People always ask us why we chose a tipi. Sometimes we still ask ourselves that question. 🙂 I was discussing it with my father and mother the other night, and we came up with several reasons, though some of them hardly make sense in retrospect.
My father had seen and been inside a few tipis that had been used at the big ‘pow-wows’ he attended with the boys in the Christian camping ministry they were a part of, called Royal Rangers. The tipis were attractive for their durability and comparative spaciousness to other tents. When considering what we would live in for the summer months while we built our cabin, a tipi seemed more solid and roomy than our 8 man Coleman dome tent with its thin, reedy support poles and nearly-transparent nylon skin.
Another thing we had to consider was our neighbors. These people had befriended us, shared their vision and a glimpse into their lives, and inspired us into this homestead thing in the first place. They were very committed to a most primitive form of lifestyle, and we felt that it would be important that we try to interface with them as well as we could, in order to achieve the community support that would be essential to our survival in this new life. They lived in a log cabin with a dirt floor, cooking over an open fire in a chimney built from field stone. We figured a tipi would fit in on the landscape just right.
We had the offer from a great-uncle, concerned at our choice in lifestyle, of a camper to use for the summer. Dad refused, believing that if we were going to do this thing, then we should do it right. A tipi would be our temporary shelter.
We mail ordered the tipi canvas from a Ma and Pa company in Minnesota, and it came in two large, heavy boxes one day in early spring to our address in Durham, N.C. The big brown delivery truck never failed to cause excitement among the children when it pulled into the driveway. We gathered around as the man in the brown shorts muscled each box off the truck and onto the pavement. One of us proudly announced that that was our home in those two boxes. It took a little explaining for the delivery man to understand and believe us, but I’m sure he still had questions in his mind as he drove off.
Dad had already prepared a floor- plywood cut and pieced together to form a large, 20 ft. circle, to erect the tipi over. We had also cut poles already from a friend’s pine woods – 26 ft long logs, which Joel and I had had the job to debark. The book we had about tipis said that the poles should be shaved clean so that moisture could run smoothly down the poles to the ground, rather than catching on snags and dripping inside the tipi. Hours were spent in the front yard of the house we rented the last 6 months in N.C., getting smeared with sap and scratched with bark, competing with our draw knives to peel all the logs clean. When completed, Daddy practiced pitching the tipi in our driveway in the suburbs – garnering quite a few stares and slow drive-bys from our nieghbors.
(In checking back in my journal the other day, I realized I had gotten a bit mixed up as to the sequence of those first days. I read that we had driven all day on Thursday, and arrived in N.Y. in the late afternoon. It was Friday, our second day in N.Y. that we spent getting stuck in the driveway)
We spent that first night at the local Howard Johnson, and the next morning we found a place to store our stuff. We had packed the 24 ft. Hertz Penske truck with all of the worldly belongings we had after selling or giving away anything with an electric cord, or that we could not see ourselves using in on the homestead. The tipi poles lay along the right wall of the truck, extending out of the rear a few feet; we tied a few orange ribbons and an SMV sign on them for the trip up. Several boxes were labeled “Permanent Storage” – heirloom delft china my mother’s mother had brought from Holland, and a few other keepsakes we simply couldn’t part with, but knew wouldn’t find a place in our new lifestyle. The rest was to be placed in storage until our cabin was built – dressers and beds, books and clothes. Only the essentials of food, clothing and bedding would come with us up the hill to the tipi site.
After locking the doors on our two 10×10 ft. storage bays down in Norwich, we headed up to the hill, and promptly got bogged down in the mud. After spending all day in getting to the top of the hill, there was no time before dark to set up the tipi, so we headed back to the hotel for another night. This was our first set back, and after our a day of wrestling with nature to do such a simple thing as ‘pull into our driveway’, discouragement and doubt were already attacking my parents. Mom remembers spending that evening in panic and tears, wondering “What in the world are we doing?!!!”. Thankfully, us kids were largely unaware of the fear and tension – it was still just one big adventure, and all I remember of that night was the excitement of another night in a hotel room, and the rare treat of Burger King for dinner.
Coming next – “Pitching the tipi”…