When I’m sitting inside my house on a grey day and hear the faint rumble of thunder, I open my curtains so I can watch the storm. Last week, I heard the familiar crash in the distance, but I didn’t rush to open my windows. I ended up getting a front seat to the storm in an entirely different way; standing on the shore of Ragged Lake in Algonquin Park, pulling the firetruck red plastic poncho over the baseball cap and sunglasses I’d optimistically placed on my head before leaving the campsite.
A day earlier, my parents, sister and I had packed up our barrels and set out on Canoe Lake. It had rained a bit throughout the morning canoe, and an uphill portage was steep and muddy. But when we arrived to our campsite on Ragged Lake, the stormy skies gave way to sunshine. I propped my lifejacket—the closest thing I had to a pillow—up against a huge rock by the water, and re-read one of my favourite books, The Alchemist.
With no Internet connection or radio we had no clue what we were in for, but we hoped for the best, weather-wise. It was warm overnight, but the following afternoon, just before we were about to set out in the canoe to explore a surrounding creek, the rain started. We unpacked our rain ponchos and huddled under the tall trees, which acted as somewhat leaky but mostly effective umbrellas. The rain appeared to be slowing, so we got into the canoe and set out for Mohawk Creek. Around the time we reached the area, the rain stopped—a good sign, I thought.
If you travelled into Algonquin Park and didn’t know that it had been flooded to float trees down the lakes in the Canoe Lake area at the height of the logging industry more than 100 years ago, Mohawk Creek is where you might start to question what happened to the trees. You canoe through a maze of jagged tree stumps, stretching out in all directions like a graveyard. Among the stumps are patches of lily pads, white lilies dancing among the greenery. The creek is beautiful in an eerie sort of way. With few campsites surrounding it, it’s silent, too. That is, until the rumbling starts.
“Do you guys hear that?” I asked as we looped through the creek, prompting my sister to pause the music she was playing through her speaker. There it was, unquestionably: thunder. It was distant, but any thunder feels close when you’re in the middle of an open body of water. It sounded again, and we sped up our pace; not in the direction of our campsite, about 20 minutes across the expanse of lake, but towards a sandy spot on the shore to our right.
By the time we were standing on the shore, all wearing red and yellow plastic ponchos except for my dad who had left his in the canoe, the rain had picked up. We were standing on a patch of sand, the shore of the lake in front of us and the forest on all other sides. As the thunder drew closer we backed up, but we could only go so far with the mossy rock formation behind us.
Where there is thunder, there is lightning—and everyone knows that when there is lightning, you don’t want to be in the water where you could get electrocuted, or near a tree that could be struck and fall on you. So I felt very safe sandwiched between the lake and the forest (please note my sarcasm). At least before leaving our campsite we had all put on shoes; the rubber underneath our feet gave us some feeling of safety, even when the lightning flashed right in front of us.
We waited the storm out for around 45 minutes before the thunder was far enough away that we felt confident to get back into the canoe and hightail it back to our campsite… where we promptly learned that we had left a window open in our tent, soaking our sleeping bags and some of our warmest clothes. We hung them up on yellow rope strung between trees, and drank hot chocolate that we boiled on our propane stove (as there was a ban on open campfires in Algonquin). The next day was so sunny that, despite my consistent sunscreen application, I came home to a sunburned face.
I’ve always loved thunderstorms; it’s why I open my windows to watch them, and get excited when I see grey clouds gather in the sky. Standing in the middle of a storm, though, with pounding, relentless rain beating against the lake, was a new experience. To be completely honest, I was afraid during this storm—I didn’t have any profoundly deep thoughts about life, but I remember thinking that I would be grateful for my family and I to escape safely.
The experience reminded me of a quote from the poet Atticus, which I think is the perfect way to sum up the adventure of camping and the mix of fear and adrenaline that filled me as I watched from the shore. “A storm was coming but that’s not she felt,” the poem reads. “It was adventure on the wind and it shivered down her spine.”
The other day, I watched from my desk at work as grey clouds gathered outside. When the rain began pouring down, I remembered my adventure in Algonquin; and felt very, very thankful to be inside this time.