I don’t remember putting up tarps when we went camping when I was a kid. Maybe that’s why we ended up playing cards in the car whenever it rained, and then hiding out in the tent trailer with the pitter patter of the rain falling onto the fibreglass roof. I do remember that our VW van had an awning, but beyond that, I don’t have any childhood tarp memories. When my kids grow up, they will have childhood tarp memories. And they will be fabulous childhood tarp memories. They will be vivid and poetic. I’m going to see to it that they are.
We camped at the ever so swimmable and beautiful Blue Lake last week, which is a private campground with some leased spots mixed in with the rental sites. This makes for an interesting culture, which I won’t go into much here, beyond saying that several of the folks with permanent set-ups seems to have a Really Good Time, with a boozy drink in hand whilst having said Really Good Time. I might have a raised eyebrow for them in that regard, but when it comes to the art of the tarp, I learned a few things from the folks who’ve stuffed little picket fences and cutesie ol’ time-y plaques and outdoor bars alongside their trailers. These people know how to tarp.
They tarp for good or bad, rain or shine. They tarp with intention and a plan. They tarp strategically, with angles smartly located just so, so that the run off goes where it should. They tarp over outdoor kitchens and outdoor living rooms and outdoor dart boards. And they go big. They wrangle tarps that can cover their whole lot! Some of the nightly campers do this to. Behold:
I decided on this trip that I am going to become one of those tarp artists. Someone who tarps for rain or shine. Someone who is not caught off guard by the elements. Someone who can sit in comfort in the pale blue light beneath a tarp and shake a fist at the rain and laugh at the sun. Dry when it rains, and shaded when it shines.
On the second day, when the sky was dark with low clouds and the thunder cracked, we scrambled to set up tarps. We put one each over our tent and Auntie Sam’s tent, and then we put one over the main picnic table, while Marlas and Shannon rigged one up on their site too. Sarah and Kristen were staying in Rustic Cabin #8, so they didn’t have to worry about a tarp. They might’ve had to worry about how ‘rustic’ equals filth and ruin and how none of the windows opened, but while doing so, they’d be dry in a storm.
As it turned out, it didn’t rain. But now I have tarps on the brain. I want one of those big tarps. A really big one. Like 50 x 30 feet. Or bigger. And I want hundreds of feet of pretty climbing rope that weighs nothing but can do the job of ten large adults. And I want pink duct tape, for patching the inevitable holes.
When I was at Burning Man, the tarp art was of such high calibre that I left intimidated and awed, thinking that I could never rig up the live-saving tarpage that I saw everywhere on the playa. I remember sitting beneath an army tarp at the Medical Camp I was volunteering at and staring up at the ropes angling confidently this way and that, knotted expertly at each corner, with fancy knots that had names and pedigrees and were far better than anything I could remember from my Search & Rescue training. It was 40 degrees out, and we were in the middle of the desert, but I was enjoying blissful shade.
A few nights at Blue Lake has cured my insecurities. I’m ready to conquer the tarp. I will never again play cards in the car in the rain. Which is a very good thing. Because as two adults, a kid, a baby and a dog, we don’t fit very well in the car unless we’re strapped in and driving somewhere. Which is why I’d love a VW van, or a minivan. Or a big, shiny black truck. Or a bus. And that, folks, is how you change the subject. More on my large effluent-spewing vehicle ambitions later.