When I was 13 my family moved to a tipi in upstate New York to homestead. For years I have longed to tell the stories of our adventure on top of a hill in the country, carving out a lifestyle that belonged to another century, but I have never known where to start. What day marked the beginning? How do I explain how we came to be there? Which story comes first? Maybe this one…
My first memories of the homestead are green, which is odd, since we moved on a cold, muddy, snowy day – April First, 1995. To this day, Mom jokes that she had hoped that day that it was all a huge April Fool’s Joke. We had left the cozy, homey suburbs of Raleigh in the middle of the night, saying tearful goodbyes to the dear friends who had housed us for the night after all our belongings had been packed into the big yellow truck. Dad, Mom, 6 kids, and two friends, in three vehicles pulled out of the long gravel driveway and on our way. Away from the city, the lights, and all things familiar, towards new goals and unknown challenges. Onto the interstate, getting in 6 hours of driving before dawn. Past cities, Richmond, D.C., Wilkesbarre, through the hills of Pennsylvania, to a valley in the the southern tier of New York. Our route took us between low hills and ran beside an old canal flowing North to South – we reached Chenango county by mid-morning. The children woke to a different world, and it would literally be years before it quite felt like home again.
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 into the hills to our property.
Ten hours of driving, two days of work with 4 adults and 6 kids in tow, and we arrived ‘home’, pulling up to our property only to face the most challenging part of the journey: 1/4 mile long, half frozen, half muddy driveway. Steep and unwelcoming, the old logging trail slopped up toward the top of the hill. An early spring snow was doing its best to brighten the dull landscape of grays and browns, but all it did was make us shiver as we got out of the vehicles to survey the scene and stretch our legs.
The meadow through which the driveway climbed was grown over with goldenrod and Autumn Olive bushes, the ditch along side the road was muddy with the spring run off and sprouted wild willow, golden orange spikes just budding out. It was hard to see the beauty of the day, compared to the sunshine, warmth, and flowers we had left in the South.
Without very many options, the men decided to make a run for it with the truck, to see if they could make it through the mud and onto the first rise, with the goal of reaching our planned campsite and setting up the tipi before nightfall.
Within minutes, the moving truck was sunk to its axles, and there was nothing to do but pray for angels to come and help us.
See all chapters in the Tipi Tales Index here.