The yellow Arctic Oven tent is nestled in the snow in front of a grove of spruce trees. Stoic, strong spires telling us they remain even in winter. A winter that has brought rain in December, covering everything in an inch of ice, and week-long January windstorms that blew siding and roof metal off houses. With a calm weekend in the forecast, we decide to winter camp, making access to our fishing hole quick and easy.
After pitching the tent, Timm chops down three-inch dead standing spruce trees and builds a fire for the hot portion of our dinner—Hebrew National hot dogs with no bun to accompany smoked king salmon strips and dried Ugruk meat. Even with the fire, Henning, our three-year-old, prefers his hot dog cold.
The sinking sun casts an orange glow on Timm’s and Henning’s faces, so we unzip the tent fly and make it our job to get cozy. Timm lights a fire in the small sheet metal woodstove. I air up mattresses. As the sun hovers just above the trees to the west, Henning and I, in Timm’s 30-below sleeping bag, open the tent fly to watch the sunset.
“It’s beautiful,” he says. I smile, happy that a three-year-old can appreciate and express delight in the marvels of a winter day.
I turn, my belly falling, and I burn it. A small golf-ball sized portion of Timm’s bag that touched the hot woodstove has melted. Lofty, white feathers fly throughout the 9 x 9-foot tent. Some land on the stove. We brush them off. The tent smells like burnt hair. I take off my purple wool hoody and tie a knot at the hood. With my feet still in the bottom of the sleeping bag, I shove them into my hoody, a makeshift temporary patch for the problem I created. It works.
Feathers still flying, we laugh, air out the tent, and climb in our bags to read with Henning.
Our minds are roused at 3 a.m., the cold hitting our bones. The fire is out. Somehow being lazy and cold in a bag is easier than getting up and lighting a fire to warm us enough to get back to sleep. It doesn’t make any sense. Nothing about winter camping makes sense, but two hours later, after overcoming our laziness, the tent is warm again and a bit more sleep is found.
In the morning while packing the tent, Henning says, “This was the best campout ever.”
Timm and I smile and agree. We drive upriver to fish for trout, our only fresh meat source in winter. And as we pull pan-sized fish from the cold water for dinner that night, we talk about doing it again.
This essay was written for Intangible, a biannual publication by Northland College. See the full magazine, online, here.
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