Would you like to sleep in a tepee?

Yesterday  in Wal-Mart, near the pickles, I nearly tripped over a Native American elder driving a cart.  Years ago, he led sweat lodges in our area in which I participated.  We prayed together, many of us in the dark tarped wigwam, singing ancient Anishinabe (Ojibway) songs, chanting over and over again as sweat dripped down our brows, our hearts open.

Yes, many full moons have risen and dived back into inky blackness since we sweated together.  Many maple syrup harvests have passed.

“I’m doing my monthly grocery shopping,” he explained as we exchanged pleasantries.  It looks like he can’t walk long distances any more.

We parted easily, flowing our separate ways once again.  I wonder if he’ll dance at the Pow Wow arena in late July.  If his legs will allow a round in the sacred arena, the feet pounding the Mother Earth like drum sticks, the heart of the earth beating like the drums.

I wish I’d asked him about his legs.  About his life.  But we’d never had an easy camaraderie; the questions fizzled as I pondered our past.

I later wish I’d asked.

On the way home from Houghton, I noticed the white tepee at the Baraga State Park.   Paused to snap a photo through the trees.  For $30 a night, you can rent this 16-foot round tepee called the Kitchigamee Tepee.

Tepee at the Baraga State Park

The Michigan DNR website for the Baraga State Park explains:  “Kitchigami” meaning “great water” or “great lake” is a name taken from the Ojibway Language Dictionary written by Bishop Frederic Baraga. This dwelling offers visitors a chance to learn about and experience the Ojibwa culture and traditions. The tepee is decorated with a pattern called “Big Lakes” in honor of “Otchipwe Kitchigami” or Lake Superior in the Ojibway language.

I’ve never slept in the tepee at the Baraga State Park.

But, years ago, I slept in a tepee. Perhaps one night; perhaps two.  It was an amazing experience.

Before sharing this tale, please be advised that the Anishinabe who lived along the shores of the Great Lakes did not utilize tepees.  They slept in wigwams, domed curved structures made of green saplings.  The wigwams were usually covered with birchbark.

Today’s modern-day sweat lodges are constructed like wigwams, except the covering usually consists of blankets or tarps.

Tepees (also called tipis or teepees) were utilized by the Plains Indians west of Lake Superior land.  They are a conical dwelling made of animal skins and wooden poles.  They could be disassembled and packed away quickly when the tribe moved to new locations.  Today’s tepees (which you can buy from companies such as Colorado Yurt Company) are usually covered with canvas, rather than animal skins.

Bald eagle, also known as Migesi by the Anishinabe, sitting by telephone wire.

I stayed twice in a tepee owned by my friend, Barbara, about twenty years ago. Both nights were fascinating experiences.

This morning I called Barbara, hoping she’d provide some factual stories about our tepee sojourn.  I remember it as exciting.  But why?  I knew she’d fill in the memory gaps.  How I admire folks with long memories!

On that auspicious night, oh so many years ago, perhaps in the 1980’s, we lit a fire in the center of her tepee, attempting to make the smoke behave and waft upwards toward the upper poles, and out into the inky night.  Barbara reached for wood from her woodpile when–oh my–readers, were you expecting another snake story?–out wiggled a small garter snake.

OK, I must admit, this is NOT Barbara’s tepee snake. This is Kathy’s basement snake. But you get the idea, right?

Barbara was not pleased.  She remembers screaming for her nearby son to help.  Her son picked up the snake and took it far, far away.  Or so he claimed.

Barbara said I was as cool as a cucumber, completely nonplussed.  She said she would have left that tepee without spending a night.  Not yours truly.

Yours truly fell asleep zipped securely in her green sleeping bag, but Barbara lay wide-eyed and awake for hours underneath buffalo robes after she tended the fire.  She rolled over, attempted to sleep, but felt something under the furry robes.

Surely her imagination, she thought.  It could not be the snake.  The snake was gone.  Surely, the snake was gone!

She rolled over and heard a sound.  ch-ch-ch…

“It’s my imagination,” she thought, “it must be my imagination.”

