Monday, August 3, 2015

Odds 'N Ends - Lesson from a Tepee (Cont'd)

The first post on tepees covered many of their unique features such as shape, orientation, materials, smoke flap function, insect control and some of the Youngs' camping experiences in a tepee, including winter camping.  This post adds other interesting tepee factoids.

Tepee Poles
The plains Indians lived nowhere near good trees for poles and had to travel several
Lodgepole pines
hundred miles west to the Rockies to harvest lodgepole pines.  Consequently, poles were
cherished and lasted a long time.  The 14 poles supporting the cover were traditionally several feet taller than the cover while the two poles that moved the smoke flaps were shorter. Two of the oldest and most dispensable poles were used for the travois which meant that dragging them on the ground behind a horse wore them shorter.  So they were relegated to smoke flap poles.  I suspect the extra length for the other poles was intended to delay pole-cutting treks to the mountains as long as possible.  As the bottoms of the poles deteriorated from being in contact with the ground, the extra length allowed the poles to be shortened many times before having to be demoted to smoke flap duty or replaced entirely.

For a 20' tall tepee like those we had, the poles needed to be at least 24' long.  The unique thing about a long lodgepole is that the diameter at the tip is only slightly smaller than the diameter at the base -- only about 2 - 3" for tepees.  The minimal taper gives them the stiffness they need to carry the weight of the canvas despite being so slender.

Pitching the Tepee
If the squaws were responsible for pitching and striking the tepees, ever wonder how agile some of them must have been to shinny up the poles to tie and untie them at the top?  Didn't happen.  The three sturdiest poles are tied together flat on the ground then spread out and tilted into place to form a tripod.  The excess rope dangling from the top is more than long enough to touch the ground.   The other 11 poles are then laid into the forks of the first three in a very precise order.  After the poles are in place, the excess rope is wrapped from the ground around all of the poles and tied off to one of the tripod poles.

The cover is raised and secured just as easily.  It is laid on the ground around the periphery of the tepee with its midpoint directly opposite where the door will be.  Then the smoke flap poles are inserted into the pockets for them at the top of the smoke flaps and used to lift the cover into place.  It is subsequently draped around the poles towards the door then overlapped over the door and laced together with 1/4" thick sticks that fit in matching pairs of "button holes".  The nearest thing to climbing the squaws might have had to do was to secure a stick across the door opening on which to stand while lacing the cover together.

Doesn't It Rain In Around the Poles?
Yes, but not much. Most of the water runs down the underneath side of the poles to the ground unimpeded as long as the poles are smooth and there are no obstructions.  Consequently, the poles have to be debarked while they are green and the knots that are left where the limbs were have to be shaved smooth.  Moreover, the ropes that attach the liner to the poles cannot lie directly against the poles.  Instead, two small twigs are wedged under the rope to hold it away from the pole on the underneath side, providing a clear waterway to the ground.

As mentioned in a prior post, our first tepee was pitched in Illinois in the mid-70's.  Rather than having 16 lodgepole pine poles shipped from one of  the Rocky Mountain states, we used native trees with terrible results.  They were bulky, heavy, crooked, tapered too much and were difficult to get smooth enough to carry the water to the ground without drips.  We ended up shortening the poles to just above the liner and covering them with a god-awful metal lid from a hog feeder.  Ugly and insulting to tepee-ism.

After a couple of years of making do, we took the tepee to Colorado for a two-week camping vacation.  We arranged a head of time to pick up new lodgepoles near Aspen (which gave us an opportunity to tour the town overnight).  We then hauled the poles on the rack atop of our DIY trailer behind our 4-W drive International Scout to Crested Butte, a ski town that was the nearest civilization to our planned campsite at 11,000 feet. Interestingly, Aspen and Crested Butte are hiking distance apart as the crow flies but multiple hours apart by road because they are separated by the continental divide. One of the ski resort motels in Crested Butte stayed open during the summer so we touristed Crested Butte by evening and de-knotted our tepee poles with butcher knives on the motel parking lot by day.

Eventually, we did have a second set of poles shipped from Montana when the original set deteriorated after about 15 years.  The truck driver was amused by a bundle of "What?" that was more than half as long as his trailer.  As mentioned in a prior post, we took the cover home during the summer but we left the poles in place and unprotected.  Otherwise, a second set would not have been necessary

Isn't the Tepee Smokey?
Also as explained in detail in a prior post, the smoke from the campfire is at the mercy of wind direction and barometric pressure.  The relationship between the liner and the cover in conjunction with the smoke flaps limit the amount of smoke campers have to deal with -- much less actually than around a campfire in the open -- because the fire inside is controlled and predictable.  

There is no wind inside, so the heat of the fire causes the smoke to rise naturally whereby the air coming in between the liner and the cover picks it up and carries it out through the smoke flaps.  Make-up air for the fire enters in an intentional manner either below the door or through an opening around the door that is tailored in size to the amount of air needed for the fire -- much like opening and closing a stove damper.  

Okay, What Is the Lesson That the Tepee Teaches Us?
For some it may be a stretch but for me it is easy to see a parallel between the tepee and green building to the degree that both work with nature instead of against her. In my view, that characteristic goes a long way in defining sustainability.

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