The author with homemade canvas backpacking tent at Big Creek in the Great Smokie Mountains National Park

There is nothing like waking up to the forest as my house, deep down close to the bossom of Mother Earth, in the quiet, still pounding of the soft heartbeat, where I can hear my own presence merging with that of the whole of nature.

As I sat on the side of the mountain watching the sun in the early morning, I was so deeply present with my life and feeling into the future in that magical neutral place where I can listen to inner guidance. I was holding the excitement and beauty of moving back into my tipi and yet, holding the magic of my friends and community in the city. How amazing these beautiful people have effected my life and allowed me to grow and blossom. And yet, for now, I was feeling so welcome and so whole out here alone in the exquisite forest sunlight whispering sweet words into my ears.

The reasons to be in a tipi or not be in a tipi are not such a big deal,since it is a nomadic dwelling and easy to move into or out of at any time, or move it to a new location however temporary. Looking at the tipi from the outside when not living in it and thinking about what it would be like, and from the inside, when I am actually doing it, I get amazing insights into the whole paradigm of Western Civilization. I believe I have discovered some things that can be discovered in no other way. Thinking outside the box while living inside the box is impossible. In fact, I see my whole ‘tipi quest’ as an experiment in minimalist design, and I see myself as a walking think-tank. In my case, I think with my heart and soul as well as my head. I test my ideas with my body and I use instincts and intuition to guide me.

The first phase of my tipi living experiment lasted about a year. During that time I was in and out of it as I was learning how to work it, manage it, live in it, adapt to the new reality of extreme minimalism and some times austere asceticism.

My tipi needed some major maintenance and repair, which became apparent in heavy rains, so I moved back “indoors” that is, a house built of more solid materials with modern appliances and running water, and surrounded by a city with cell phone towers and stores and cars.

Going into the tipi without all the systems in place can be extremely inefficient compared to the modern setting. I had been loosing time at work so I needed to catch up on that and in my spare time worked away perfecting my tipi structure and systems for the day I would move back into it.


High elevation waterfall and pool on Gunter Fork Trail in the Great Smokie Mountains National Park

During this tipi ‘down’ time I also continued backpacking excursions into the Nantahala and Pisgua National Forests and Great Smokey Mountains National Park. During these adventures, I used a tiny tipi I designed and constructed myself as a backpacking tent. It is just big enough to hold me and my gear and weighs about seven pounds when dry. I daydreamed and fantasized about getting back to the earth and living with the sun and stars and icy cold waters of the mountain creeks and rivers which were bringing back a vitality I had never known. It was an intense and busy time between work, tipi repair, and backpacking adventures.

My friends and business associates seemed to be worried for me–and for them–that I might not come back from one of my trips. I might go completely wild and become feral or something.

I have to admit, I thought about that more than once. And, the call of the wild was so strong, I wasn’t sure why I went back to the city sometimes. I think it boils down to the fact I have not learned how to hunt and feed myself yet. And also, I think I don’t have a village to go with me into the wilds. So far, I have always come back into civilization to be with with the rest of the crowd.

It’s not at all that I don’t like people. It’s just that the modern lifestyle feels foreign and alienating to me. And it’s not at all about survival or lack of motivation. I see the modern setting as survival and has been built up due to humanity’s collective fear of nature—to protect us from the sabor tooth tigers and Tasmanian devils. Remove the fear of nature and inability to live comfortably in the elements and suddenly the whole world is seen in reverse of the assumptions and paradigms that have been handed down to us from the time we were born.


Homemade backpacking gear made from organic wool and cotton canvas: Tent, backpack AND sleeping bag for a complete escape from modern technology.



The author after swimming showing homemade backpack and dripping shorts.

It just seems to me that the tail is wagging the dog. At least for me in my life. Work inside a box, think inside a box, live inside a box, so I can buy modern things which are all made inside boxes. If I could make my own things from nature, the IRS would probably come after me to put me back inside a box. What a mess!

I think we have it inside out. And I see the tipi as basically reversing the design elements of the modern abode. You are putting nature back into your life, keeping it at just the right amount of distance so you can both be a part of it and be comfortable at the same time. You are saying ‘yes’ to life, not pushing the beauty out. You don’t need to hang things on the wall to replace what you have moved away from. Your life is art. You can hear music all the time. You can feel, you can relax. There is nothing to be afraid of.

Some of the challenges were simple things like knowing when the wind would pick it up and knock it over and how to prevent that. If the Plains Indians could live in them, withstanding 90 mph winds in the cold north, I knew there was a way.

Earthskills Rendezvious recreating aboriginal technology, or "neo-abo" community.

