Living in a Tipi: One Man’s Journey

As a result of a house fire, one man re-evaluates what is important in life and rediscovers a childhood dream of living in a tipi.

| May 31, 2012

One stormy August night, a lightning bolt struck Mark Warren’s tin-roofed farmhouse and burned everything to the ground. Living in a tent his friends loaned him, he observes the beauty of the exposed land, and rediscovers a childhood dream of living in a tipi. More than just the story of one man, Two Winters in a Tipi (Lyons Press, 2012) gives the history and use of the native structure, providing valuable advice, through Warren’s trial and error, about the confrontations that march toward a tipi dweller. This excerpt from Chapter 1: “Trial by Fire,” Chapter 2: “Native Son,” and Chapter 3: “Home Equity” narrates the beginnings of Warren’s journey from the house fire to what inspires him to live in a tipi. 

Chapter 1: Trial by Fire

In 1989, a midnight August storm unleashed a bolt of fire, connecting heaven and earth through the mountain farmhouse in which I had been living for the past seven years. Crude columns of hand-stacked stones propped the old wood-frame building, built almost a century earlier, two feet above the ground. Its sagging interior wood flooring had at some point been covered with creaking linoleum, its roof nailed with tin. That roof, the fire investigator later told me, reflected heat downward like an oven, turning the fire into a blistering inferno. Nothing survived it, not even metal tools.

Everything I owned was incinerated in an unstoppable blaze that must have lit up the driving rain like falling diamonds. I don’t know because I didn’t see it. My dog, Elly, and I were fifty miles away, sleeping at the summer camp where I had just returned campers after a week-long wilderness program on this same leased mountain land.

The call came the next morning. I was packing gear and about to return home when one of the camp owners came out of the office and called me to the phone. She followed me back inside. A woman not given to shows of emotion, she put her arms around my chest as though to hold me in place when I picked up the phone. Then the side of her face pressed into my back.

Through the line, I barely recognized Teresa, my closest friend in the mountains. Her voice sounded small, squeezed from an unfamiliar place. She asked about me and how I was doing, but a vacuum pulled at the core of her sentences. She was trying to prepare me.

“Last night there was a bad storm,” she said finally. “Lots of lightning.” Then after a pause, her voice resigned to a forced, even timbre. “Your house burned down.”

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