Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Terri and Josh Shortlidge of Melrose, Massachusetts, have slept in a tent in their backyard for more than a year, reports UU World, the magazine of the Unitarian Universalist Association. It started as a one-nighter for the Great American Backyard Campout, and they liked it so much they simply kept doing it.
They’re not calling their long campout a “staycation,” and they’re not attempting to simulate homelessness like all those camp-in-a-cardboard-box charity events. The Shortlidges are just reveling in the natural and metaphysical wonder that is their suburban Boston backyard:
Every night they leave their house and crawl into the tent in their backyard. Each morning they come out of the tent and go back into the house where they get ready for work.
The tenting experience has changed their lives. “When we wake up the first thing we see is the outside,” says Terri, 52. “It’s beautiful—the leaves in the fall, the snow. Each season has its beauty. This has brought us more in contact with ourselves and with our physical world, with birds singing at sunrise, crickets at dusk, and the loveliest sound of all, rain pitter-pattering on the tent fly all night long. We have a new appreciation for the interdependent web of all existence.”
The Shortlidges are tweeting about their ongoing campout; recent news has included a new down comforter, welcome rains from Hurricane Earl after a dry summer, and a “sleeping terrace” for their tent so they don’t have to move it every few nights to prevent grass die-off.
Although their camping ritual isn’t a charity stunt or a real hardship—Terri and Josh have all the comforts of home a few feet away—Josh tells UU World that the simplicity of tent living instills a certain empathy:
“We have a greater appreciation for all humans now—for those who preceded us over the past millennia, and especially for those who have less than us.”
Image by David Bliss and Jean Harris, courtesy of the photographers.