Earthskills Rendezvious recreating aboriginal technology, or “neo-abo” community.

I would continue to seek out tipi experts and information as my quest for the ultimate outdoor experience continued. There had to be a way to unite the two worlds of modern and Paleolithic. And fortunately I am not alone. There is a thriving global community of people thinking very much like I am, bored or tired of modern technology/society and re-creating and re-learning the ways of our ancestors.

This was not about survival. My hypothesis was, living in a tipi could be comfortable and even luxurious if it was done correctly. I wanted to live right up against nature and the elements and was not attempting to escape from responsibilities. This was a most rich and amazing experience. I wanted to continue my office job INSIDE my tipi. Maybe some day I would go completely wild but that wasn’t really necessary right now. I was most interested in finding a bridge between the primordial Paleolithic world and the modern and trying to merge the best of each.

So far I had solved several of the design challenges. They needed to be approached with a very conscious paradigm or hypothesis–The body is the real abode. In other words, the body can handle itself in nature given it’s natural advantages, which are, ironically, the original conditions of human existence. This is the OPPOSITE of the current archetectural paradigm that is so engrained in design and society that it is never mentioned–that paradigm is that NATURE is a dangerous place and we must live our lives away from it, inside protective boxes.

People ask me, “Why did you ride your bike? Don’t you have a car?” and “Don’t you have an umbrella or rain jacket? You are soaking wet!”  I can see we are coming from entirely different places. To me, the bicycle is a privaledge and luxury. To feel the wind and move my legs and get air in my lungs and to meet people face to face in the community and see what the clouds are doing. It makes me feel alive! And the rain. I want to FEEL the rain. I want to BE the rain. At one time I asked myself “Why am I wearing a rain jacket? What’s a little water? What’s a little shivering? and when I realized, the jacket was keeping me from a deeper experience. I stopped wearing it. And then I asked the same thing about a house, and you can see where that has lead.

My homemade canvas packpack next to some modern ones for perspective.

My homemade canvas packpack next to some modern ones for perspective.

The more I tested my hypothesis, the more I found it to be proving itself valid (I.E. barefoot walking, sleeping on hard surfaces, Paleolithic Diet). So far, the Paleo Diet and Fitness movement was way behind. They have not even gotten their feet wet in the cold mountain streams that I have been diving into. And, watching me and a few other ‘early adaptors’ or cutting edge thinkers jump into the river, Chinese Medicine would have a COW!

The modern backpacking crowd can argue all they want about how the lightweight of synthetics is superior to the old fashioned natural materials. All I know is I have never slept as good as when I converted to canvas and wool and silk, and the goal is not the lightest weight but the most enjoyable experience. A future post will cover my amazing revolutionary backpacking style.

I am using the human body as the basic design element. Whatever was good for it, was supportive of this new outdoor life. That means, for example, synthetic fabric was out, because it disrupts the body’s electrical system and therefore actually doesn’t perform as well as wool, silk, and buckskin. I needed to construct a material culture made from all natural ingredients like wood, stone, bone, cotton, wool, sinew, leather and beeswax as much as possible. If I couldn’t figure it out with those materials, I would make a few exceptions. See The Soul of Design.

And, anyone who tries what I have tried will very quickly find out, food cravings and tastesdryingmeat get completely altered. You get so hungry and the only foods that work are Paleo. You cannot waste any energy on empty calories or foods which don’t generate warmth. Fat, fat and more fat, with some protein mixed in. Basically, pemmican does the trick, and the Native Americans figured that one out maybe thousands of years ago. I find myself knocking on the door of the ancient ones for the answers, sometimes a little more than is close for comfort. See Ancient Ghosts on Haskell Indian College Campus. The modern world has all but forgotten and could care less.

wintertipinopeopleHeat— The fact is…that nobody seemed to get when I told them…is that the tipi is one of the warmest and most comfortable houses I have lived in. It is extremely easy to keep warm and real warm. One little fire would last for hours. An open fire works, but a tiny woodstove adds just the right amount of modern technology for my needs. You just build the fire and close the door and there’s evenly distributed slow heat for and hour and then you open the door and throw a couple more sticks in.

But more importantly than the fire, is the fact that the human body can adapt to the cold to the point the perception of cold is completely altered. This practice is scientifically proven and extensively documented in a phenomenon called “The Cold Pathway” or “Cold Thermogenesis” which has been promoted in the Paleolithic Movement, mostly by neurosergeon Dr. Jack Kruse, for the past couple of years. Basically the cold stimulates metabolism and supercharges the immune system. This whole tipi experiment is actually testing a number of factors known to establish supreme robust health and vitality. These factors can all be found under “Circadian Biology” and in a nutshell are the very things we would have if we took modern technology out of our lives:

1—Diet: eating what is available in one’s climate as it is in season. Grains are completely out. They were not around during Paleolithic times (pre-civilization)–most of the 1.5 million years of human evolution. In a cold climate, carbohydrates do not grow, or are not ripe during the winter. See this blog post on Indian Pemmican recipes.