Hours passed.

The sun shimmered above the horizon.

We rose.  I unzipped my sleeping bag.

Barbara hoisted herself up, throwing aside the heavy buffalo robe, shaking it, convinced of her late-night silliness.

When suddenly…oh, reader, are you ready for this?

Are you really ready for this tepee tale?


Out leapt a FLYING SQUIRREL from beneath her buffalo robes!

Flying squirrel

He was terrified.

She was terrified.

She remembers thinking, “At least it was a creature with FUR!”

He immediately ran to the center pole in the tepee.

She wondered, “How are we ever going to get him down?”

He looked down–I’m sure he must have looked down–but perhaps he didn’t–because why would be care about the terrified human quavering beneath him on the grass floor of the tepee?–and took flight, yes, straight up, straight east, a majestic dive toward the woods, a leap into the trees, far away from human abodes.

Would you like to sleep in a tepee?

Would you like to sleep close to nature?

Would you like to sleep with a flying squirrel?

Just wonderin’, dear reader, just wonderin’…

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
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69 Responses to Would you like to sleep in a tepee?

  1. Dawn says:

    I’d sleep in a Teepee for sure….if I had my Katie-girl with me! No more scary than having snorting white tailed deer outside…right? LOL

  2. P.j. grath says:

    I would much rather have a smooth, clean snake share my tepee than a frantic, flying, furry rodent! Unless I were out west where snakes are not as benign as ours here in Michigan. That would be different.

    • Kathy says:

      You’d rather have a snake? Truly, Pamela? Gosh, I think I would vote for the flying squirrel. Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about either!

  3. bobz1961 says:

    I have wanted to try the sweat lodge experience.

  4. Barb says:

    My son took a week’s wilderness survival course in UT and at the end sat in the sweat lodge – it was a powerful spiritual experience for him. I have slept in the Grand Canyon on the ground without a tent, and I will tell you that for the first couple nights, I fought sleep thinking of the scorpions, rattlesnakes, and sand wasps that I was sure would find me. Then, I allowed myself to sink into the inky blackness and allow whatever was to happen while I dreamed to unfold. I came out without any of those critters harming me though I did meet some of them in my waking hours. Now, my aging back does better with a nice firm mattress – but I still cherish the memories.

    • Kathy says:

      You are my sleeping-outside-guru, Barb. Honoring you so much… I would be so afraid, but would have to surrender to that trust of allowing whatever to happen. Yep, those firm mattresses are a gift to our aging bodies, yes, they surely are!

  5. lisaspiral says:

    Isn’t it funny how different we are with wildlife when we are camping than when they visit us in our cozy little homes? I can’t say I’ve ever spent the night in a teepee or a hogan or a yurt, but I have visited in all of them and spent plenty of time in tents. Maybe I’ll come up with a camping memory for my blog. Hmmm.

    • Kathy says:

      I dunno, Lisa, after having been visited by mice AND snakes within the last month, I am feeling a little leery of wildlife sharing my inside life. lol! It would be fun to sleep in hogan or yurt, too. Let us know if you post about your camping memory, please!

  6. Elisa's Spot says:


    I have friends who used to move their bed out into a tipi in the yard for the summer and sometimes until the snows.

    • Kathy says:

      Elisa, my friend Barbara lived in her tepee for the entire summer one year. I admire folks who do this. There is such a peaceful feeling about living outdoors like this.

  7. Oh, what a grand adventure!

    When I was little our parents would send us for a week at a time to “Indian Village” in Lake Arrowhead, California. We slept in teepees — 6 kids to 1 counselor.

    One night — in the middle of the night — I was laying on my cot, eating one of those miniature boxes of Frosted Corn Flakes. It was open, resting on my stomach.

    In — bold as brass — came a raccoon who climbed up on my cot, then sat on my pelvic bone facing me and the open box. I’m “pssssst-ing” to beat the band trying to wake my co-campers so they can SEE this.

