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Stories by Mike Humfreville

The Hut    ( Posted July 29, 2003 )

[ 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 working.

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 relax.

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.

Copyright 2003-2006 Mike Humfreville

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