2—Night and Day Cycles: exposure to the daylight, or lack of it, synchronizes the biological clock to produce optimal hormones for building, repair and maintenance. Melatonin saving eyewear is a bandaid that helps when exposed to artificial light.

3—Exposure to the Shumann’s Resonance or Earth’s Magnetic Field Frequency of 7.83 Hurtz, Earthing, Grounding, barefoot walking, etc. This is how our brains orient and establish optimal relaxation and coherence which supercharges immune system. The brain’s alpha waves are the same frequency. Two technological fixes help with this, when inside a modern house with Electromagnetic Fields. The Quantum Calming Mat and an Orgone Generator. See Getting the Sleep of Your Dreams by Optimtimizing Circadian Rhythms.

4—Temperature. Being exposed to the elements. This also works in unison with the other three factors or dimensions of Circadian Biology to synchronize timing of neurological signals that power the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system.

Lightning Multi-Branching on 4-9-11 edit burn in foregroundRain—Tipi’s were traditionally used in more arid climates than the one I live in, which is the temperate rainforests of the American Southeast Appalacian Mountains. Actually, this just supports my experiment even more, because if I can make it work where I’m at, the tipi is even more adaptable and versatile. While humidity would ruin many things and is an inconvenience, it also happens to be an extremely healthy thing in some cases, generating supercharged negative ions, like those found next to a waterfall or after a rain. What seems to work best is keeping some things like clothing in wire mesh baskets so they can breath, and keeping other things, like papers and electronics sealed in waterproof containers. Another trick is to periodically light a fire during the warmer months solely to dry things out. During the rainy season, this means once per day. I find this to work very well with doing a cold swim right before–it’s like having a sweat lodge. I look forward to taking my tipi out west sometime to enjoy the ultimate tipi climate.

Sewing wool quilt outside tipi on typical 40 degree day.

Sewing wool quilt outside tipi on typical 40 degree day. Note neighbor’s tipi in the background.

The fabric needs to be high quality boat shrunk canvas which is also called ‘Marine Cloth’. Other stronger fabrics are available but they have chemicals added for waterproofing and fire-resistance which go against my principles.  My tipi was leaking through the fabric which is the main reason I had to move out. I have since spent hours coating it with beeswax, which was the traditional practice in the old days, and that did the trick. One also needs to erect the tipi properly, which takes skill and practice, but is easily learned. Managing the smoke flaps to allow smoke to escape without too much rain coming in. Tipi poles need to be smooth because water actually drips down them, by design, and any bump can cause a drip.

Bedding and clothing, there is only one choice: WOOL. it is magical in several ways by keeping a person warm even when wet. Wool is hard to come by in this age, so I ended up designing and constucting a lot of my own belongings.


link to two blog posts on natural repellants

Food prep/running water—This will be described in detail in another article. Basically I am using the Native American practice of Pemmican—which is dried and pounded meat mixed with dried and pounded berries and nuts and fat. It is amazingly delicious and extremely convenient and efficient. You can read my blog post here with my recipe.

Lighting: very simple. Combination of high quality backpacking flashlight PETZLE with amber light and adjustable intensity beam for close up light, and beeswax candles in jars for mood lighting. One candle lights the whole tipi but I like two. The tipi glows like a jack-o-lantern from the outside!

Internet connection: achieved with solar panels and cell phone tethered to laptop. Put photo of new backpacking Solar System here.

Downscaling Belongings using Feng Shui, Backpacking Philosophy and Lean Manufacturing Systems.

Categorize your belongings. Make a written list of what you own. (divide and conqour)

This is a fun excersize, to get belongings down to the bare minimum. It may seem austere but it actually can really improve personal effectiveness and organization, even if not living in a tipi. I found that it improved my quality of life, even though i would not have done it just for that purpose. And fortunately I am not alone in this quest to reduce personal belongings to the rock bottom minimum. There is a movement sometimes called the “100 Things Challenge” which basically has the same idea. It now has a book and  TED talk to go with it. Look at what you own and get it down to practically nothing. The trick is to categorize and list everything you own on paper. Then you see what you really need and what is wasting space. This has material and spiritual benefits and actually is highly regarded in the ancient Chinese practice of Feng Shui.