    Did they or the counselor see it? No. Did anyone believe me? No. In the morning everyone told me if it had really happened it would have used it nails — sharp as razor blades — to shred me or my sleeping bad to pieces.

    But it didn’t. It was very polite. And it seemed to “wash” its little black leathery hands between every single sugar-coated piece.

    • Kathy says:

      Dear Laurie, OK, I think we’ve already had an email correspondence about this. I LOVE your story. I believe. Oh, how I believe!!!

  8. I’d sleep in a teepee. I wouldn’t care to sleep with a squirrel, but I have woken up to worse, like a tent and sleeping bag filled with spiders!

    • Kathy says:

      Oh, dear pursuit, I feel your pain about that sleeping bag filled with spiders. When you sleep outside, you never know what’s going to happen! I like to keep the sleeping bag zipped as close to the neck as possible. But you never know who’s joined you during the day…

  9. Hmmm! I remember when I was a little girl my stepfather took us camping and I hated it. Nothing about it was fun to me. The funny thing is, once a few years ago the electricity went out and one of the first things I thought about is how am I going to cook this food in the frig before it goes bad. Well, let it be known, we just put a cast-iron pan on our outdoor grill and cooked our breakfast. It reminded me so much of that camping trip. But this time is was fun!

    • Kathy says:

      I think, if we ever have a bad experience with something like camping, we should try it again. It’s always an adventure. I like how you enjoyed the cast-iron breakfast on the grill. I think you will perhaps enjoy your camping experience–especially if you do it your way.

  10. CMSmith says:

    Sounds like you’ve had a few fascinating experiences. I’ve been tempted to visit a native American community. Maybe someday.

    • Kathy says:

      I have had a few fascinating experiences–yes, Christine, that is very true. It is hard to find a way “in” to many native American communities. Very challenging. But if you find someone who accepts you, then it’s an amazing learning experience. I will never ever forget those precious years with them.

  11. Chris Roddy says:

    What an adventure you had.No snakes, no flying squirrels, and no bats either( the worst).When I first went to camp, we slept in a tent with a raised wood floor. My dad made me such elaborate mosqito netting, that nothing was going to bite me. It was pretty funny because my other tent mates had nothing to protect them. My idea of camping is room service at a 5 star hotel.

    • Kathy says:

      Adventures are certainly fun, Chris! Lucky you, to have a dad that would protect you so much. Those mosquitoes–and, oh goodness, those no see ums–can make camping not fun. Don’t get me started about the biting flies. Five star hotels are delightful, but there’s something about being so close to nature, feeling the earth beneath your body as you sleep. It heals, I believe…

  12. john says:

    You have now introduced me to a moose and a flying squirrel. When do we get to meet Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale?

    • Kathy says:

      Haven’t I written about Boris and Natasha before? Yes, John, I am sure I have! I think I even posted a photo of a childhood book cover featuring Rocky the Flying Squirrel!

  13. sybil says:

    No. Thanks for asking.

    • Kathy says:

      Oh c’mon, Sybil. the appropriate answer was “yes, oh yes, are you inviting me to the UP to sleep in a tepee, Kathy?” lol! OK, so you might have said no. I will get over it. **grin**

  14. Marianne says:

    Oh my gosh! There was a time many many many moons ago that I would have slept in a teepee. I think I slept in a tent a few times. But, never under the stars like you did Kathy. I’ve become too conditioned by city life. It’s nothing I’m very proud of though. I’d love to be the rugged wilderness type. I think if one can survive in the wilderness, one could survive anywhere.

