Come In From the Cold: Build an Earth Lodge

One group of modern nomads found that when teepees provided too little shelter from Pacific Northwest winters, an earth lodge was equal to the task and could be built for almost nothing.

| September/October 1978

If you're ever caught facing a long, cold winter without adequate shelter, you have no money to buy or rent with, and very little construction skill, cheer up! You can still enjoy warm, snug quarters for pennies, or perhaps no cost at all! Just spend four days building a wickiup or earth lodge.

Two years ago the members of the Flowering Tree Farm commune ran smack-dab into Old Man Winter. Up to that point the group—which preferred a nomadic way of life—had been satisfied with their one-family tipis. After all, the simple dwellings were roomy, comfortable, and served as symbols for the "minimal ecological impact" philosophy that had prompted the Flowering Tree people to adopt a back-to-basics lifestyle in the first place.

But when the "tribe" moved to Washington State's Okanogan county and found it to their liking (there was plenty of work in the apple orchards, and good rich soil for the communal gardens), the tipis were—though no one knew it at the time—on the way out.

As summer stretched into fall the weather changed, began to get cold, and served notice that even lower temperatures were still to come as the season worked its way toward a typically (for the eastern Washington/Canada border) fierce winter.

All of a sudden the old faithful tipis seemed less desirable—especially to Flowering Tree families with small children. The commune gritted its teeth and stuck that first winter out with firewood windbreaks, thick straw floors, and inner linings in its tents to keep out the worst of the aching cold. These half measures helped, but everyone in the group agreed that they'd have to find warmer dwellings before the next cold season came blowin' in.

"As long as we had a fire, the tipis were warm," explains Heinz, a commune member. "That is, they were warm on the side nearest the flames, and just freezing everywhere else!"

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