbara, because of her plan to camp out once a week for a whole year. She was in Yellowknife in March, and so we planned an adventure. I had a perfect little camping spot in mind, just waiting for such an occasion. When I came up to look Yellowknife over last February, prior to moving here, we explored some ski trails neat town, but across the main lake. Along one trail, we came across what I thought was the most romantic camping spot ever. A white canvas walled Prospector Tent, of gold rush style fame, was tucked in amongst the trees, beside a small lake. Inside was a small stove and a raised sleeping platform (hence off the cold ground). The floor was carpeted with sweet smelling fir boughs and there was even a Caribou fur rug. I eventually was able to discover its owner, and get permission to spend a night there. Neither Barbara or I thought it would be very much fun at minus 30, but as the temperatures had risen to the minus teens we thought we might brave it.
What followed is a classic example of how as humans we hear and see what we want, what we are looking for, rather than what actually happened. The sages know this fact well of course, and I know of it too, but this trip was a great lesson in my own selective hearing.
I was telling a seasoned camping friend about the site, and our plans, and she asked what type of stove the tent had. I described it, and she say “Oh yes, the hippie killer variety of stove”. What I heard of course was ‘nice and warm and snug stove’, and what she meant of course was ‘killer stove’. You can just imagine where this story is going.
Barbara and I loaded up our sleds later one evening, complete with some firewood, and walked the 30 minutes or so across the lake and through the forest trails to the tent. The walk was pure magic. There was a full moon before us, and arcing across the sky, seeming arising from the moon, was a thin bright green band of dancing northern lights, reaching across the sky from horizon to horizon, encircling us like the great comforting arm of God. And perhaps indeed it was.
It didn’t take long to set up our sleeping bags and get a cheery fire going, and the tent warmed up in no time. We settled into our bags, and Kona the dog sprawled across the caribou fur rug. Barbara, having just come off a very busy work week, fell into a deep sleep immediately. I was reading and drifting off to sleep when I realized the smoke was getting a bit irritating on my eyes. I tried to ignore it, but shortly thereafter Kona exited the tent, squeezing his way out under the zippered door. This dog likes to sleep for 15 hours straight, so this was decided not normal behaviour. Nor was he at all interested in coming back in. At this point I realized the tent was so full of smoke it was hard to see across it. Barbara was still sleeping happily and deeply, but eventually woke when I opened the tent flap to let fresh air in. Then I realized that there was no smoke coming out the chimney – instead the air was coming down the chimney and out into the tent via the air intake. After trying various things we realized we weren’t going to be able to reverse this killer direction of air flow, and had to douse the flames with snow. After severely airing out the tent, we were able to go back to bed, now at outside temperatures. We had winter bags and were warm enough, but it wasn’t the cozy and romantic sleep I’d pictured from the first time I’d seen the tent. So much of life is like that – what you think will be wonderful is often not, and yet a seemingly prosaic experience can be sublimely meaningful. I imagine this has to do with expectation, which perhaps dulls our sense of being in the moment.
Barbara, a champion sleeper, credits me with saving her life, as she was so tired she thinks she might not have woken up. I find that hard to believe, but am happy not to know for sure. I do know I won’t be getting that smoke smell out of my winter sleeping bag any time soon!