    • Kathy says:

      Marianne, there was one time that I slept tent-less under the stars on a beach–was it last summer or in 2010? An amazing experience! I’ve just been invited for another beach camp out in July but not sure if it will work out this month. It is such an experience! And the sand cushions any aching body parts, enveloping them in love. 🙂

  15. Heather says:

    What a fantastic story! Snakes AND flying squirrels – no wonder you remember it being fun, even if you couldn’t remember why. (Are you sure your blanket was green? Teehee.) Thank you for the enlightening on teepees vs wigwams, and who uses what and why. A solid blog, this one 🙂
    The questions – I’d say yes to all three, assuming that I knew the squirrel wouldn’t bite…if he’d just cuddle 😉

    • Kathy says:

      Oh, good, Heather, I am glad you liked the story! I totally recall the color of the sleeping bag, tee hee, because it’s STILL in the basement, wrapped up nicely, awaiting the next adventure. I am also glad that you are approving of all my hard research. You know how challenging it is for me to write factual blogs. And wouldn’t it be lovely to know that a flying squirrel would just cuddle? Why do I doubt it? The same reason I won’t reach out to pet a chipmunk.

  16. shieram says:

    This brings me back to a camping trip a friend from college invited me to. I remember wishing the whole night that no snakes would visit us.. 🙂 But I would still like to repeat that experience and maybe sleep in a tepee as well..

    • Kathy says:

      Shieram, I wish you another lovely snake-less night of sleeping outside! You will not regret it. You will probably remember it all your life and vow to return to sleeping outside every single summer.

  17. No, can’t say that I would )

    • Kathy says:

      Gosh, Linda, I swear I wrote this blog entirely wrong. I should have told everyone the WONDERFUL feeling you get when you sleep outside. How you suddenly feel so earthy, so real, so connected. Yes. The positive aspects to sleeping in a tepee. I would do it again, and yet again, if anyone invited. It feels so healing.

  18. Karma says:

    I sleep in a tent, once a year – is that close enough to tee-pee sleeping? Maybe not, since we have zippers to discourage the critters! 😉

    • Kathy says:

      Oh this counts, Karma. Any time you sleep outside, it counts. I think what is the most important is being close to the earth, feeling the roots growing under your bones and cells and organs. Except, gosh darn, as we get older, that can hurt a little bit. Maybe it doesn’t hurt you yet, but in the last five years…sleeping on the ground has become a bit more challenging. Except sleeping on sand. That’s a joy.

      • Karma says:

        Well, maybe it doesn’t count after all… for our annual camping trip with friends, we sleep in tents but we bring air mattresses! No roots and such under these bones! 😉

  19. What a great story! I have slept in many tents, but never in a teepee. My best experience of sleeping under the stars was on a sailboat, in October, traveling from Beaver Island to Port Huron. No wildlife to worry about, in the middle of Lake Huron!

    • Kathy says:

      Oh that’s a lovely story, Cindy. A sailboat beneath the stars! Unless a salmon jumped aboard, you’d be safe. Except maybe from those treacherous mosquitoes. I am smiling thinking about the wind blowing in the sails and the stars twinkling above.

  20. Carol says:

    I would sleep in a teepee, at least once. I’d prefer that it be a snakeless, squirrelless teepee, however.

    • Kathy says:

      Carol, I hope the Universe would hear you. Probably she’d hear you and comply. It might get a little smoky in the tepee, though, unless you were with a seasoned tepee fire-tender.

  21. Lori DiNardi says:

    Does it have plumbing? I only sleep where there is plumbing. 😉 You are brave souls and I’m a wimp.

    • Kathy says:

      Plumbing, you ask, Lori? Natural outdoor plumbing–just outside the tepee!
      You are not a wimp, my friend. If someone invited you, I’m sure you’d enjoy the experience.

      • Lori DiNardi says:

        Lucky if you get me camping in an RV, let alone in a tent or a tepee. Yep, definitely a wimp. I don’t do heat well either. I’ve often wondered how people could do those sweat huts. I won’t even try the hot yoga sessions. Yoga in the a/c is more my speed. 😛

  22. Reggie says:

    Ahhhhhhh!!!! (Runs screaming from the teepee!) Garter snake? Flying squirrel???!! Oh my word…

    I need a cup of tea.

    But like Carol above, I too would love to sleep in a tepee – and preferrably without any wildlife in it… well, I wouldn’t mind sharing it with my cat, as I figure she’d keep away any scary stuff. I wonder if we can borrow one to put up in the back garden… though our lawn is so small, I don’t know… tepees seem to be rather big.

