I’m a parent now.
A beautiful five-month-old baby lives in my home and my heart and as such, Dry Spell will now come to you once a month.
It’s paddling season again. I’ve been on the water three times, learned how to solo paddle, booked some backcountry sites and got reacquainted with my local marsh.
Now, let’s talk tents.
Pauline Johnson (1861-1913) is primarily known for her poetry and performance art, but I adore her canoe writing from the 1890’s. She paddled the Grand River where she grew up, and traveled by train to Muskoka to trip with her pals when she was in her thirties.
Pauline and her pals camped in canvas “wall” tents. In a short essay encouraging women to give camping and canoeing a try, Pauline describes the necessary equipment as “a six by eight tent that is warranted waterproof, a rubber sheet.” The bottoms of tents were open to the ground, hence the rubber sheet.
Here is more from Pauline on tents:
“Kathie and I rolled into our little 6 by 8. The sweet scent of the cedar boughs beneath, the flicker of shadows on the canvas, the strange lulling sounds heard only in the wilderness, were our last consciousness before dropping into the delicious slumber that comes alone to the camper.” (Barry 2)
“The Hens had a respectable looking square tent, 8 x 10. The boys rejoiced in a dingy old canvas centre pole affair that had evidently done duty on various previous campings, and Kathie and I boasted a brand new pink striped wigwam, shaped like a dog kennel and that smelt of hemp.” (A Week in the Wildcat)
Esther Keyser (1915-2005) started a tripping business taking clients, mostly women, to camp in Algonquin Park.
Esther almost always slept out under the stars. If the weather was wet or stormy, she slept under a canoe. If the bugs were bothersome, she put a shirt or towel over her face and snuggled into her blankets. But her clients preferred to sleep in tents.
Here is more from Esther on tents:
At first I was reluctant to spend so much of my meagre budget on tents, but I found these new ones to be an improvement over the large wall tents we have used at Northway Lodge. Unlike the wall tents, the new pup tents had floors and mosquito netting. Because they slept only two people, they were smaller, lighter and easier to pack. To pitch these tents, we would cut short stakes for each corner and long stakes to elevate the front and the back of the tent and to spread out its sides. Conveniently located trees, roots, rocks, branches and bushes provided alternate anchors for the tent ties.
I have a Mountain Equipment Co-op-era MEC tent called the Tarn 3. My husband bought it before we met, and he figures it’s about 14 years old. One night in Algonquin the rain came hard and fast and my tentmate announced our tent was leaking. Our friend had brought a small, lightweight siltarp and confidently helped me tie it down over our fly. It did the trick and kept additional rain out during a spectacular thunder and lighting storm. When I got home I spent hours waterproofing my tent and poured water over it to test it. I also bought my own siltarp figuring the $100 investment was worth it just in case. The next summer it happened again - the same tent leaked in the same way. This time it was my siltarp to the rescue, and a new tentmate was impressed with the speed and confidence with which I remedied the situation. You shouldn’t be impressed, I told him, it just means this exact situation has already happened to me! I’m not sure if I need an annual waterproofing session or a new tent.
Last summer I slept in my friend Emily’s new North Face Stormbreak tent. The biggest difference was that there were two vestibules - we could lie side by side and each have our own door. I left my vestibule open most nights. It was a completely different sleeping experience from the Tarn. Now the Tarn feels like a coffin, tube-like and dark. One night I watched the silhouette of a mouse climb the exterior of the fly. The moon was almost full during the trip and I woke throughout the night because the bright moonlight fell on my face through the screen window. Every time I woke I admired the silhouettes of trees, and the stars and moon reflected in the water from my pillow.
Thanks for reading Dry Spell. I’d love to know what you think; please feel free to leave a comment or reply to this email!
Hi Grace, This blog resonated as I recently returned from a camping trip having experienced water leaking into my tent two nights ... after making a move and adjustments after the first night, I still had water in the tent on the second night of rain. I experienced this last year also, and invested time and money for waterproofing and a ground sheet with no success. So, this tent may have served me well after 20 years ... It seems a part of my story and I really don't want to part with it.
No one else will want a leaking tent! Any ideas on re-purposing a tent? Thanks for sharing this. Deb