October 2006

Living in a tent (with 1 husband, 2 kids, and 3 pets)

By Suzanne Strazza

Note: Living in tents while we build was my idea. I was not coerced at gunpoint. It was a great summer that we will neither forget nor regret. More than surviving, we enjoyed ourselves immensely. I have never once questioned our choice to do it.

With that said, there were a few ups and downs.

Pro: Spending every waking hour outside.
Con: Having nowhere to go when it’s too hot, too cold or pouring rain.

We had our fill of sunshine and fresh air — healthy in a way that only comes from good clean living — but that was when the weather cooperated. On days when the heat soared towards triple digits outside (inside, well beyond) we had nowhere to escape the sun. I often found myself lying face down on the hosed-off indoor/outdoor carpet, acutely aware that any movement would induce profuse sweating. Once, the neighbor child came over, found me thus, and asked if I was dead.

Guess his mom doesn’t do the corpse thing on their rugs.

On other days, when the temperatures dropped and the rains persisted we curled up in bed, hats on, sniffling (and sniveling) and awaited the arrival of Noah’s Ark.

Pro: Having very little house to clean, including a toilet.
Con: Having very little house, including a toilet.

Given that I m not much of a “house” wife, this did prove to be ideal. We only had 150 square feet to keep clean. That also meant that we only had 150 square feet in which to live, play, cook, dine and sleep.

We became very close.

Not having a real toilet is a mixed blessing. We do have a Porta-Potty, which thankfully someone else cleans. It has become the only place to escape from the others, so there is often a line, reminiscent of a music festival. Now that it has gotten cold there is also the issue of having to bundle up for the walk to the pot and the reality of a REALLY cold toilet seat to cope with.

Pro: Feeling very connected with the natural world.
Con: Not being able to escape the natural world: mud, ungodly winds and insects.

While feeling incredibly in tune with the rhythms of the natural world — birds migrating, fruit trees blossoming and the changing of the seasons — we have also shared the flip side of this, which has been what to do when the monsoons actually did arrive, creating rivers, lakes and mudslides (all inside the tents). Once, while I was babysitting 10 boys under the age of 9, it began to rain like I’ve been praying for, for years. While Tom and I dug diversion trenches, the children, inside the tents, had clothes off and were splashing in a waist-deep pool which had formed next to the table. Gotta love nature.

Along with the temperatures and the rains, there was THE WIND. I believe that the wind blows harder here than anywhere else on earth. We spent many a night battening down the hatches and literally holding up the tents with our bare hands. Only once, though, did one actually collapse.

The plague of insects took on Biblical proportions. The grasshoppers, clinging to the tent screens, our pillows and each other. The spiders that crawled across our faces while we slept, occasionally dropping into the open caverns of our snoring mouths. The earwigs — in our hair, food, bedside cups of water, clothes, sheets, and, I assume, our ears.

But the flies were the worst. I succumbed and hung fly strips everywhere, over the table, our beds and immediately above the stove (very hygienic). They work, but they are gross — nothing like murder by slow torture. But I received my Karmic rebate: More than once I ran headfirst into a gluey corpse-covered strip and attached. By the time I became unglued, there were tendrils of hair hanging off the sticky tape and buried in my head was a collection of dead and dying flies.

And, there was no jumping in a shower to remedy the situation.

Pro: Finally living my dream of being Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Con: Understanding why they died young in those days.

As for my dream of Little House on the Prairie — we did it, we lived the pioneer life: hauling water, heating it on the stove, sharing one bed with the entire family, battling wild animals — skunks, earwigs and magpies. We are better for having done it, but we all know what the lifespan was for those folks and there is clearly a direct correlation — that, I can tell you firsthand.

But, don’t worry about us any more. We have walls, windows, a real floor and a roof over our heads. The refrigerator is inside, as is the table. There is more than an inch between our bed and the kids, and a lamp actually resides on the table in that space. We are no longer exposed to the elements, although we can still see our breath in the mornings. Most importantly, the neighbors can no longer witness our every move.

We have moved into our garage, our newest adventure. And although some (like my poor mother) would shudder to think of living in here, to us, this 600 square feet of concrete and OSB is the Taj Mahal.

Suzanne Strazza will someday live in her dream home near Mancos.