Tent-Wall-Flapping, Tarp-Shredding Winds

Meadow to the north of camp that holds the remains of a Stoney First Nation Sun Dance Lodge

Meadow to the north of camp that holds the remains of a Stoney First Nation Sun Dance Lodge

Working for an outfitter in the Kananaskis Country of southern Alberta, we set up camp in the Zephyr Pass Area, near the Highwood River and Cataract Creek.  This would be our final camp of the hunting season.  We carted the tents and supplies across the Highwood using a team of horses and covered wagon and after a short jaunt past the remnants of a Sun Dance ceremony in a grassy meadow, we proceeded to set up camp against the east side of a bluff, tucked back into the trees.

Remnants of Stoney First Nations Sun Dance Lodge.

Remnants of Stoney First Nations Sun Dance Lodge.

Outfitter Dewy instructed the crew from his ranch, that had come out to help for the day, to make sure to tie and stake down the tents firmly.  The crew was savy with tent set up from a summer of constantly setting up and taking down tents for the trail-riding guests that came weekly.  However, this was late October, heading into November, and though the weather was mild on the day of set-up, it could easily turn nasty.

Well in a quick shake of a lamb’s tail, we had tents erected, wood cut and stacked, hay brought in for the horses and most of the gear arranged.  The crew left for the comfort of the ranch and I stayed with outfitter Dewy, guide Lenard and three hunters.

Inside the Kitchen Tent

Inside the Kitchen Tent

It was a cozy camp all tucked up against the bluff.  The big old army tent that was used a the kitchen tent for Dewy’s summer Base Camp, served as our kitchen and dining place, as well as the guides and my sleeping quarters.  It was big and roomy and easily divided by tarps into “rooms”.  A big air-tight stove heated the far end of the tent and my cook stove heated the front end of the tent.  There was no door at the front, so we hung a tarp over to keep the elements out.  It was a comfortable tent and it’s only draw back was that it was a large space to heat if the weather turned cold and it was dark.  No light could seep in through it’s oily dark canvas.  There were windows along the sides that I could roll back the flaps for light if need be, but that could be utilized only on warm days, or I would lose the heat quickly.  The hunters stayed in a much smaller, white-canvas wall tent, with cots and a wood stove.  And the horses were housed nearby in a thick stand of trees.

Holy Cross Mountain to the North across the Highwood River

Holy Cross Mountain to the North across the Highwood River

The guides would leave with the hunters daily on horseback and I would stay in camp to tend the team of horses left behind and keep a general watch on things.  The first day was nice-ish, a bit windy, but that’s common for Alberta.  After breakfast, I raced up a neighboring bluff to catch the sunrise breaking over the plains to the east.  We were situated just on the edge of the mountains and had a good view of the prairies to the east and the wall of mountains rising to the west.  To the north was Holy Cross Mountain and Grassy Pass.  And below was the meadow that housed the weather-beaten gray poles of a Stoney First Nation Sun Dance ceremony and the many colored prayer cloths tied to aspen trees.  A spiritual place that brought about many a spiritual thought.

Prayer Flags

Prayer Flags

The wind picked up as Chevy, Fester (Dewy’s dog) and I, threaded our way back down the bluff to camp.  I fed and watered the team and returned to my tent for a long boring day.  Because the tent was so dark I took to the meadow to do some reading.  It was a gorgeous day.

The next day, Zephyr Pass lived up to it’s name.  Hold-on-to-your-hat-windy.  Tent-wall flapping, Tarp-shredding windy.  I left to feed and water the team, I returned to find the stovepipe on my cook stove had lifted and filled the tent with smoke.  I spent the better part of the morning wiring down stovepipes.  I thought I had it figured.  I left to take the team for some exercise.  Returned to see the hunter’s tent walls had lifted their pegs and the cots and sleeping bags and socks and underwear and pants and shirts were scattered up the hillside, wrapped around trees along with the pages of a full newspaper.  Everywhere!  I spent the rest of the day, gathering items, and staking down the tent properly, only to return to my tent and find that the other stovepipe had lifted and my tent was again full of smoke.

By the time the guides and hunters returned I was not very happy, but everything was back in it’s place and supper was on.  Everyone was happy for bed that night, worn out from the relentless wind that continued to rattle and shake the tent through the night and the whole next day and then next and the next.  A week straight of  roaring wind.  (Perspective: Winds were clocked at over 120 km/hr just east of where we were camped during this week. Transport trucks were pushed off the highways, roofs were torn off houses and farm tractors tipped over, as well as many trees uprooted.  And I was living in a tent!)

Chevy and Fester curled up near the stove.  Hiding from the wind and the cold.

Chevy and Fester curled up near the stove. Hiding from the wind and the cold.

I tell you, I can totally understand why some settler’s went insane because of the wind.  I was ready to pull my hair out!  It exposed every bit of weakness we had in our tent and stove set-up.  I spent most of my days fixing and tinkering to get the wire apparatus just right on my stove pipes, so they would quit lifting and filling the tents with smoke, and tying down the tarp door in a particular way so that it would stop flapping and shredding.  Even the dogs just cowered under the table and the team refused to leave their little buffet of trees.  And I just paced in my dark tent waiting for the next problem to fix.  We were all snappish by suppertime.  Nobody had patience.

Gusting Wind lifting the Snow, like spirits dancing

Gusting Wind lifting the Snow, like spirits dancing

The men were worn out from spending the day in the gale force winds and would return for supper and immediately retire to their cots after, so I found it a very lonely hunt.  And then the wind stopped and deep cold began, but that is another story, because I learned a very important lesson here.  I was reminded of this lesson while building a chicken coop with my husband the other day.