The author's bedroom in-between tipi living, showing EcoBackrest™ lounge chair and Stand Up Desk with clothes drawers beneath. Also backpack in corner.

The author’s bedroom in-between tipi living, showing EcoBackrest™ lounge chair and Stand Up Desk with clothes drawers beneath. Also backpack in corner, packed and ready for the next adventure.

Before moving into the tipi I downscaled to tipi-sized belongings and found myself fitting very comfortably inside a small room and without feeling any lack. The idea was to create a nomadic lifestyle that could be picked up and moved in one carload and set up without disrupting any systems. I could move locations and still know exactly where my socks are and find a pen and a piece of paper or whatever as if I had not moved.

I found myself getting to places on time, getting more done quicker, having more free time for adventures. I could now find anything I owned in no time, and my clothes were always cleaned and put away–REALLY. In this kind of minimalism, things need to be put away because there is no room for clutter. Any object will stick out if it’s not in it’s place…you would trip over it.

Sitting in my Tipi in EcoBackrest™Since I was trained in Lean Manufactureing Systems Design and Management, I used those concepts while looking at my own life processes and belongings. The main principles are to make sure there is a series of steps methodically thought out and obvious–even documented sometimes–for each activity, where the ‘work’ goes from one stage to the next. For example dirty dishes or clothes would be considered ‘work in progress’ and they need a specific home. So they go from their real home of when they are clean and stored, to being used, to being cleaned and dried, back to where they ultimately live. Every activity can be broken into this kind of process. There is never a place where something is put accidently. You are running a tight ship. Things are neat and tidy. You can turn on a dime and are ready for the next opportunity. This is the secret to nomadic living and minimalism. There is no space or time wasted. The life is designed down to the smallest belonging you own. You get rid of it if you don’t need it and it’s not worth the space it takes up. What ends up happening is, I have fewer belongings but they are much higher quality, carefully selected, and perform exceptionally better.

The author's bedroom with bedding consisting of EcoSquares™ modular platform bed units, Paleo Pad™ sleeping surface (mat) and homemade organic wool sleeping bag.

The author’s bedroom with bedding consisting of EcoSquares™ modular platform bed units, Paleo Pad™ sleeping surface (mat) and homemade organic wool sleeping bag. Plastic crates beneath store files, books, papers.

Clothing: I have two sets, one for outdoor work/play and one for business and city fun. There is a clear and flat plastic tub for each set of clothes that stores neatly under my platform bed. I have another tub for jackets, hats, gloves which is also is used for my backpacking expeditions.  Five pairs of shoes each for a different purpose (skateboard and bike shoes, moccassins, dress shoes, work boots, hiking boots), kept in their own plastic tub.

First aid/hygiene–toothbrush, shaving, etc. all inside a small plastic airtight tub

Furnishings: bedding, seating, standing surfaces, storage systems.

EcoSquares™ for bedframe and underneath storage. Paleo Pad™ which is a minimalist mat about 1/2 inch thick. See: The Ergonomics of Sleep: Sweet Dreams on a Hard Surface. To finish my bedding I use my organic wool sleeping bag and a silk liner, with a couple of wool blankets in the winter thrown on top. I wrap the whole thing up inside my organic canvas backpacking tent and it creaters a cacoon that keeps everything from sliding apart. My pillow is a sweater stuffed inside an organic wool stuff sack.
Zen Office™ for seating both on the ground as well as up at the table, narrow table for standing work, small table with wire drawers, EcoBackrest™


I had completely proven to myself the tipi works as far as a place to survive and even thrive. I was now having inner obstacles preventing me from accepting the tipi lifestyle. It was a choice of stepping off into the unknown, away from the way most people live and think. People were telling me I was born in the wrong century. Even as early as Highschool when the Literature and Mythology teacher pointed it out brutally to the class, that I was a character that had outlived my Age, like Joyce Carrol had in his day. It was like I had two parts to me, or like I was living two parallel lives. One was the wilderness Noble Savage who could kill and skin a bear, sleep on moss and pine needles, and eat grubs and berries while navigating rough terrain. The other was the successful, clean cut, almost normal looking everyday guy who fits in pretty well in modern, indoor settings.

I was almost starting to believe other people’s fear’s of things I had clearly proven to myself were not a problem: cold, dirt, bugs, hardship. What others label ‘hardship’, I relate to as fun and play, exploration, and purpose. To go into that place that the human psyche has been going away from for thousands of years and see it is just a ghost in the closet. But I was finding myself becoming soft, living in the city. It was as if it was hard to hold my own playfulness when surrounded by group fear.

