OFF ON A TANGENT – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Tangent

The tangent is a line that touches a curve or curved surface at a point, but if extended does not cross it. It’s also the line between the two arms of an equilateral triangle. How it came to also mean in common speech a completely different line of thought or action., or as we like to say, “a digression,” no one knows. I’m pretty sure most people have no idea what the word originally meant unless they are in fifth grade and learning the rudiments of geometry. I actually did very well in geometry — the only math course that didn’t lose me the first day in class. At least I could see what you might use it for. It was very useful when I was trying to measure the floor of my tepee.

A digression or tangent coming right up.

Tepees look round, but are more “egg-shaped.” It has to do with the positioning of poles. This is a bit of a measurement conundrum, so you have to visualize in segments and measure each, then add them together. You have to put a tepee on a deep layer of gravel to encourage drainage, but gravel is not comfortable. So one puts layers of coverings inside until it’s soft and cozy. I used an indoor-outdoor rug at the base and that piece needed to fit the tepee closely.

That is when everything I’d learned in geometry got used for the one and only time in my life, not counting sailing and figuring out how to configure the sail to the wind. One wet finger didn’t do it for me (second digression). Geometry let me figure out how big a rug I’d need before trimming. If you have enough money, you can buy all of this stuff, but we were shoe-stringing the project. Other than the canvas and instructions, it was a project of (for us) epic proportions.

More tepee construction

In a bigger tepee, (I would have liked a big one and could have gotten a huge one for free if I could acquire the poles), poles are not easy to come by. Buying them was not expensive, but trucking them across the U.S. from Washington to Massachusetts cost more than the entire project times five. Maybe more.

We don’t live in an area of lodge-pole pines. Our trees, while sturdy, are all whorls, kinks, and miscellaneous lumps. You don’t know how truly crooked a sapling is until you try to turn it into a lodge-pole. Moreover, for obvious reasons, the bigger the tepee, the bigger the poles need to be — and you also need a lot more poles. It was difficult enough finding 18 poles for a small tepee. 27 poles of twice the height? Not likely.

We never had a properly smooth tepee because oak and sassafras won’t produce straight poles, no matter how much you trim them. They stay lumpy. Moreover, we have no flat land and it turns out, you can’t build a tepee that is going to stand more than overnight without a flat piece of ground under it. If it’s a temporary overnight construction (say something to stay in while you’re hunting), you can slapdash it together, but if you want to live in it, flat ground is a mandate.

Thus we had to create a flat piece of ground. We built what (had it been surrounded on three sides with water), a peninsula of land poking into the woods off the back west corner of the yard. That’s where our land drops off from sloping and dives down about eight feet, then slopes for another few hundred feet, after which it drops off another dozen feet. After which there is a flat area.

But we could not get there on foot without felling a dozen or more big red oaks and bringing in a plow to create a path. Even inside the flat area, there was a mighty oak in its center which would have caused construction issues.

Owen designed our spit of land. Our construction crew — Owen and Garry — determined that a 12-foot teepee was about as much as they could manage. Owen designed it with old railroad ties (from an old railroad … there were a lot of them and those ties are as close to eternal as any wood product could be) as the walls. The guys then filled it with dirt and sand. It was then covered with a dump-truck full of gravel, all of which had to be hauled down one wheelbarrow at a time from the top of the driveway to the edge of the woods.

Owen and Garry grew very muscular that summer.

All of this was followed by painting (my job). I had grand plans but eventually settled on painting the door flap, with an exterior of a buffalo headdress and an interior that was all our hand-prints. I copied the design from pictures. It came out better than I expected.

From the rear of the teepee, the day is ending in mid Autumn.

I would have liked to paint the whole thing, but once it was up, it stood more than 18 feet high I designed an interior cover for insulation. By this point, I was on my own, but it was fun. I also built a fire pit and learned to get the fire blazing in under three minutes. When it’s mid-winter in New England, getting that fire roaring fast is important because after that, your hands are frozen and you can’t manage the matches. The fire was big for the 12-foot tepee but it was super cozy.

The tepee was completed and dedicated in October. For five years afterward, we had the coldest, snowiest winters anyone remembered. Many evenings I spent with a blazing fire, sitting by the open flap because the tepee sometimes (often) got a bit sauna-like Sitting in the doorway watching the snowfall with the fire behind me was everything for which I had hoped.

The tepee stood for six years, all year round, after which it came down because the poles began to rot. Also, a bobcat had moved in and had a litter of kittens there. She did not want to leave. Still, it was a great five years, pre-bobcat.

So now, you’ve gotten the tangent as geometry plus a tangent as a digression. In one post! And welcome to the tepee.

Categories: #FOWC, #Photography, Daily Prompt, Fandango's One Word Challenge, Marilyn Armstrong

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8 replies

  1. Thanks for sharing the story of your teepee. Most people I know who travel down tangent lane lose my interest pretty quickly, but not you. This was fascinating and I learned a lot. That said, I don’t think building a teepee at some point in the future is in the cards for me! 😉


  2. You have lived such an interesting and dare say adventurous life and I love that when you put your mind to it, you just plain got it done! I have close friends who have a teepee. I never had an opportunity to enter it, but I did do, a couple in museums that we were allowed to sit in for a bit. My grands have been to many special events in teepees and it has such a special feeling, one I can’t explain. Perhaps it takes me back to my ancestors days (which is an interesting thought in and of itself – tangent) and I felt cozy and comfy.


  3. And a very good book to go with it.


  4. What an undertaking Marilyn, and it was beautifully explained in your book. The bobcat must have loved it for her family too.


    • Bobcats are not well known for being “people” friendly, but while not exactly a cuddler, this one was not afraid of us OR the dogs and in fact, teased the dogs. She knew they couldn’t get out through the fence.

      She never ran away from us. She strolled. Slowly. When the kittens grew up, one of the boys took over the territory and mom moved on. Bobcats are big eaters and they tend to eliminate anything edible on the ground. You’ll never find more than one in a rather large area except during mating.

      I think we got cleaned out over a period of about 10 years of bobcats and they have moved to places with more prey. That is why we periodically don’t have any squirrels — and the rabbits never came back OR the chipmunks. This year, there aren’t many squirrels. I think something got hungry and ate them. Hawks or bobcats, most likely. Nature isn’t anything like Disney movies.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What a a great tangent.


    • The whole project was a tangent. I wanted a playhouse. Couldn’t afford one. We considered a tent but didn’t have the flat ground. Eventually come upon a child-sized teepee which we built. It was a disaster. THEN I found another much better company and got the 12-foot teepee … and voila! A very complicated tangent 😀


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