In Nebraska, we have a saying, “It’s raining so hard it looks like a cow peeing on a flat rock.” Apparently in the last few weeks in Nebraska, the cows have been drinking entirely too much water because it’s been raining day and night, two of my best friends have flooded houses, and I’ve spent more late nights in the basement with the tornado siren blaring outside than I care to count. Yet despite these blaring warning signs, our family decided to pack up our car during a rainstorm, travel 120 miles outside our comfortable, dry home, and venture into a state park where we pitched a canvas tent that sat preciously on a bed of native prairie grasses full of hundreds of indigenous ticks under a large 400-year-old tree with a hollow trunk inhabited by a tribe of cranky red ants. As we unloaded the car, I looked up at the skies which appeared to be becoming brighter by the minute. “Look at that, everyone!” I said, always the eternal optimist, especially when it was my idea to continue on with the trip despite the weather forecast. “It looks like the rain is stopping!”
Just as we staked the last pole, I felt a raindrop hit my nose. “Did you just feel something?” I asked my husband.
“Yep,” he answered. “Better get the kids and the dog in the tent.”
Two seconds later, the sky opened up, laughed hysterically, and then vomited water for two straight hours on top of our temporary home with paper-thin walls unable to handle the rush of water pummeling down from the heavens. About an hour into the deluge, as I was dealing cards to my children for the 14th round of Crazy Eight in a row, a tiny glimmer caught my eye. A thin stream of water slowly rolled from the corner of the tent toward me. “WATER IN THE TENT!” I yelled to my husband who was outside trying to start a fire with a book of moist matches, wet wood, and a very fervent prayer that included some words that I was certain had left God’s ears burning.
Within seconds, I had used all of the dinner napkins and toilet paper in a futile attempt to soak up the liquid. “Mom!” my daughter whispered. “Dad is saying some really bad words outside!”
“Everything okay out there, honey?” I asked cautiously.
“Whose idea was this?” he grumbled as he struck match after match on the wet box.
“Dad, just be like that guy on Man Versus Wild on the Discovery Channel!” my son said. “He can get a fire started in the middle of the rain forest!”
“That’s because he has a production crew with books of dry matches just lying around!” he shot back as he turned to me and asked, “Where is the lighter?”
I rummaged for the lighter, unzipped the tent one inch so as to not let in any more water, and handed it to him. He pressed the button and a flame appeared. “That’s what I like to see,” he said cheerily just as a stiff wind blew it out. He pressed the button again. The wind blew harder. The wind and my husband went four rounds together until he threw the lighter in the woods and snatched the last book of matches out of the tent. He stomped back to the fire pit.
Just then, the rain stopped. Water dripped from the trees as the birds began singing again. By the grace of God, a spark finally ignited, the flames grew, and my husband began cooking our dinner. We resembled Barbarians as we stood outside the tent and ate steaming chicken legs. Barbeque sauce dripped from my chin as I cautiously surveyed the ominous skies. “I think that’s going to be it for the rain for tonight,” I remarked, warming my hands by the roaring fire. “Let the fun begin!” We roasted marshmallows and dried our clothes and the dog by the fire. My husband wiped the rest of the water out of the tent and we all snuggled into our sleeping bags for the night.
At two o’clock in the morning, my husband shook me awake. “Thunder in the distance,” he said. The wind picked up. The rain fly flapped furiously in the breeze. Lightening illuminated our tent. Thunder rumbled louder and louder. “Maybe it will just pass by us and it won’t rain,” I whispered to my husband.
It was as if the skies heard me. We received two inches of rain in 30 minutes. I knew things were getting bad when I saw the dog put on a scuba mask and the representatives from FEMA who were camping down the road got into their vehicles and sped away, never to be seen again. As Lewis & Clark paddled down the river that ran through our tent, I searched for my optimism which had apparently floated downstream along with the two explorers.
It wasn’t pretty. We didn’t act like tough pioneers, the brave guy in Man Versus Wild, or the handsome cowboys on Bonanza. The four of us shivered. We complained. We fought. We didn’t even try to make the best of it. We threatened to never camp again. The kids cried. I cried. My husband had to go to the bathroom. The tent reeked like wet dog.
The next morning, we wrung the water out of our sleeping bags and packed up the car earlier than anticipated. I glanced over at my husband who was slightly crabby from lack of sleep and the fact that his wet underwear was slowly creeping into his colon as he dismantled the tent. “Soooooo,” I started with a weak smile, “All in all, this wasn’t such a bad trip, was it?”
Lucky for me, he decided to let me live to tell the story.