The tent was a pancake in the beginning. Strangely, yet naturally, laughing could not be helped. A concerned spattering of neighbouring campers quickly emerged from the woodwork to mark our return.
‘That wasn’t the response we expected,’ piped a bespectacled wee Canadian lady. ‘Not that we were bettin’ or nothin’.’
The prologue to this scene was an eruption of biblical rain, whip-lightning and grunging thunder. A cataclysmic cocktail of these horsemen rode with reckless abandon through the valley, leaving lashing disaster in their wake.
We, being us four: Lew, Levi, Chris, and yours truly, stood like bowling pins, and surveyed our sumptuous serving of nature’s wrath. I wondered if our levelled dwelling could attest to whether or not the tree had made a sound.
‘I guess we should try to move it?’ I said finally, unsure if it was a statement or a question.
‘I’ll get my axe,’ a becapped chap piped.
‘I’ll get towels,’ the wee lady added.
‘I’ll get splints,’ contributed an older gent in a hula-skirt – the desire for reason departs when chaos strikes.
As sharpened metal meets wood chips fly with the same regard for order as ricocheting bullets. After some passing of time, the tree's smothering crown finally came free. Chris and I wrestled it off our domicile with great endeavour and exchanged a distant eyed stare. Lew returned with a sit-rep from the tree’s base and answered our raised brows.
‘I was walking for a while,’ he said, ‘put it that way.’ His phone’s photo showcased an enormous and sprawling nest of roots.
‘Yup, thought so,’ a voice, as grizzled as it was nasal, spoke from close over our shoulders, ‘it’s spruce.’ An extended finger protruded toward the screen. The skirted gent. ‘See the root system: all surface. If it was a redwood,’ he whistled like an Acme falling anvil from behind his bristled top lip, ‘it would’ve snapped half way up – its roots are as deep as it is tall. It probably would’ve javelined that there tent of yours.’ I felt my eyes bulge and saw Lew's do the same. ‘Still though,’ he continued, ‘not like this is much better,' his chuckle trailed off as he went back to splinting tent poles.
A ranger pulled up in her truck. ‘Woaaww! You guys got slammed!’ she said sauntering over. ‘Wait! nobody was in there right?’ The collective chorussed in the negative. She sighed with relief. ‘That would’ve been a shit amount of paperwork. Everything’s good though?’ Her two jolly thumbs pointed skyward in union with the question.
‘Eh, remarkably, there’s only a wee tear and the poles are a bit higgledy-piggledy,’ I submitted on behalf of our quartet. This was met by a laughing fit from our concerned employee of Parks Canada. Uncontrollably. Moments passed. ‘Higg–’ she tried between chortles, ‘pigg–’ continuing. ‘Where are you guys from?’
‘They laughed when they saw the tree,’ the wee Canadian lady chipped in. The ranger stumbled back to her car, giggling and piggling.
‘Let me know if you need another tent,’ she managed, just, before driving off.
The wee lady started gathering our sleeping bags, ‘I’ll hang these in the camper with the heat turned right the way up.’
‘No, no, it’s all good,’ Chris said. ‘Can we offer you folks something in thanks,’ he scanned our site for anything to fit his gesture. ‘Alright, we only have beer, anyone fancy a beer?’ Various responses exhibiting his offers' unnecessary utterance were volleyed back at Chris as everyone receded back into the woodwork. Normality had been restored without a hint of rigmarole, the exchange of any names or a crack in Canadian modesty.
Our sleeping bags dangled on a wire over the fire like bait for a leviathan. The surrounding sea of trees swayed like a swell of lunging enemies. Levi, fire-catting, murmured, ‘If we didn't go to get Doritos we would’ve been in that tent.’
It was a long while before the night heard another word from any of us.
If A Tree Falls
Johnston Canyon, Alberta, Canada | 51.2538° N, 115.8381° W