In a Nutshell: Fire And Rain
Like aboriginal drumbeats in a misty dream, the raindrops pranced down the nylon walls of our Marmot Nutshell tent. The taped seams of the tent’s bathtub-style floor had already succumbed and had been leaking for some time. We were moist to the core. The shelter undoubtedly reeked of wet wool and humidity-ripened perspiration, but our olfactory response systems were blasé about the matter. Wind soughed outside, a feral interloper who wanted our scalps. The nearby creek, a mere achilles-dampening rill but 24 hours ago, had been transformed by the relentless precipitation into a nearly fathom-deep torrent.
We had ventured into the Adirondacks two days before on a sun-dappled afternoon redolent with the fresh piquancy of beech leaves and wood sorrel. My wife and I, lifelong backpackers, were intent on climbing several peaks in the Dix Range. In high spirits and with the loads on our backs lightened by the rosy glow of our mutual love, we tromped past Chapel Pond and followed the north fork of the Bouquet River for 4 miles or so to where we selected a delightful campsite near the creek.
Erecting the tent, hanging our food bag in a tree out of reach of hungry bears; we settled into the peaceful rhythm of forest sojourners.
It didn’t begin dramatically, as I recall. No bolts of lightning wracked the placid blue sky. The welkin was not rumbled by a chorus of irritable thunder. No, it was more as if a damp grey veil imperceptibly slid itself into place across the face of blue heaven. Drizzle began. We were not daunted, we knew it would halt soon. The drizzle quickened to a steady downpour which squelched our self-assurance and ushered us under shelter.
Within a few hours, the Afton-like sweetness of the river had burgeoned to a snarling freshet. Hungry, we soon realized that our bag of food now hung suspended over the rapids. After a brief consultation, we arrived at a plan. Bethany lashed my knife to a long alder pole while I crawled out onto a tenuously anchored logjam downstream. I waited as she reached out across the torrent and sawed asunder the rope between us and sustenance. The bag of food plummeted into the Bouquet and rushed towards me. Scooping it from the water, I made my way across the slippery logs and we ducked back into the tent to feast on crumbly pita bread, pepperoni, and dried apricots.
For the next 48 plus hours, those nylon walls were our perspective on the rugged beauty of the Adirondack forest. Cards were played as Nature played her hand, and we were happy to be together in that cramped space, provoked by forces unforeseen to a freshening of our marriage. Only solitude and a common enemy have the power to rejuvenate appreciation and fortify bonds assailed by the mindless scramble of so-called civilization.
The rain continued unabated until it seemed like only a slightly less benign form of sunshine. We emerged from the Nutshell to stretch our cramped appendages and decided that a fire would be nice. Prior to this, fire restrictions had been enacted during this uncharacteristically dry summer. We took it upon ourselves to decide that the DEC would not mind if we tried to try to squeeze some flames out of the now thoroughly saturated forest duff.
Birchbark and patience were a combustible combination and soon we were soaking up the heat of the warmest, most benevolent fire that had ever graced my rain-puckered skin. I can still see that place, in that time, well over a decade ago…
Beneath the canopy of sodden trees, a young couple, clad only in underwear, dry their clothes on sticks over a roaring blaze. They smile at each other, eyes like sparks, as they realize that adversity is no match for them. Laid on hot rocks around the fire, socks sizzle a drying lullaby as rain wets them all over again. A downpour has failed to quench love. The fire burns, and in a Nutshell, what is truly needed is kept safe.
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.- Edward Abbey
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