Three and a half decades ago I began a project that would take me places I never imagined without going hardly anywhere at all. As a young man I was taken with the notion of “living off the land”. I searched for and eventually found a piece of land that I thought was suitable for this purpose, but more important it was suitable for my pocketbook. It mostly faced north, was completely forested, was on a road that was not plowed in the winter, had numerous springs, and was absolutely chuck full of wildlife. Some of those are redeeming features and, of course, some of them are not.
Originally I purchased the land with a lady friend who subsequently decided she needed something else in life, or at least someone else in life, and so the dreams I had for this land and our homestead were altered rather severely. But really it was a new beginning. As the result of our break up I got the land, and she got an education that I paid for. Seemed like a fair deal to me. Of course while paying for her education my meager job didn’t afford me any left over money for rent. Not having any rent I decided to live on the land. I cleared a good chunk of the forest, hoping eventually to locate a house in the clearing, and in the meantime, I bought and erected a tipi. I was fairly well suited for life in a tipi. I shared it with my two dogs, Hickory and Scruggs. They would have preferred a soft bed, but the edge of my sleeping bag wasn’t all that bad either. They did a pretty good job at keeping me warm at night and I made sure there was plenty room for them on the sleeping pad.
Only occasionally did I have visitors. Life in a tipi was not too conducive to entertaining, at least with the people that I knew. That might say something about the company I kept. Or it might say something about me. In those days I really didn’t think about it too much. During the week when I was working coming home at night consisted of cooking over an open fire, feeding and hanging out with the dogs, perhaps a little trout fishing in the nearby brook during the summer, gazing at the stars while making plans, and going to sleep. My morning routine consisted of getting up, feeding the dogs, putting them in the pen or hustling them into the truck for a day spent with me at work, stopping on the way to work to have breakfast at a local eatery, and arriving at work, usually with an unkept appearance. I worked with low income teenagers so not looking like I was from Wall Street was a good thing. On weekends I lived the luxurious life of clearing land, pulling stumps, digging a well with a shovel, cutting firewood, and hanging out with the dogs. You probably understand by now that the dogs and I did a lot of hanging out. Of course there was seasonal entertainment. During the fall I hunted for food. In the winter I cross country skied and went snow shoeing. The dogs kept up to me wherever I went.
Winter in the tipi was a little more demanding. On weekends if you kept the fire going all day long you could keep the tipi above freezing in almost any outside temperature. Extreme temperatures like twenty five below were a little challenging but the dogs and I managed. They liked to lie next to the fire in the center of the tipi. They couldn’t get too close. Did I mention I didn’t get many visitors? Well during the winter there were even fewer visitors. One local lady, when discovering that I lived in a tipi with the dogs in the frigid temperatures of winter threatened to call the SPCA. I replied that might be a good idea. Perhaps they could pick us all up and we could spend a nice warm night on a cement floor. She never made the call.
Weekdays during the winter during my tipi days were very challenging. The dogs huddled up in a dog house lined with hay on warmer days and went to work with me on colder days. I worked all day, came home right after work, and started a fire. You never could really get the tipi warmed up before it was time to go to bed on really cold evenings. I spent many cold nights getting only spotty sleep while feeding that fire.
During my second spring in the tipi I met a woman at work who I was more than just a little interested in. It really was the first time I had a notion to ask someone out. I was pretty shy and so it took a while. About that time I had the brilliant idea of having a well digging party. The idea was to dig a two hundred foot long, four foot deep trench across hilly land that had just been cleared. The digging route went from my newly established well to where I was planning on putting a cabin. I couldn’t imagine who wouldn’t want to come and dig in mud and dirt all day long only to hang around the tipi and drink a few beers at night. To my surprise about twenty people said they would come. One of the lucky people I invited was Maureen, the object of my affections. I invited her with a group of work mates so as to not seem too forward. I’m guessing after the disastrous end of my previous relationship I was still a little gun shy. If I invited her as part of the group there was risk for me. There was no way I could be directly rejected.
As people arrived on the day of the well digging party I was really disappointed that Maureen didn’t arrive with some of my work mates. I figured she wasn’t interested in digging a long trench all day and who could hardly blame her? I was elated when, an hour later, she arrived on her bicycle. She had ridden nearly 20 miles straight uphill to be at my well digging party. I was very flattered, but kept my emotions to myself. I didn’t want to appear to be too excited; mostly because I didn’t want to scare her away. We spoke several times during the day. I made small talk, mostly about the homestead. I introduced her to my dogs. From a distance I watched her digging along with everyone else. I was impressed by the fact that she wasn’t intimidated by hard work. By six o’clock that evening we had the trench pretty much finished. We built a campfire in the tipi and drank more than a few beers. I ended up sitting next to some lady that I didn’t even know. I learned later that Maureen took note of this and thought I wasn’t interested in her. Before I knew it she hitched a ride back to town with some of our work mates. I remember noticing that she was no longer around. I really wanted to kick myself for not paying more attention to her.
My life with dogs at the tipi went on normally for the next week or two. I was pretty busy installing a well line and refilling the long well ditch during my spare time. But I felt a void despite all my preoccupations. I really wished I had been more forward with Maureen. I was smitten with her and she thought otherwise.
I stopped after work one evening to have a beer at a local pub. I saw some of the people from work and one in particular, Linda, came over and sat beside me. Linda was very direct and told me I should ask Maureen out because she liked me. I thanked Linda profusely, walked straight out of the pub, and found a public pay phone.
I remember hesitating just before I dialed Maureen’s telephone number which was already stashed in my wallet in case I ever got up the nerve to call her. I almost chickened out, but something told me that I really had to do this. When Maureen answered the telephone she really didn’t seem that surprised that I was calling her. I asked her out to a movie and dinner. She said yes. I was on cloud nine; it might have even been cloud ten!
Our first date lasted three days. I fell instantly and madly in love. She even liked my dogs. What could be better?
Maureen had zero interest in living in a tipi. A year later I built a small cabin on the land. Maureen and I lived in that cabin for two years while we built our house. We were married on our land before our friends and family. It was a wonderful wedding that was full of love. We often refer to those times in our lives as “B.C” (Before Children), and they were some of the best days that we have ever spent together.
From this point of origin Maureen I built our house (primarily with materials from the land), raised a family, and homesteaded our land. We are still together thirty some odd years later. The kids have grown up. We still have dogs. We still are madly in love. All a dream come true.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in October of 2010.