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The Green Life: Interview with a Tipi Dweller

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March 20, 2012

Interview with a Tipi Dweller

Mark Warren Adam NashMark Warren is a naturalist, composer, novelist, and director of Medicine Bow, a "primitive school of earthlore." In the summer of 1989, a streak of lightning scorched his house and everything inside, so he moved into a tipi. He tells his story in Two Winters in a Tipi, to be published by Lyons Press in May.

The barn you lived in was struck by lightning. You lost all your work.

When I went back and saw my house, there was one pile of rubble that was still glowing bright red. That’s where my piano was. On top of it were all my music compositions and my novel. That was my first novel. I had hundreds of music compositions. There were no copies.

That must have been devastating.

That's exactly the word. But you also feel freedom at the same time that you feel victimized.

And you decided your next home would be a tipi?

I remember when the first big ice storm came to north Georgia. Trees turned to crystal. They were all bowing and creating a convergence above me. I remember thinking what a beautiful shelter this is, all these trees leaning toward me. I wanted to have my own version of trees leaning together above me.

Late in the book, a raccoon wanders into your tipi and dies by the fire.

I had a few encounters with what was probably that same raccoon. I would roam the forest with my bow and shoot at shadows, leaves, inanimate objects, and I encountered him and spoke to him for awhile. A week later, he came through the door. I thought he might have had distemper or rabies. But there was something very melancholy about his behavior, and it was so cold outside. I picked him up and brought him closer to the fire. The next morning he was dead. It turned out he had come there to die.

You spend a lot of time stalking.

Stalking is all about extreme slow motion. It’s a little like tai chi in that way. The two students I’ve had who were most prepared for stalking were people involved in martial arts and fencing. Picture a fencer with his legs bent. Imagine the strength of those legs. That’s what’s required for stalking.

And you're a longbow world champion. Did you hunt with your bow and arrow?

I foraged for food and supplemented that with groceries. My interest in archery is more esoteric. I’ve been shooting a bow for 35 years. I’m interested in the full spectrum of the use of the arrow. There is the lob shot, which is used to get ammunition to an ally. There’s the clout shot, a shot done nearly straight up so that the arrow falls to a target. That can be used in castle siege or in sending a telegram through the forest. And there’s simply throwing an arrow.

Do you have an iPod?

I wouldn’t even know how to use an iPod. I don’t have a cell phone. I don’t have any of the new pads or anything like that. I have a toolbox that’s pretty old –- about 1910.

You’ve been teaching survival skills to children for several decades. Do you think kids have changed?

I see the demise of physical fitness on a general level. I’ve got to lower the bar. Twenty years ago I could take a group on a fifteen mile hike in a day. Now you’re talking single digits, two miles. I see the downfall of courtesy. I see that speech patterns have changed. People talk so fast now. I have to slow them down so I can understand them. 

And here’s the big one. The willingness to step into something new without first asking for the instruction booklet. I want them to have the joy of exploring something new. If it’s a wild edible, they want to know what it tastes like first, but I don’t tell them. I make the first kids to taste it promise not to tell. Twenty years ago if I took the kids to a creek we just took our boots off and crossed and waited to dry off. Now I wade over and as I sit to dry my legs I look back and see everybody staring at me. How cold is it? How deep is it?

When kids see a beautiful scene, they compare it to a postcard. I have to remind them that they’re looking at the real thing. The thing you’ve just compared it to is a made up thing.

--interview by Jake Abrahamson/ image courtesy of Adam Nash

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