The Lean-to

The Lean-to

On occasion, I have found myself in a position where the distinction between physical space and psychological space dissolves. During a recent trip to Baxter State Park, in the state of Maine, persistent poor weather put a stop to my plans of climbing Mount Katahdin. My climbing partner and I knew that the forecast did not look good before leaving Montreal, and it rained one inch during our hike in to the backcountry campground. We arrived at our lean-to; a svelte three-sided wooden structure designed to keep us out of the elements. I pitched a grey tarp over the entrance of the lean-to, in order to keep the driving rain out. That night we stared at the tarp while eating dinner and drinking tea. The next day, we were supposed to climb, but were faced with nearly four and a half inches of rain. We nevertheless decided to stay and go for a hike. Completely drenched by noon, we returned to our lean-to, and watched the grey tarp. Small changes began to captivate us. We monitored the growing breadth of the stream flowing around, and eventually under and through our lean-to with scientific precision, documenting it with a video camera. The increased roaring of the brook, the tension of the tarp, the slow drying of our damp garments with our body heat – we almost felt a sense of achievement when our t-shirts were dry. We contemplated small goals, such as making it to the outhouse during a momentary lull in the rainfall, cooking a first, and then a second dinner just to pass the time, and eventually the dread of putting on our soaking wet shoes and jackets to hang the food bag before returning to the warmth and comfort of our sleeping bags. When we awoke on the final morning, packed up and said goodbye to the ranger, she was surprised that we had stayed. In spite of a fully booked campground, we were the only ones to spend the night in our lean-to.

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