I know it has been a while since I published a Tipi Tale. I have not had a lot of time for creative writing in the last few months, but hope to continue working on my book now that the cold, cozy-inside weather has set in. I admit to procrastinating on this next installment – the memories were difficult to recreate because for many years all I wanted to do was forget this night…Thanks to Jeremy for making a suggestion that got me in a writing mood again.
Continued from Episode Four: Our First Night As Indians
The key to fitting a family of 8 and all their gear, plus kitchen and pantry essentials in a 20 foot tipi was to follow the old adage, “A place for everything, and everything in it’s place”. Mom had been extremely organized in preparing for our summer of camping. It was her way of coping with the uncertainties we were facing – knowing where everyone’s toothbrush was at any given time gave her peace of mind.
The tipi was mainly our sleeping quarters, with cots and sleeping mats using up most of the floor space, but there was also a large old workbench and a couple shelves for food storage, one book case crammed with curriculum for homeschooling, and a rocker for Mom to nurse the baby in. Under the large, army issue cots someone had given us we stored our clothes – one bushel-sized apple box for each of us. Three changes of clothes and a week’s worth of underwear and socks. At night Dad and Mom would blow up their air mattress and after they got settled you’d better hope you didn’t have to get up again ’cause you’d have to step on people’s beds to get anywhere.
By the third night in the tipi we were getting into a night time routine. We un-rolled sleeping bags, brushed teeth, and took turns making trips to the latreen with the flashlight. The Coleman lamp Dad always lit at sunset made the tipi glow like a giant paper lantern, welcoming us back from our business in the woods. We still had to tie down a few things, but as it stood, it was the most home-like thing on the landscape.
Dad was filling the wood stove and banking it for the night, while the boys were braving the elements to bring a few arm-loads of wood under the canvas in readiness for morning. The wind had picked up, and it was getting hard to ignore the unsettling noise of the canvas flapping against the poles over our heads. I stared up into the shadows between the poles at the top of the tipi to the star-shape black hole that revealed the sky. No stars tonight. I tried to remember how exactly the canvas was supposed to stay connected to the frame of poles. I had been busy gathering kindling to start fires when Dad and the boys had been working on that. I slithered into my sleeping bag, hoping the wind wouldn’t get any stronger, or the noise would definitely keep me awake.
“We didn’t quite finish staking the canvas down,” I heard Dad explaining to Mom as she was putting Anneke to bed in her port-a-crib, “-but it should hold until morning. We’ll work on that first thing – should be able to pull it taught enough so it won’t flap like -”
Suddenly his voice was overwhelmed by the strongest gust of wind yet, and we saw the canvas lift, ghostlike, up and out from the poles, until we saw night over the top of the inner lining. The wind’s breath spent, the canvas flopped down again, only to snap taught again and flap anxiously.
All this in seconds, but already the atmosphere in the tipi had been transformed from bedtime calm to emergency mode. Dad bounced off his mattress and began giving orders. Mom and I were to hold the canvas from the inside while he and Joel went out to re-tie the ropes that had snapped. Before he got his boots, the wind had gusted again, and again the canvas lifted up higher than our head, and Mom wailed “Hurry, Hon!”
Jordan, only 10 and short for his age, stood on top of his cot and tried to grip the canvas above his head. Mom and I were climbing up on the work bench to reach the section of canvas that seemed to be loosest. It flapped over our heads, out of reach. When it settled down again, it was to0 taught to get a hold of. The next time it flapped up, we felt cold pricks of ice on our faces – it was sleeting. We scratched at the canvas, trying desperately to get a handhold. Jordan began whimpering, giving voice to the terror rising in my own throat. The wind seemed to be at war with us, and if it won, the closest thing we had to a home would be carried off into the tree tops!
Continued in Episode Six: A Blustery Day, Part 2
To find all the Episodes in this story, visit this page.