In the past few days, I have seriously considered figuring out a way to live in a tipi or a similar structure next year. I’m looking for some perspective from those who have actually lived or worked with these structures before to know whether I’m making a sensible consideration. First, some context:
For a few months, I have been planning on moving up to some family land in the mountains with a friend come February next year. Our general idea has been to move into this old house on the property, and do whatever repairs need to be done to the place. The house had been rented to some folks up until a few weeks ago when the tenants, who hadn’t made rent for two or three months, skipped town after attempts at being contacted by my parents.
I went up this past week to visit with my grandmother who lives in the area and survey the house and get a sense of what shape the tenants left the place in. Our worst fears were confirmed. The place was a mess. In all honesty, it nauseated me and I can’t imagine how anyone lived in such squalor. What was perhaps most troubling to me was the amount of stuff these tenants had accumulated when clearly they couldn’t afford or take responsibility for half of it. The yard was littered with used tires, seven or eight lawnmowers, old gas cans, a trampoline, soda bottles, etc… The outbuildings had pool tables, old refrigerators and ovens, mountains of toys. The porch was growing a mountain of garbage bags. The inside was wrecked with torn up mattresses, computer monitors, clothes, toys, and random pieces of furniture. If we were to rent the largest uhaul available, it would likely take 3 or 4 trips to remove all of the things left behind. This, not to mention the awful state they had left the house in when they moved out.
More than anything, this appeared to me as the worst of America’s consumerism, piles of stuff no one needs, can afford, or can take responsibility for.
I returned with my grandmother to her house where we both spoke in amazement at what we had seen. My grandmother was especially rattled by the condition of the place because she had seen the house in its prime. After conversation and dinner with her, I sat down and began to take stock of the situation. The house is in no condition to live in and it needs a heavy investment of work and money to make it livable again. It will not be ready for me and my friend to move into in February, and the vibe of the place gives me pause about moving into another house at all. I also took stock of my own needs, asking myself what I really need to live. I came up with many of the obvious things: clean air, water, food, warm and dry shelter, family & friends, teachers, and stories.
I have noticed in my short life that how I live on a day-to-day basis is heavily influenced by the environment I choose to live in. When I live in my parent’s house, I fall into many of the habits I have developed in this place over many years, for good and ill. When I was in a dorm at college, I lived a certain way. When I lived in Japan, I lived a different way. When I was working at a farm and lived in an old house, I lived a different way. I wasn’t a different person in each of these, but the circumstances largely determined my habits, routine, and way I lived.
When I saw the house in such a shape, I saw many of the possibilities for how my way of life could turn out. Would living in a house lead me to just fill it up with possessions that would end up owning me, and would the house itself with the many needs that come with that territory (electricity, heating fuel) end up constraining my rewilding? How can I avoid this? Would living in the house and getting it fixed up with kerosene heat and electricity encourage me to learn to live without either of those things?
I began to think of other options, ways I could choose my surroundings to encourage me on the rewilding path whilst providing for my needs for shelter (which I define as a warm, dry, place to rest). I began to consider a tipi or a wigwam, leaning towards a tipi because I feel it may be a bit easier, given the time frame, to get materials for and setup. My friend and I, in spite of our suburban upbringings, aren’t completely clueless when it comes to the outdoors and “camping” (though I come fairly close ). So long as a shelter can keep us dry when it rains or snows, warm when it’s cold, and perhaps give us a fire to cook over, we’re both fairly flexible (and would actually both be pretty excited to live in a tipi). My friend is more adept at dealing with cold than I am – he’s dogsledding in Alaska at the moment where he reports temperatures range into the -20s F – but I feel confident I can deal with chilly weather as well. In short, we’re young, we’re adventurous, and together we’re up for roughing it.
So after all this rambling, I’d like to hear from y’all, particularly if you’ve lived in a tipi or primitive shelter for any length of time. What did you know going into it? What led you to choose to live in that kind of shelter when you did so? What were the major challenges? Would you encourage someone in my situation to buy an already made tipi (at least in terms of cover, liner, etc.) or to purchase canvas and sew my own (I’m not a stranger to sewing machines, but I’m hardly an expert seamstress either)? I appreciate any perspective you can offer.