Backyard Camping: Sleeping Out in the Urban Wilderness

In the summer, we like to set up our tent in the backyard, and move into it.  The tent has a wide, screened roof through which stars, moon, warm breezes, and leafy shadows all make their way.  Normally we put the tent away when back-to-school time rolls around, but this year we didn’t.  And now that it’s nearly October, we’re still thinking, “Why would we?”  We have added an extra blanket layer, started leaving our socks and hats on all night, and have to put the rainfly up a bit more often.  But we see no reason to move back inside.


Stars, moon, breeze.  Sounds sweet and calm, doesn’t it?  But it’s mayhem out there.  MAYHEM.  There are raccoons rustling, and opossums snorting, and all manner of thing grunting and wheezing,  sniffing and sneezing.  One night early in the season a raccoon climbed the cherry tree above our tent to gather the furthest reaches of the harvest–the berries we couldn’t reach on our ladder.  The tree swayed over our heads, and we could see the ringed tail hanging in the shadows.  Then the pits started falling on our tent.  They left red marks that only recently wore off after several summer rains.

Just the other night, we opened the tent door to see a small raccoon a few feet away, chewing on Tom’s shoe.  It was so close–even though the clock read 2 a.m., we woke Claire to have a look before Tom crawled out in his skivvies to chase the little thief away.

Once Claire woke me up to hear a gull in the dark of morning.  But hearing it I realized it wasn’t a gull, it was a Western Screech-Owl (a small owl that doesn’t actually screech–its voice is sort of like a muffled bouncing ball–have a listen).  Later that day I found a screech-owl feather a block from our home, and on that same walk, just one block further, I discovered fresh coyote scat right on the sidewalk.  I have never seen one of the coyotes that inhabit the nearby green belt venture into our yard, but in the middle of the night, amidst all the noise of the urban wilds, I am always grateful we took the effort to make our chicken coop so snug and impenetrable.  And somehow, even with all the sounds and activity of the nocturnal world, I sleep better outside than I ever do in my fluffy indoor bed.

We sleep in the tent because it’s cozy and fun, of course, but also because I love being reminded that the “urban wilderness” is more than just an expression–that we live in a more-than-human world filled with creatures who have no regard for the “city limits” sign. I love knowing that Claire heads to school each morning, not only with a backpack of completed assignments, but with visions of wild creatures in the night, an owl in the morning, and stars over her dreaming head.  When we eventually do move back into the house (IF we do!), I want to remember the wild stories unfolding all around us as we sleep, even when we’re not out there in their midst.

(Here’s a more recent update.)


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