Stormy

As I write this, rain strafes the canvas panels above my head. We are snug in our Overland 5000 Sunforger tent during another day of stormy weather – not the largest storm that we have been through, but one with plenty of wind and rain. Living on the Oregon coast, we have experienced our fair share of storms throughout the past few months, and now that we are well into the rainy season, blustery days are the norm.

Recently, we went through a storm that had wind gusts of 60+ MPH accompanied by lots of rain. The wind was so intense that trees and branches crashed down throughout the night, making explosive noises as they cracked. The power threatened to go out when a tree branch fell on a transformer box down the road from us – thankfully, our power held. The rain drummed loudly on the tent, making it impossible to sleep until the wee hours of the morning. Despite being battered by wind, our little tent made it through the storm. 

It is difficult to describe what storms are like out here. I found myself at a loss when trying to explain it during a phone call with my mom. Words like ‘intense’ and ‘powerful’ seemed right, but weren’t able to convey the massive, raw energy of the wind as it went howling by, loud as a jet plane. Or the way the trees danced in circles and swung about wildly, creaking and groaning. Or the way the rain sheeted down, filling the lower cow fields until a lake appeared, overnight. I wanted to share exactly what it felt like to stand outside at night in the midst of the swirling energy of a storm, but fell short. It was both exhilarating and frightening; powerful and cleansing. 

I used to have a disproportionate fear of storms. This fear was heightened when we began living on the land in our tent – first a Nylon tent, and then a canvas bell tent.  I worried all the time when the weather turned – I was afraid of trees breaking and smashing us, or tent poles snapping in the wind, or one of us getting soaked and becoming hypothermic. After gritting my teeth while riding out several storms, I finally realized that it was not the storm itself that I was afraid of, but the fact that I had no control. I had no power over the wind, whether it was light or gusting. I could not gentle the rain when it beat down wildly, shaking our shelter. I could not lessen a storm as it squalled over our farm for three days and nights, keeping us awake at night. It was a humbling lesson – I had to realize, and accept, that worrying was a choice since I had zero control over the natural forces around us.

My journal entry for a storm system we weathered on September 23, 2020 reads:

“I thought I wouldn’t have a lot to write about today, as most of the day was spent knitting, reading and holding Penny. It was a blustery day, with high winds and rain off and on. I drank cup after cup of tea and hung out with Pat & Pen.

Around 4 PM, it started really pouring – we could see sheets of rain coming down across the valley. It was a torrential downpour with some big wind. The garage started flooding, and we were worried it would reach the refrigerator. We worked on the flood issue during the evening: I swept the water out of the garage with a broom, and made a flood barricade from plastic and paper bags, while Pat strung up a tarp to direct water away from the garage doors.

It feels like so much is out of my control right now with the wildfires/smoke situation, storms, etc. I hate feeling powerless. But I can think reasonably: maybe this experience will show me that when faced with challenges, I can be powerful. I can keep Pat, Penny and myself safe. That no matter how scared I get, I can access something within myself that will get us through it.

I wonder if tonight as I lay in our tent and feel damp and listen to the rain, if I can find the beauty in the present moment. Despite my nerves feeling wound tight, I can feel gratitude for this rain that will nourish the land, fill the ponds with fresh water, clean the smoke out of the air, help put out the wildfires, on and on….”

Fear can be an important teacher. It can also be limiting, a boundary set that restricts our freedom. My fear, manifesting as excessive worrying, had kept me from growing, from deeply knowing that I was resilient and capable. At the outdoor school we used to work for, we taught a weeklong survival skills course for kids, teens and adults. During the course, campers had the opportunity to go on their own multiday survival trek, either in groups or solo. Part of the curriculum of the course was focused on overcoming challenges and working through fear.  While we taught hands-on skills such as building shelters, creating fire and foraging for food, the most important part of the course to me was that each person had the opportunity to realize their capability. They could experience a situation that was tough, or felt unmanageable, and find the tenacity within themselves to get through it.  Or, they could experience failure and realize that that was OK, too, and that they could try again when they were ready. Fundamentally, the outcome was their choice.

During one stormy day on the farm, I found my mind drifting back over these outdoor school memories, and realized that I, too, had a choice. It made me think of a Ram Dass quote, “you can do it like it’s a great weight, or you can do it like it’s a dance.” I could experience the variations of weather out here on the farm as something I had to “get through,” or for my own peace, I could see more: I watched how the wind danced through the tall trees, deeply bending them; I saw the clouds sweep across the sky, trailing mist; I learned the patterns of the small streams and rivulets created by heavy rains. When I saw past my fear, I was able to appreciate the wild, powerful beauty of the coastal storms.