We had just finished everything and had all our chicks were tucked away in their new house with a grand new yard to play in, when a violent storm blew in.  In a matter of moments, the wind quickly revealed all our weak spots in our pen design—just as the wind in Zephyr Pass revealed the vulnerable spots in our camp set up.

Fixing up the ruined parts of the pen, I was reminded again how quickly wind can expose the vulnerable and collapse the weak.  I hate the wind, I hate it’s relentless force.  I’ve most often equated it to the devil.  Figuring it’s out to destroy me.  Without it, life would be hunky dory and all that.

Wind can be gentle and welcome, but more often than not, here in Western Canada it is relentless and unforgiving.  There always come times when everyone is suddenly reminded how powerful wind is—overwhelmingly so!  All you have to do is look at the path of destruction a tornado leaves, or even just a simple thunderstorm.  Mind blowing.  Staggering.  Bringing normal life to a complete halt.

Then in the aftermath, people turn around to clean, fix and repair.  Working to restore the broken and shore up the weak spots, they prepare, with the thought in mind that if this happened once it could happen again.   At least any wise person would.  Nobody who has any common-sense, would just leave the weak spots exposed, but would try and improve upon them, knowing that storms will surely return, and the wind will uncover that which is weak or done negligently.

Sometimes this requires a complete move—a new foundation.  Sometimes it just means battening down the hatches, shoring up the defenses and making sure everything is put to rights and done properly as it should have been done in the first place.  Such as that hunter’s tent, where the wind pulled up it’s pegs and tumbled the contents up the hillside.  It only managed to do so, because only a couple of pegs were put in, instead of all the way around like the outfitter had instructed.

Sometimes, it’s just a lesson in progress, like with the stovepipes.  Even with an engineer trying to figure out how to wire the dang things down, it took numerous angles and approaches to get the job done, as every day the wind switched directions and lifted the pipes.   Eventually we got it figured, but then a new challenge arose when we had to take it down in -30 Celsius.

And sometimes it’s learning to anticipate the strength of the wind, like with my chicken coop pen.  We thought we had the pole holding up the overhead netting in a firm spot, however the storm showed us the truth, by pushing it over and collapsing and ruining some of our fence.

In life, it does one well to remember to have a good foundation, to plan wisely, do the work right the first time and anticipate the storms that are going to come and batter.  Because winds WILL come.  They are going to come, and they are going to test and probe and shake down.  It’s going to expose, prove and broadcast whether you got things set right and rock-solid.

Now I know that there are “winds” in my life that do the same thing IN me as it does to the physical world around me.  It exposes where I am weak and vulnerable.  I used to think that this was solely from the devil.  Like the wind, he would relentlessly hound me and tear at my weakest points so that I would collapse and fall, an utter failure.

However, lately I’ve been considering that wind, is not solely used by the enemy, but that maybe God is using wind in my life to show me where I need to shore up my defenses, fortify the vulnerable spots and reinforce the susceptible areas of my life.  Maybe He is also showing me that pride in myself is under-estimating the power of the enemy and size of the trials to come.

Storms that have already come along in my life, have presented me with a choice.  I could very easily say, “Woe is me!  My life is ruined.  Nothing could ever compare to this.  I will never get over this.  There is no point moving on.” and live continually with a victim mentality.  I could very well continue on in ignorance and without thought that more storms will come that I need to be ready for.  Or I could choose to use this time and the lessons learned about myself to prepare for future events.

I am hopeful, with this awareness to the choice I have, that I will respond like the people-who-know-their-God prophesied about in the book of Daniel. Like them, when the time of great trial comes, I hope I will keep my head on straight and stay true to the course, for I have used those times of testing to clean up, shore up and cement the areas in my life that were weak and exposed and in the end, by God’s grace, I will prevail.

I guess in the end, Wind is what you make of it.

Looking west up the Highwood River, over Zephyr Pass, were camp was located at the base of the bluff.

Looking west up the Highwood River, over Zephyr Pass, were camp was located at the base of the bluff.

The testing will refine, cleanse, and purify those who keep their heads on straight and stay true, for there is still more to come.”  Daniel 11:35 (MSG)

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2 Responses to Tent-Wall-Flapping, Tarp-Shredding Winds

  1. Karen says:

    Hello Jake from frigid northern Wisconsin–thanks for your blog–I stumbled upon it when I was looking for inspiration for a painting project I’m about to start. I was looking for pics of aspens, views of Mount of the Holy Cross or other 14ers that my husband has climbed when I found your pictures and blog. They were inspiring on a deeper level than just the beautiful pics of God’s creation. Your blog is so interesting, and the stories you tell are great stories that beg to be told. Love that you honor the creator of all the majesty of Colorado. We love your state, and if our son and his family hadn’t moved back to Wisconsin, it would have become our second home. Glad I came across your page. Blessings to you in this new year! Karen in Minocqua, Wisconsin

    • Jake says:

      Hey Karen, thanks so much for taking the time to read my stories. It warms my heart that you like them! This story is actually based in Alberta Canada where I was born and raised and spent some of my working in the bush time. The Holy Cross Mountain must be a similar name to one in Colorado, hence the confusion. I’ve been through Wisconsin a few time, but only briefly while I was riding on the train to Cincinnati, Ohio, where my mom was from. I always wanted to visit Wisconsin, because one of all time fav heroine is from there or at least started out there. Laura Ingalls Wilder. So did you find inspiration for you painting project? Hope your New Year is a good one! Cheers!

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