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March 23, 2017

A Storm in the Desert: The Illusion of Being Stuck.

A few months ago, I found myself huddled under a loose tarp in the desert while a storm raged around me.

Winds battered at the tarp, threatening to tear it from its poorly tied moorings, and rain found its way in through all sorts of gaps.

It was cold. I was getting wet. And I felt stuck.

I had very much opted into this situation by signing up for a group “Vision Quest” trip. This wasn’t even the Vision Questy part of the week; it was our group’s first night in base camp. Earlier in the day, we’d had a 15 minute lesson on knot tying and tarp pitching followed by a group dinner. Then we’d settled in for the night.

The winds had kicked up at around midnight. The rain started shortly thereafter.

At first, I tried to ignore it. Sure, my tarp was whipping loudly about an inch from my face and the temperature had plummeted at least 15 degrees in less than 10 minutes, but this was all part of the adventure!

​That attitude lasted a few minutes.

Then the water started finding ways into my tarp. I pulled it around me, stacked rocks on the outside of the flimsy nylon to weigh it down, made myself as small as I could to stay warm and dry. The wind got stronger. I started singing little songs, trying to comfort myself.

It didn’t work. I felt trapped, a steady trickle of water slowly soaking my sleeping bag. I reached into my bag for rain gear and put it on over my clothes. My sleeping bag might get wet, but at least I would stay dry.

I just wanted the rain to stop. So I tried bargaining with it. “If you stop,” I whispered, holding my knees to my chest, “I’ll be the best water conservationist ever, you’ll see! Please stop!”

It didn’t stop.

Sometime around 4 a.m., exhausted and cold, I simply started to cry. I’d signed up for an adventure in the desert, not nights trapped by inconsiderate storm systems and demonically possessed nylon tarps.

Finally, broken, frustrated, and resigned to not getting any sleep anyway, I screamed hoarsely and rolled out from under the tarp, staggering to my feet under the driving rain.

I immediately felt better.

Standing under the rain in the middle of the storm wasn’t at all pleasant, but at least I could tell exactly what I was up against. In the distance, I could see the edge of the storm. It would pass.

I walked around to check on other people in the group. I was far from the only one who had been having trouble. A couple of others had taken down their tarps and wrapped them around themselves to stay dry. The night had been challenging for all of us.

Huddled alone under my tarp, I’d felt alone and trapped. Out in the open, my perspective changed. Those feelings had been an illusion heightened by the storm and the darkness. I’d believed that I was safer under the tarp, but that had, in fact, been where I felt most vulnerable and isolated.

That lesson stayed with me. So a few days later when I was on my own during three days of solo camping and another, even larger storm loomed on the horizon, I suited up in my rain gear, secured my belongings in large trash bags under my tarp, and stood out in the open.

Lightning arced across the sky, illuminating the swirling cloud banks. The spectacle of it all overwhelmed me, and I found myself sinking to my knees in gratitude and awe. How many people living in the modern world get to witness the beauty of an epic storm moving in over a vast landscape?

​If I’d opted to stay under my tarp, I would have missed it all and been trapped in an illusion of safety. I whispered a few words of thanks for the first storm that had driven me to tears and freedom.

Soon enough, the rain started. Within minutes, the temperature had dropped and the rain became heavier. Then the rain became hail.

​And that’s when I darted for my tarp. Because I’m not an idiot and sometimes, safety really is worth the temporary sacrifice of freedom.

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Author: Michael Kass

Image: Author’s Own

Editor: Travis May

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