My journal entry for January 2, 2021 reads:

“Stormy days, stormy nights! This weekend’s storm rolled in around noon today. Right now at 5:30 PM there are some pretty monster gusts coming in. There is a lot of power in the wind and this storm – it hurtles through the big trees, bending them until I imagine they will have to break, but they don’t. There is a certain beauty to it, raw and coursing. I’m learning to not fear it, I can see the beauty, too….”

There is great opportunity here, in being challenged and working through it.

Settling In

At the beginning of October, we moved into our 20 ft Whiteduck Outdoors Avalon canvas bell tent. We had been living in our 6-person Northface Wawona nylon tent, sleeping on the ground on our camping pads. We were in a little clearing sheltered by bamboo, rhododendrons, and chestnut trees. While I didn’t mind sleeping on the ground, waking up to soaked blankets due to condensation got old, fast. The weather was getting colder and wetter, making us look forward to getting set up in the canvas tent and having a shelter that was more durable. We had also received our Camp Chef Alpine woodstove and spent an afternoon seasoning it. We were excited to use it during the increasingly chilly nights.

I didn’t fully realize just how large the tent would be until we laid out the tarp – it was huge! With most of the farm overgrown with Himalayan blackberries, it was difficult to find an area that would be able to properly hold the tent and its guylines.  Even if we had a flat cleared area for the tarp, we needed to have an additional three feet (minimum) on all sides for the guylines. Our only option at the time was to set up in the high fields while we worked on clearing the land down below.

It took us about an hour to set up the tent and get it tensioned properly. Pounding the stakes into the ground was an exercise in frustration as they were cheaply made and would instantly bend. It didn’t help that the mallet was also poorly made and would fly apart after a few whacks. But finally, the tent was up – and it was beautiful. I felt joy seeing our new home standing up, shining in the sun. I still remember the relief and happiness I felt that night, laying under the vaulted canvas panels. We were finally in the canvas tent we had waited so long for – a piece of our dream was now a tangible experience. Even though we were still sleeping on our camping pads it felt different, more secure. We had moved into the bones of our new home and now needed to make it truly ours.

With a rented Uhaul truck, we took a day trip to our storage unit to get furniture and other items we wanted. I was most excited about having our bed set up – the ground was getting extremely cold at night and the bed would help insulate us. The trip took most of the day, since the drive alone was 3+ hours, and by the time we returned to the farm, the light was fading quickly. We had previously emptied the tent so that Pat could shift it slightly to a hopefully flatter area. He also rotated the tent so that the stove pipe would exit on a side that wouldn’t have the wind drag ash or sparks over the canvas material. Though we were heading into the rainy season and the fire danger was low, we were in a grass field and wanted to take every precaution when we used the stove. That night we moved all the furniture into the tent, our hands gong numb as the temperature dropped.  I remember crawling into the bed that night, exhausted and cold but happy.

During the fall, I loved being up in the field. It felt cocooned and safe, held in the bowl of the hills. I loved being able to see out across the whole valley. On clear nights the stars were incredible. During the early morning when we left the tent, we watched the fog swirl around us and shimmer in the valley. On very cold mornings, the fields were covered in glittering frost that cracked under our feet as we walked down the hill. It was beautiful, and peaceful. The only downside to being up in the fields was that we were further away from our systems (kitchen, washroom) and that the tent was more exposed to the weather. The wind coming in off the coast didn’t have a tree break before it hit the tent. This gave us the motivation to continue to work hard at preparing a space for the tent that was down lower and more protected for winter. But, for the time being, we enjoyed our perch up in the rolling hills.

Three weeks after moving into our tent, we built our first fire in the woodstove and experienced our ‘hot tent.’ We had been waiting until the ground seemed saturated enough from rainy days that if a spark escaped from the stove pipe’s spark arrestor, it wouldn’t be able to catch on the grass. The woodstove heated the tent quickly and thoroughly – it must have been 70 degrees in the tent! I loved the smell and feel of a woodstove fire – I lounged in the bed feeling truly warm and dry for the first time in awhile. Living in a hot tent during late fall or winter was a luxury: the dark, cold nights didn’t seem so long now that we had the woodstove.