Living in a Tent: Grit Required

It isn’t for everyone

After someone finds out I’m living in a tent, it’s only a matter of time before they work up the nerve to ask, “How do you go to the bathroom?!” But the question is written in their faces long before the words come out of their mouths.

My answer is always given with a bit of smile… “the same way people have been doing it for hundreds of years… in a chamber pot.” Which, in my case, happens to be a large ceramic mug, easy to hold and dispose of. Yes, it’s a bit gritty. Rough around the edges. Unconventional. Inconvenient.

My life conjures up lots of these questions.

“How do you get rid of the bugs?” You don’t; it’s a part of living in a tent outside.
“What do you do when it’s freezing?” You’re cold until you can light a fire hot enough to keep warm.
“Do you ever wish you didn’t live the way you do?” Yes, for sure…but never enough to change it, at least for now.
“Does dirt get in your tent?” Yes, it’s a constant battle when living in a tent.
“You teach outside? What do you do when it rains?” Get wet or wear a rain jacket; humans are waterproof.
“How about when it’s snowing and cold.” Wool socks and a hat.

And the questions keep coming…

These questions are natural, and I love to answer them. I love to be an example of a different way of doing things. However, it really gets me when people take their own paradigm and lay it over mine. When people start judging my life as less than or even wrong (the latter most often for my children).

Children living in a tent is not abuse.

Twin girls enjoy time in their Stout bell tent

It’s only a matter of time in the disconnected, faceless world of the internet before someone starts yelling child abuse. “How is it ok that kids are outside without shelter in all weather at your school?” “Doesn’t exposure to the elements qualify as lack of care? Isn’t that abuse?!” “How is it ok that you can choose for your children such an extreme lifestyle? Don’t they have a voice?”

Well now…if I’m honest, I imagine these people to be emaciated, pasty, weak-eyed people who hide behind their computer screens and harbor darkness along with a lack of muscle tone. So I don’t give them much energy. But the concept of comfort as necessary seems to have permeated further than the internet trolls.

It seems a bit to me that culture has lost its grit. In human history, we have only recently adapted to the ease and convenience of a sterile, enclosed, private, and modernized lifestyle. It wasn’t that long ago that humanity simply lived as a part of the seasons, light cycles, and weather, forming a community out of its fragile existence and survival. We went outside in all weather because it contained the resources we depended on. We stopped work sooner in winter because the sun went down earlier, and we didn’t want to waste the precious resources of candles or fuel. We marked the seasons by the resources they brought and made sure we gathered and prepared for the next. We had grit. And I think it was good for us.

Now we live in an on-demand world. When it’s hot, we have coolers; when it’s cold, we have heaters…access to comfort at a touch of a button. When we are hungry, we can choose any food from anywhere around the world; disconnected from its season, region, or the hands that picked it. When we are bored, we don’t need creativity or industry to occupy our hands and minds. We’ve got Netflix, TikTok, someone else’s music, and smart TVs.

These are not evil or wrong, and I am grateful for it all in its context. But I believe we as a culture have let it rob us of something that made us more robust, more ethical, mindful, aware, and careful. I think these modern amenities have taken the need for ability, skill, growth, and sustainability right out of our hands and the hands of our children.

I have worked with youth for 18 years, and from what I have observed, it’s my opinion that we have robbed our children of ability, grit, resilience, and mental health. Instead, we’ve given them instant gratification, easy outs, and ready-made excuses when facing difficult circumstances. We’ve offered a general lack of education in hands-on skills and have taught them that you only go outside and live life when the sun is shining.

Perhaps the actual abuse for our children is the cultural lifestyle they didn’t choose, and that is so hard to break free from.

Hard, but worth it.

I won’t sugarcoat the grit in my lifestyle. Living in a tent is hard and dirty; it can be tiring and inconvenient…but my goodness, it’s so much more than that.

I woke up the other morning with the golden sun filtering through my canvas. Last night I fell asleep to the rhythmic drizzle of the rain above my head. The other day I watched my daughter swing from a tree branch deftly, confident of her body and ability, still holding onto her complete innocence and childhood at ten years old. Her sister was running breathless and smiling through the rain, rosy and full of experiences that would have been missed had I told her we needed to wait for comfort to live them. You won’t convince me that this is wrong or abusive; I’ve got twin case studies providing evidence to the contrary.

To my gritty little blondes, this is normal. They don’t feel a loss of comfort because they are so adaptable and fresh-eyed in their view of the world. They are proving to me that we really can be the change. They are the legacy I leave for the future. They are teaching me that they are strong enough and gritty enough….If I just show them the way. Or maybe… they’ll show me.

Heather Anne was raised an adventurer, off-grid in the backwoods of Montana. Today, she is a mother to twin girls and an enthusiastic survivalist, passionate about sharing her unique skill-set with the world. Heather believes wholeheartedly in community and in living simply. She seeks to bring awareness to the importance of skill sharing and the bounty of nature over modern disconnection and consumerism. She now lives in Michigan, where she teaches at a nature based forest school and lives full-time in a Stout Tent 5M Ultimate. Her next adventure is to run the Pacific Northwest Trail which spans 1200 miles through the wilderness, high desert, and coastline. Follow her on Instagram.

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