[ This is an excerpt from a story about our family in a small bay
north of Bahia de Los Angeles when our children were 6 and 8, in
the summer of 1985. We lived for three months in this simple
building of boards and bamboo. ]
I was up at first light and, still in work mode while I had an
assignment, ready to get at it. I walked around the beach looking
for the best and safest place for a hut. There was one logical
choice, a few feet above the high tide line in an area that was
covered with the smooth round stones we knew were preferable over
sand. Sand was great for a beach but in a house it got into
everything, especially when the wind blew.
My opinion formed, I went back to the trailer. Michael and Kevin
were sound asleep in their bed. Mary Ann was awake and up. We
discussed the location and agreed on the site. I moved enough of
the lumber to begin setting the uprights and organized tools and
equipment. The pile of materials didn't look large enough to
build a house. When the boys got up and wanted to help we had
them carry the lumber, one board at a time, with one of them on
each end, across the short distance of beach to where I was
I measured out where the upright beams would go and drew lines to
indicate the orientation of the hut with respect to the beach.
The front of the hut would face Smith's volcano and the sunrise.
We removed the thin layer of stones and scooped out holes in the
sand to a depth of 18 inches. If we buried the eight-foot posts
at this depth we would still have plenty of height, 6 and
one-half feet. Once each beam was in place we buried it in sand.
One of us would scoop the loose sand out of the hole as quickly
as possible while the other would plant and hold the post upright
while the other filled the hole with sand and stones. We repeated
this for each upright, with the boys thinking it was great fun to
have a reason to dig in the sand. Soon all the upright beams were
in place. The boys lost interest and Mary Ann took them back to
the trailer to inflate beach balls and inner tubes. I started
nailing the cross members to the vertical beams. By midday, even
though I was working slowly and taking breaks to cool off in the
water, the framing was complete for the basic structure.
After lunch the boys were going into the water and Mary Ann sat
on the beach watching them play and I started to hang the
double-layered roll-up bamboo screens onto the framework as walls
and roof. This went quickly and by early afternoon we had an
eight by sixteen foot hut that gave us protection from the sun
during the day and the unknowns of the night. We all started
filling the structure with the food and gear we had brought;
sleeping gear into the north end, kitchen goods into the south
end. I still had to construct the kitchen counters and hang the
fruit crates that would serve as cabinets, but that could wait
until tomorrow. At least we had a basic structure. In the mid
afternoon we moved our four cots into the shade of the hut and
rested, reading. But there was still work to do and I couldn't
I assembled the plywood counters I had precut and nailed them
into place, hung the fruitcrate cabinets from the higher
horizontal beams. Mary Ann put self-adhesive lining paper over
the raw plywood and we positioned the camp stove on the counter,
and the canned food. We put the dry goods in an otherwise empty
ice chest to protect them from the mice and Kangaroo rats. I hung
lengths of wire bent to form small hooks from the ceiling in the
kitchen and from these we suspended pots and pans. We arranged
the plates and cups in the cupboards and silverware into a
partitioned storage case. I mounted other fruit crates onto the
walls of the bedroom and Mary Ann put up foldable clothing. From
the roof there we hung shirts. Every open space was used
efficiently, without seeming cluttered or claustrophobic.
By evening I stood back, looked at our accomplishments of a
single day, and thought voila, instant hut.
And that night we spent our first in our new home.
Of the various times of day in Baja the evening is the most
complete. Perhaps this is so because what was to be accomplished
during the day has or has not been done but is now fact. The
mornings are full of hope, midday filled with work, afternoons
are looking forward to the realization of the days' efforts. But
by evenings the day is past and we can reflect on the events of
that day and plan the next and relax to do the things we would do
if we had only to entertain ourselves. As the sun's light faded
we made dinner and lit the lanterns and fussed over the final
arrangements of our collected stuff. Michael and Kevin decided
which wooden crates were for their toys and which for cloths and
arranged and rearranged and started over again.
Mary Ann and I walked outside to examine our handiwork. The
golden lantern light from inside seeped through the split bamboo
shades spilling onto the sand and stones of the beach. The small
bodies of our children discussing what went here and what went
there was a wonderful and tender moment. We could see through
into the inside just enough to see the movements of the boys.
This sight coupled with the sounds of the sea and air, the
absolute openness of the beach, the knowledge that we were here
completely on our own all filled me with a feeling of
accomplishment and of completion. I knew this would be a summer
of our lives.
We stood outside for a few minutes thinking about the additions
we could make to improve our home. We decided that another room,
the same dimensions as the first, could be added to the beach
side, and left completely open to the water. We could use half of
this as a library and eating area. The other half could be used
for storage and we could add another small piece of plywood on a
box, as a coffee table. But those were thoughts for another day.
By the time we walked back into the hut the boys were asleep on
their cots. We pulled the sheets around them and opened chairs
and sat where the library would be. I found the radio and put on
a John Williams Spanish guitar album. This was the perfect end to
a great day. There were many more to come. We were looking
forward to watching the boys slow down from the rush of everyday
life in southern California. We knew it would take some time, but
we knew it would happen. It would happen to us as well.
A breeze came up and kept the insects to a minimum and we sat
into the evening with the guitar playing in the background,
reading by dim light, until we were tired. We arranged our night
things and went to bed. As I turned off the music the night
noises of Las Cuevitas took its place and we fell into sleep
listening to new sounds.