Unable to get away for the Victoria Day holiday weekend in BC, we chose to stay in town until the Monday and take off against the returning traffic for a couple of nights (we have weird work schedules) to camp in the Okanagan. The never-ending watery spring weather, more like winter really, had finally broken and as we headed east the temperature rose exponentially until it hit around 30c. We rolled into our favourite campground, mostly emptied out after the departure of the holiday crowd – if you can ever get away on days when everyone else is working it’s worth it. Lambasted by the unexpected heat we arrived to unexpectedly find half of the campsites sodden, several were even underwater.
Brackish water puddled at one end of the campground; a couple of ducks floated across the surface. The base of trees were submerged, their roots soaking in groundwater that had inched up over the last couple of weeks as snowmelt from nearby mountains and hills funneled down into Okanagan Lake and flowed down the Okanagan River, raising water levels throughout the valley. We could see and hear the cresting waves of the river as it flowed past the campground with a kind of dulled roar in contrast to the usual gentle gurgling we were attuned to. Stretching our car-cramped legs on a short walk along the riverbank we were surprised to see a duck and her brood brave the flood; the attentive mother had managed to find a quiet eddy for her offspring.
A mite worried we chatted to the camp host, who agreed it could get worse as the heat added yet more of the incredible snowpack we’ve had this year to the massive volume of water. ‘If you hear a screech horn in the middle of the night, get out!’ were her reassuring words. They’d had to use it late last summer but for different reasons. Smelling smoke one night she’d realized it wasn’t from a campfire and raised the alarm. The side of the mountain behind the campground was ablaze. By the time she’d got everyone out she was driving through flames on the road at the base of the hill. The campground wasn’t touched, nor was the property of friends of ours who live on the other side of the mountain, although they were worriedly watching the wind. For no particular reason that they could fathom the fire spontaneously died. The hillside is lush and green again with little evidence of the conflagration. It’s an extreme but resilient area of the country.
We lounged around for the rest of that day and the next, unable to move much in the heat let alone go for bike rides. Perhaps that’s exactly what we needed, time to slow down, read, drink coffee (which always seems to taste the best when camping). Night reminded us it was still spring as the temperature suddenly dipped, easy to sleep in. The soaking grass surrounding our site was an indicator that there wouldn’t be a campfire ban for a while yet. Our friends dropped by on our first night in the campground and we shared some pasta and wine. P, as we’ll call him, had just got back from some paragliding. We’d spotted the blue and white wing of a paraglider as we drove to our destination and wondered if it was him. ‘That’ll have been B!’ said P. Everyone knows everyone here.
We visited our friends at their home the next evening, retreating inside from the patio as a howling wind suddenly picked up and roiled around the house. P was worried about us: ‘You know there’s a storm coming in, seriously, think about staying with us, there’s going to be strong winds later tonight and there’s big trees in the campground’ (this from a man who once stuck his hand inside a large open wound, sustained on a work site, to staunch the flow of blood and after he was thoroughly stitched up went waterskiing later that same day. He doesn’t get rattled easily is what I’m saying).
I was a bit worried too, we were in a flimsy tent with large trees looming over us, their roots weakened by the water that had been soaking them for days now. The wind had been gusting all day, blowing great clouds of pollen across us; a greenish yellowish dusty film covered the car, tent, camp chairs and cooking gear. Driving back in the pitch dark from the house to the campground the wind died and we thought that just maybe we’d missed the worst of it. The headlights picked out the aftermath of the recent event – branches, twigs, and fir cones lay scattered across the road in patches where powerful gusts had swept through.
Before we retreated into the tent that night we parked the car nearby (I was thinking it might take the brunt of the one tree that we might be in danger from if a northerly picked up again, but I’m not sure it would’ve helped!) and stared up at a perfectly calm, star-filled sky. We finally clambered into our temporary home and like the evening before were lulled to sleep by the sound of cascading water, frogs and the unidentifiable sounds of anonymous night critters.
It was somewhere around midnight or so that we both started awake to an unimaginably loud roar of wind that rolled down the valley and with monstrous force blew through the campground, buffeting the tent full on. I’ve never heard anything like it. Every now and again a momentary ebb in the force of the wind would be followed by a great whoomph. It went on like that for a full two hours or so. Scott and I burrowed down further into our sleeping bags, but for some reason, and very unlike my usual self, I didn’t panic. Perhaps because Scott was alert but calm – if he starts to get stressed I know things are serious. The trees were buffeted relentlessly but I didn’t hear any major creaking, or sudden cracking of tree limbs, the tent fly didn’t take off. I honestly don’t know why not. Whatever the reason, when the wind finally dropped off we fell asleep again pretty quickly to the sound of rain smattering on the tent.
Emerging the next day we found plenty of small twigs and branches that had been ripped from the trees lying around, but no major damage until we drove out on our way home. A single, dried out and not very big tree lay across part of the road. We were lucky, some areas of the valley experienced some real damage. It was all a bit wild and exciting……living in a generally temperate region you can forget all too quickly how forceful nature can be.
We briefly stopped once more to assist a painted turtle valiantly attempting to cross the road, her shell covered in pollen – a gentle reminder of the storm we were all caught out in.