But perhaps the biggest obstacle was believing, or questioning, whether I was trying to escape vs. merely following my own path. Was I trying to just be different for the sake of being different, perhaps BETTER, than others? Also, would I be too isolated and get lonely. Would I be the LAST of the MOHICANs? SELF DOUBT was my biggest challenge. I worked with it. I kept going out into the elements, testing my ability to survive in wind and rain and cold. Not just survive, but actually function and work at the same level I was working when living inside a solid structure.

Well, a few technical difficulties needed to be solved. How to get online using a cell phone, how to sit and do computer work and writing/typing when the temperature was below 50 degrees, how to relate to other people when I was living a completely different lifestyle. There is a place of meeting others where lifestyle and background and other details fall away and we just appreciate each other for our differences and we also experience similarities that are not dependant on these external circumstances.

And, after a decade pf trying to resolve the problem of needing wilderness and society each in my life in large amounts–two oppossing factors–I had evolved a completely new lifestyle full of knowledge and techniques of traveling with ease and being in different places almost constantly. Like a turtle, I developed a system for bringing my home with me whereever I go. And It wasn’t about staying in hotels or other people’s couches. It was about being completely autonomous and self reliant with my own food, shelter, and other needs. Because the wilderness was my home, and I liked to visit and hand pick parts of society that I like.

I found ways to camp either in friend’s yards or in a nearby natural area. I became something of an archiological relic. A human being who grew up in Western Society but choose to live on the fringes while being a highly effective member of the club. A person who refused to believe the dominant paradigm and to buy the current idiology of the times–especially in regards to the proper way to live. A person who saw the lies handed down to us in the history books which also shaped the way we think about things. A person who saw the contradictions woven into the fabric of society and started to pick them apart, using the same systems theory that created the fabric in the first place.

Should I be seen as a hero or a homeless? I own land, a business and a tipi and I prefer the ground after many years of trying to decide. I am exploring the portal back to nature, why did humans leave mother earth and prefer to look out the window? I think I was put, or choose to be, here so I could explore, experiment, and write. To be a bridge between the primordial and modern. To go out there and come back to report what I find. And to make a place for people in the modern world to explore and discover for themselves and have first hand experiences with nature.










–put photos here of zen office, eco backrest, bed platform  (eco squares). paleo pad.

Tools and supplies

woodworking tools, firewood tools–axe, hatchet, saw, splitting wedges, drawknife, chisels, bicycle tools and parts, panniers, general hardware and supplies

–put photos–

Office supplies, pens, scissors, tape, glue, stamps, envelopes, papers, books–need to be in plastic air tight containers

–show photos–

Firewood management system

Firewood is extremely small sized–12 inches long and 1-2 inches thick. So it is really easy to find and to manage because it is not a huge amount.

Electronics–solar panels, iPhone, Laptop Computer, AA  NiMh Battery charger, camera

Musical instruments and other toys like skateboard and backpacking gear

Bicycle–a little shelter outside the tipi. Also serves as a ‘porch’ and firewood storage and outdoor space.

Kitchen—Dishes, food, water, surfaces and ergonomics This will be covered in the future post on Food Prep in the Tipi.

Tipi Parts: Tipi Skin (main part), Liner (goes inside for insulation and making the fire work better), Ozan (little inside covered for extra rain protection), stakes, pins, main rope to lash the poles together.

Illustrations of indoor to outdoor conversion coming soon.

“Go to the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Frederick Buechner






I was so appreciative of my life and of my freedom both spiritual as well as material, that I was able to come out here so much lately and not burdened by responsibilities that would prevent that. A tinge of ‘is this too good to be true? Do I deserve this? Shouldn’t I be working hard and suffering more?’ But I felt into the illusion of those thoughts and the power of ‘All things happen automatically’. Feeling deep into the What Is and the What is my true calling?”  To be a writer allows me the perfect opportunity to be out there, feel, know, and express what I am experiencing.

So I wrote ten pages of handwriting and leisurely packed up my camp and hiked back down the mountain, saying goodbye to my magical place there with the stream and moss. I felt renewed and not yet ready to return to the world, not yet clear on whether and how I would return here to live in my tipi, not sure on a plan for the day and the week. But still, knowing I needed to go down and jump into the stream again and the current would direct me.

I found three amazing tipi pole trees on my way down. Two were hickory and one was birch. I made a mental note using landmarks of where they are. I am really loving gathering my new set of tipi poles. I checked my first one that I skinned last Thursday and hid by my camp and it was hidden in the laurels standing up into the sky. It is 24 feet long and I will cut down to 18 feet and maybe use the short end for making a bow or something.






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