September 16, 1997

Our Tipi

When I first met Carol back in 1972, she was living in a tipi in northern California she made herself. She cut the poles, sewed to cover and put it up with help only from a horse. She lived for a year by herself in that tipi, through the rainy Northern California winter. Her uncle, who lived on the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation, had taught her how to make the tipi.

This is a picture from that time of her smoothing her poles.
(Notice her feet. When I first met her she wasn't wearing any shoes either and I was interviewing her for a University job!).

We are now in the midst of putting up a tipi next to our home and I find the process fascinating and exciting and decided to share it with you.

The tipi is a kit made by Nomadics Tipi Makers (Bend Oregon, 503-389-3980). It is an 18 footer and they painted it to Carol's specifications. The truck driver who brought the poles is a hero to me. His truck (a large one since to poles are 25 feet long) almost didn't make it up our driveway.

As we put the tipi together I amazed myself with the beauty, simplicity, and intelligence of the design. It shouldn't have surprised me, though. The Native American flute is a marvellously designed instrument that produces gorgeous sound even though it is really a whistle.

First we sanded and coated the poles with linseed oil and prepared a level pad. Then up she went, only to come down again. We had been careless about the various measurements. Justifiably, Carol had been uneasy about the way we had measured things and as usual she was right. It took three of us part of an afternoon to take it down, reattach things, and put it up again. Our god-daughter, Chelsea, took a video of the process of putting it up. Below are some stills from that video to show you the process. Most of the shots are a bit dark because it was late afternoon and cloudy.

 This is the pad and Bob (Chelsea's step-dad) and I (with the hat) are in the process of measuring for the location of the tripod poles. The tipi is set on a tripod base
The tripod goes up.
The poles are placed at specific distances from one another and the Door pole is placed in the East.
 Then the other poles are carefully placed in the tripod so they cross correctly at the apex. (Prayer Feathers were first attached to the tips of the poles.) The poles are then lashed together.
 The cover was securely attached to the lift pole and wrapped about it.
 The lift pole was then carried into place and the cover lifted out and around the poles by "billowing".
 The front was then laced together with lacing sticks and the shell was about finished.
We are eager to see how the tipi does through our coming El Nino winter.

There is an eight foot liner (also painted) attached to the inside of the poles by ropes. Small dowels keep the rope off the pole on the inner surface so the rain can run down the inner side of the poles, hopefully all the way to the ground without dripping. Likewise, if the poles have been brought together at the apex properly, rain should catch on the poles and the rope coil and run down the poles to the ground.

The gap between the tipi cover and the liner should provide for insulation, summer and winter, and create a draught so the smoke from a fire will be carried through the smoke hole and directed by the smoke flaps.

Very clever. But did we do it right?


February 27, 2000
After raising the tipi Carol and I spent time together within her, drumming, singing, playing the flute. We became aware of how the tipi is a sacred circle and holds people in Sacred Circle. On the fourth day of spending time within the tipi, Carol said, " This feels like holy ground and that is her name, Holy Ground."

And did we do it right? Not quite. We had a mildew problem the first winter. Now we ceremonially put Holy Ground up after the Spring rains and take her down before the coming of the Fall rains.

© Copyright, Bob Edgar, September 1997
This page was posted on September 25, 1997
revised on March 1, 2000