On a beautiful Sunday in July, the dream of a tipi became a reality. It had started as an idea: a place for the grandchildren to play when they visit. It grew to become a place for guests to stay, for womens groups to meet, for spiritual congregation. At this point, my hope is that it will be a place of blessing for all who enter, whatever their purpose.
Myself, several interns and a couple of friends had spent a month sanding and oiling the poles. Then we waited for the rains to stop, after which the sod was cleared and a yard of sand brought in. Finally, the perfect day arrived.
With the help of interns Verena Eichenberger from Switzerland and David Rittenhouse of Minnesota, I gathered all the necessary items and we drove out to the site. We opened up the tipi cover and began laying out the tripod poles. The Nomadic Tipi Company had sent along very clear instructions with many photos. Moreover, I had been lucky enough to have assisted Toby Benetti, Michigan’s own tipi maven, in setting up his tipi in May, so I had ‘experience’.
We selected the 3 biggest poles for the tripod and determined the angle for the door pole. Then we made a clove hitch knot and while Verena pulled, I pushed. David took all the photos. Theoretically, 2 people who know what they’re doing, can set up a tipi in half an hour. It took us all day. But what’s the rush? We knew the knot was strong because Verena proved it. We spent much time centering the tripod poles at the correct angles in the alloted space. Fortunately David had learned trig in high school so he figured it out. Then we laid in the remaining 12 poles. The instructions called for someone to whip and snap the long piece of rope around the poles. Fortunately, Dave was tall enough and strong enough to be our whipper-snapper. The dictionary says that a whipper-snapper is a presumptuos person. But I don’t think Daniel Webster was ever called upon to help put up a tipi or he would have given another definition.
As soon as the frame was up, we noticed one groundhog – and then another – step out from the edge of the windbreak, stand up on their hind legs and look curiously in our direction, as if to figure out who their new neighbors could possibly be. Dave hoped they might bring over a welcome basked with treats for us. No such luck. But Trish Hansel, who happened by around this time, suggested that we make an offering to them when we have our first meal at the tipi. In any case, we took a break for lunch.
The canvas cover is very heavy. We used the last pole to hoist it up and then unfurled it around the other poles. The tipi is held together with sharpened wooden dowels which pierce the overlapping pre-made holes. It was hard to get the pins into those tight holes. I can see how this entire process will be easier next time. We used a step ladder to reach the highest holes. If you didn’t have a ladder, one person could climb on another’s back to reach it. After this, we staked the tipi down all around the bottom. Then it was time to put in the liner.
Verena and Trish worked together to get the smoke flap poles into the sewn pocket flaps. That was a tricky task. It has been accomplished in this photo. The clouds gave us the message that a storm was approaching. So we kept working busily, even though we were tiring of the job. We put 3 levels of rope around the poles on the inside of the tipi. These were used to attach strings from the liner pads, so the liner would stay up. The inside liner is 6 feet tall.
One of the amazing things is that a tipi kit doesn’t cost much more that a good computer system. Another, is that Native Americans lived through cold winters in such tents because the tipi is the only tent design that allows an indoor fire! The smoke hole at the top takes all the smoke out, and the cozy design means that a small fire will keep the inhabitants quite warm. The inner liner provides privacy when a fire is lit and also keeps the occupants drier in a rain.
I’m looking forward to sleeping in the tipi. And hosting womens writing groups. And holding satsang. And playing with my grandchildren……