We woke up to a hell of a day.
The sun was out, in force, and the extent of how great the campsite was, how gorgeous the beach was, and just how much nothing was on the agenda for today was not lost on either of the ladies. Or either of us, frankly.
They were off and over the dunes before I could even take their breakfast order, reflecting a level of eagerness to get moving rarely seen in the girls, especially when warm sleeping bags beckon.
Val and I had to battle some rather persistent wasps in order to coordinate breakfast production, but we persevered and reeled the girls back in and plated a fresh fruit salad, breakfast sausages, eggs, toast and the occasional rogue slice of cheese for them. It all disappeared in a hurry.
With the girls back to the beach we pulled out our long-neglected bag of swimming gear and set out our actual suits and sun shirts, which northern Quebec had made quite redundant, but in this marvelous place they once again enjoyed relevance.
Eager to take care of the only errand we had for the day, namely, actually registering at the front office and making sure our site was available for the next few days, we got the girls into the truck and headed off.
We found out that a site tucked into the dunes, with its own small path over the vine-covered sand drift that rose up from the beach, was available for the next two nights so we took it.
Back at camp, we set the girls free and moved our tent, literally picking it up and carrying it down the road to our new site, which was about as spectacular a site as could be imagined. The dunes, the beach, were right at our tent door. The girls went nuts.
Val and I dragged our chairs to the beach, brought the book we’ve been reading to each other, and got right back to it. While one of us would read, the other would watch the girls to make sure that they didn’t get too far out into the water.
When we got too warm, and it was warm, we’d put the book down and march into the water and the girls would show us their tricks, handstands, leaping waves, swimming to the bottom to dredge up handfuls of mud, and swimming under water without even having to pinch their noses shut.
Sylvie refers to this ability of hers (to swim under water without having to pinch her nose) as a “mutuant power” which we have certainly confirmed to her, as we have begun to doubt whether she is a human.
Our plan was to finish this leg of the adventure in Toronto and rendez-vous with Jamie (The Hippo), and then move on to Grandma and Grampa’s house, something the girls have been eagerly anticipating now over the past few weeks.
While I set about sautéing the potatoes for dinner, my phone rang, and it was indeed The Hippo. Delighted to chat with him, and energized by our proximity to him, I picked up the phone and was immediately greeted by him asking “have you checked the weather?”
The question seemed preposterous on its face. The weather is perfect weather, it has been sunny and warm with blue skies all day long, the sky is still blue and clear, the risk we’re flirting with at the moment is sunburn.
Well, he went on, there are some tornadoes on the way. And if they miss you, at the very least, severe thunderstorms.
I digested this. We were basically at sea level, in a tent, next to a lake, with the only thing between us and doom being one sand dune and the thin, albeit thus far robust, walls of our tent.
Jamie made it clear that we were welcome to show up at his place any time, but was concerned enough about the forecast he was looking at that he admonished me to keep my phone on and handy, and that he would call me if things really deteriorated.
As though “tornadoes” could deteriorate into something worse.
Jamie said it looked like we would probably get hit at around ten or so that night, so we had time on our side.
Val and I had been through a pretty tough night in Kouchibouguac, and so we figured that with Jamie’s heads-up we’d be in pretty good shape, plus, honestly, what was the likelihood of actual tornadoes?
We had a big, early dinner and did all our dishes and put everything away.
We consolidated our gear and I staked out our shelter. We got rid of our garbage and I set up a fire, chopping kindling and organizing the logs from small to big so that I wouldn’t have to think much about feeding it. We watched the girls play on the beach until the sun set and then even longer, tirelessly, and Val pointed out that the sunset was being crowded by an impenetrable grey smudge along the horizon.
The wind picked up, dusk turned to grey night, some stars appeared but dozens more were missing. Val got the girls showered and dressed in cozy clothes and I set the fire, and we sat in our chairs telling stories while the wind picked up.
Leonie and I decided to hike over the dune to have a look at the beach and the sky and see if we could make any sense of what was heading our way. With the lake directly in front of us, we could see it coming – a huge thunderstorm, the sky lighting up over and over again, but clearly miles and miles away from us as we could hear no actual thunder.
The wind was right in our faces, too, making it clear that this thing was headed right at us.
Back down the dune to our campfire, and we discovered Sylvie, finally having been overcome by what was effectively twelve straight hours of play inconvenienced for a few minutes here and there by refueling requirements, had passed out cold in Val’s arms.
Val tucked Sylvie into the tent, and about ten seconds later, Leonie had herself dropped into a slumber.
With the kids asleep in the tent Val went to look at the storm, and I took a last lap of the campsite. I didn’t want to be overcautious, but I caught myself putting the girls jackets and extra water in the truck, making sure the recovery tools had been repacked into the bed, put the transmission into four wheel drive and left the keys in the ignition.
If we did had to leave, it would be because we were in the midst of a genuine shitshow, in which case I wanted to only have to carry the girls to the truck and disappear with a turn of the key.
Val came down the dune and confirmed that the storm looked pretty big.
Jamie’s offer to join him in Toronto, which had seemed a little bit anxious when the skies were blue and the sun was high above, suddenly sweetened on my palate.
A little late. I staked out every guy line on our tent as the wind picked up a notch and there was a palpable energy in the air, a sense of being full to bursting, and then we could hear the rain walking toward us in a vertical wall, running in from the lake, in the dark, and I got the last stakes in just as it began to pelt down.
Val and I curled against each other, next to the girls, and in the darkness of the tent were both left wondering and whispering to each other, “now what?”
The rain came and beat down on the fly and the wind caught the leaves and made a great racket and we told each other that we would be ok. But then the lightning came, and for the next several hours the two of us lay, wide awake and half worrying and half pinned by our awe of the spectacle.
The lightning was directly above us, and so the tent interior would suddenly flood with the glare of a strike and be accompanied by a near-deafening explosion of thunder, reflected off and magnified by the surface of the lake behind us.
We felt completely exposed, pressed next to each other in our suddenly meagre sleeping bags and as the wind picked up off the lake it drove the rain directly into the tent wall above our heads and it looked like it was being stove in, the poles straining to keep upright.
We couldn’t believe the noise, and the seeming endlessness, of the fury of the storm and we could only imagine what was going on beyond the tent walls, as neither of us was willing to even sit up and peek out they fly.
Every now and then I would reach a hand out of my sleeping bag to feel about the interior of the tent floor, looking for signs that we were taking on water, but incredibly, the tent held firm against the tempest.
Of course, at some point, it all abated, and we realized we would be fine. It was hands down the worst weather either of us had ever camped in, and we confirmed this with anxious whispers to one another anxiously when the storm was over.
And, despite all the racket and implied peril of the night, the lighting, the bellicose thunder, the girls did not so much as stir during the entire storm.
Maybe it was because they were so tired, but part of it, I think, is that they have come to feel as safe in the tent as they ever have at home, in our apartment, because at this point they have come to know that for the foreseeable future the tent is home.