Preparing the Land: (Memoirs of a Teenage Author)

(This is post #10 of the My Journey to Gritty: Memoirs of a Teenage Author series)


Believe it or not, after we recovered from our long walk and got the Suburban out of the mud, my parents bought that tricky piece of land. It didn’t have a house on it, but we hoped to build something habitable there piece by piece.
However, before we could begin to build on the land, we had to clear the land. It was overgrown with trees, underbrush, and big bamboo-like shoots that stretched far above our heads. One of us used a brush hog machine, the rest of us wielded machetes and axes.
My dad was still in constant pain. He’d try to work, but spent a lot of time lying on the ground and wheezing in pain. It was the middle of summer, so in the heat of the afternoon we’d all end up joining him in the shade or playing in the creek, trying to keep hydrated.
At night, we had some tents that we slept in. For a little while we had a concrete block to use as a toilet, then we graduated to an actual portable travel toilet. That was nice. We could make a little, three-walled room around it with tarp for privacy.


Honestly, I didn’t have it near as rough as the others. My littlest brother and sister were too small to be any help, so I babysat them at my grandparents’ house most of the time. And my mom had to keep a constant watch on the internet for inexpensive building materials or possible movable housing options, so she commuted back and forth a lot. The guys (especially my younger brother) were the ones out on the land day and night for weeks and weeks.

Even still, we all stayed out there as a family several times. Evening times were very memorable. The campfire crackled and popped as we sat around it and talked. The bugs buzzed and chirped. Raccoons sniffed their way up to the edge of our camp. Their eyes looked like glowing disks, reflecting the firelight. We’d been raised in the city, so there seemed to be an amazing amount of stars in the sky. Dad taught us some of the constellations.
Before the night was over, I’d always pull out my notebook and start scribbling away. It was almost impossible to see my writing in the flickering firelight, but I squinted and tried to at least jot down my thoughts.

It was getting late in the night before peace came back over the camp. All was quiet and still in the woods as the frogs chirped their croaky little tunes and the crickets and mosquitoes hummed along. The fire crackled and shone on everyone’s solemn, thoughtful faces and burned their images on my memories.

Then, suddenly and inevitably, my little sister piped up.
“I’ve got to go to the bathroom!”
It was usually my job to take her, so I nervously glanced around at the rest of the family, then asked for the brightest flashlight.
The trip out of the camp to the tarp-enshrouded bathroom was creepy, let me tell you. My sister was spooked by the noises in the forest underbrush around her while she did her business, and I wasn’t much braver as I longingly looked back at the campfire. Usually we’d come running back hand-in-hand, panting and glancing over our shoulders.

It’s always hard to sleep during the first couple nights of a camping trip, at least for me. Tent walls are amazingly thin. And if it rains, then don’t touch the sides of the tent, because it’ll get in and soak everything.
The mornings make all that inconvenience worth it though. It’s common to wake up early, as in, right before the sun comes up. There’s this dim, blue morning light that covers the earth with the dew. It filters softly into the tent and makes everything feel cold and fresh. The birds chatter and chirp at each other. The bugs buzz on the tent screen.
Supper the night before was tuna and mustard on crackers, or maybe some canned food. But breakfast was oftentimes eggs, salted and peppered.
Unless a coon got into the food tent…
It wasn’t unusual to wake up to a camp that looked like a whirlwind had gone through it.
Somehow we could never quite find a way to keep the mischievous critters out of our food. They were very clever, and what they didn’t eat, they liked to carry off elsewhere.
We needed a real house. Or at least some real walls and roof.

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