little dowse on the prairie

My family moved across the province when I was just completing the sixth grade. My pre-teen relationships had just begun to meld for me at that time, and it was a particularly difficult transition to leave my friends behind and move into an even smaller community. Forging friendships with people who were uninterested in new companions was a huge challenge for this introvert, so it was with excitement that I packed a weekend duffel bag the following summer and headed back to my old stomping grounds where I met up with a dear friend.

We planned the most fantastic weekend, and it was all going to take place out about a mile from the farmhouse. Just her, me, and the lovely two man pup tent to call home. We threw a whack of snacks into a bag, grabbed a couple of sleeping bags, and trekked out into the sunshine to find a spot to sleep.

The tall grass next to the river beckoned us, waving us closer to the soothing ripples of the water. We threw our load down and pulled out the pieces of the tent, taking awhile to figure out how to put it all together. The final shape looked more like a bowtie than a triangle, but no matter. We were anxious to get on to more exciting things … namely, the cool fresh water of the rippling stream.

Our dismay that we had forgotten our bathing suits only lasted a moment, because as two free young innocent girls, we decided that bathing suits in the vast back country of the Alberta prairie were unnecessary, and we wanted to make it a night to remember! We giggled and wiggled out of our clothes, being careful not to look at each other, then jumped off a bank into the current with abandon and oblivion, hitting the knee deep mud at the bottom of the water with an oozing thud. Slowly trudging our way into deeper water, we swam for awhile, until the itching on our legs persuaded us to get back out and get dressed. Once we were clothed and in our right minds, we ate the marshmallows and crackers we had packed, and settled down for an evening of chatter.

I have always pondered the ridiculous ratings for tent sizes. Two man, four man, eight man … who the heck are these little men they measure with? Have you ever actually fit four people into a four man tent? Standing up, may-be, but certainly not lined up in any possible comfortable way (unless comfortable means folded in half.)

So the two man pup was a bit of a tight squeeze for us girls, and there was hardly enough room for the extra marshmallows and multiple editions of Tiger Beat magazine with “Shaun Cassidy” pinups. Plus the awkward shape was beginning to become problematic, as we both needed to slightly bend to the right at the centre to fit. Plus, the tall soft grass we pitched on had concealed a gopher hole, so we maneuvered our sleeping bags and periodicals to a position that was “just right.”

Although the grassy cushion was comfortable, our choice of location had inadvertently disturbed the largest tribe of Alberta mosquitos imaginable. I say “tribe” because these animals had claimed kingship over the land, and when the sun began to set, they raised themselves up in a chaotic symphony that rescinded into a roar, prowling around and within the tent, before deciding to attack en mass at any exposed skin they could sniff out. Their nasty bites, along with the increasingly itchy rashes from our earlier dip in the stream, began to dampen our spirits, and we determined to lay as still as possible, hoping the darkness would calm the attackers and our nerves.

Falling asleep was an astoundingly exceptional achievement, but it was short lived. Sometime between midnight and the stroke of luck, the loudest crack of thunder ever known to man exploded outside our tent. Immediately following came the intense rush of wild wind, that twisted the tent until it was almost straight, then wrenched it back mercilessly until the supporting beam within the shelter gave way, leaving the two of us to desperately grab hold of the inside of the collapsing walls to keep them from wrapping us up like a piggies-in-a-blanket.

The rain-god of Beaver County had apparently been cranky that day, for he decided to rain nails rather than water drops. They pounded against the flimsy flapping walls of the tent (which was now shaped more like a fish bladder than a bow-tie) until we finally, agonizingly, gave in to the misery. We grabbed our wet blankets and sopping marshmallows, left the tent to fend for itself, and took the long two mile journey back to the house, with mosquitoes dodging the rain in hot pursuit.

We eventually made it to the house, collapsed on her soft bed, and slept til noon. It had been, by far, the most glorious night of my young life.

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