I love to hear the pitter patter of rain on my roof. It’s usually quite calming. Even as it begins to get heavier and I hear the sound of the thunder and the flash of lightning come closer together, I am still at peace. But just as I am about to drift off to sleep a clap of thunder startles me and I remember that I am “on” the Oregon Trail. My peace is gone as my brain frantically searches it’s research memory bank to try and recall what they would have done on such a night.
It’s still early on the trip, we haven’t even been on the trail for thirty days as yet, which means the wagons are still pretty full with provisions. There would be no room to crawl into the safety of the wagon.
Some brought along tents to sleep in but most would sleep out under the stars or under the wagon. The wind rocks my sturdy little Wildwood Conestoga and I am literally worried to where I can’t sleep wondering what they would have done. Lightning flashes and cracks across the sky and lights up the inside of my camper.
I was lying in my bed already planning and plotting how I was going to have to hook up the camper and leave even while it was storming. I was going to put a dry towel and a dry change of clothes in the truck, add a dry towel to the seat. Don’t wear jeans, they hold too much water. Which hoodie should I wear? You’ll want to hurry, I’m reminding myself, but don’t go so fast you forget a step… that’s even more dangerous…
I thought, I will be as tired as they would have been… I can’t sleep for thinking. They couldn’t sleep for all the rain… and the potential dangers of lightening and fierce winds, flash floods…being out on the open praire with no protection. No trees. Nothing.
How terrifying for them. They could have gotten no sleep. They couldn’t possibly be dry no matter where they went. And here, still in Nebraska, the rain is coming down so hard and so fast that the ground can’t absorb it making streams and soaking the ground and everything in it’s path.
What did they do? What did they do?
Did they have towels to dry their faces? Did they have a change of clothes? A change of shoes? Their blankets had to be soaked. Their tents would have blown over. Their lean-tos would have been useless. What did they do?
The panic that I feel, even while in the safety of my own bed is real. This is how I make the scenes for my books so vivid, because before I write them, I can feel them. Even as I write this, though the storm has passed and the sun is shining, the panic swells back up in my chest as I think about their discomfort. Their weariness. And the children.
And the horses! And the cattle! No protection!
The storm raged pretty fiercely all through the night but by morning, it was finished with it’s tantrum and went on its way.
I was able to hook up the camper to the truck with little inconvenience other than some mud. I’m sure we both assessed the damages, if any and make adjustments. They had to rise at 4- hook up the oxen to their wagons, load up all their wet gear (hopefully get to change into some dry clothes) and trudge through the thick, muddy grass onto their next stop.
Today, I am driving the equivalent of 16 of their travel days.