    • Kathy says:

      Reggie, a cup of tea is ALWAYS in order, whether in a tent or in our imagination. 🙂 The tepee I slept in was huge. It was small and tidy and zipped up like a tent. It was more open to the world, although there was a liner. I am sure Tuffy would keep out all the wildlife. 🙂

  23. Can’t be any worse than the tents provided by most Boy Scout Summer Camps. Although the camps are so full of people that most wildlife stays clear. Except racoons and mosquitos. I’d try it.

    • Kathy says:

      My husband tells stories about his days in Boy Scouts. They canoed and camped through Adirondack State Park and apparently that was quite an experience! Gosh darn, why don’t those mosquitoes behave and stay away from us innocent humans? lol…as for raccoons, I think they are adorable. At a distance, of course.

  24. I would definitely love to try it! It would be great research for my stories!

    Your story is wonderful! I have camped a bit but never had an adventure like that! 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      Wouldn’t it be great research, withershins? Just think of the stories you could tell! Keep your eye open for that tepee. It’s waiting for you…

  25. Colleen says:

    This has been fun to read 🙂 I really do love sleeping outside but preferably without biting insects and with something soft (and comfortable!) under my back.

    But also find myself feeling some sadness, thinking about traditions that have been lost and people that have faced so much challenge.

    • Kathy says:

      Colleen, oh that lovely soft comfortable padding beneath us when we sleep outside! Yes, I so agree with you. And have felt the same about traditions which have been lost…

  26. Dana says:

    LOVED this story, Kathy! I have slept in a tepee before– it was on New Year’s Eve a few weeks after Marty and I first started dating. He took me to a sacred retreat space and we slept with the fire circling up into the evening stars. It was magical! (No flying squirrels to report, but there were baby goats scurrying outside.) 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      Dana, smiling thinking about your sacred tepee night. Was it cold on New Year’s Eve or were you some place warm? I love the thought of baby goats scurrying outside. How sweet!

  27. Robin says:

    I would love to sleep in a tepee. Or a yurt. It’s been a long time since I’ve done camping of any kind.

    Wonderfully told story. I’ve never seen a flying squirrel. How cool. 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      Like you, Robin, I am ready for another tepee or yurt outdoor camping experience. Even another sweat lodge would be welcomed. It was fun to tell this story. And I–almost–sort of–remember what the flying squirrel looked like.

  28. Brenda Hardie says:

    Oh Kathy! What a fun experience you had! I’ve never slept in a tepee but have had many years of camping in a tent. Can’t do the tent thing anymore…knees don’t allow for me to get down on the ground. It might work if I had one of those higher air mattresses though. I miss camping so much! I remember one camping trip when the boys were young, we went to the WI Dells and camped in a state park. We had our coolers all locked up tight with bungee cords because we were told the raccoons were very inquisitive. Well, sure enough, as evening was descending and we were inside the tent (mosquitoes were so bad we didn’t even try a campfire that night) and my dog Chloe started going beserk! Yep…there was a raccoon already in the cooler! He ran off with a package of hot dogs (our supper for the next day) and we doubled up the bungee straps, criss-crossing them but during the night the raccoon came back and undid all the bungee straps and got in the cooler and took the buns for the hot dogs and the ketchup too! No lie! We thought it was soooo funny that he took everything he needed for a hot dog supper! There were other things in there for him to take but he chose only the items mentioned. The next day we rigged up better “locking” devices, although I cannot remember now exactly what we did…..might be that we made room for the coolers in the trunk. Another time long ago when I was a child and Mom and Dad took all of us kids to Florida, we camped on a beach down there but had to suddenly pack and up and leave even before daylight because we were invaded with sand fleas and Mom was getting bit like crazy. she had an allergic reaction to the bites and we had to stop at an ER, then once she was treated and feeling better we had to spend hours in a laundromat, washing everything in HOT water and drying it all on HIGH HEAT to kill the fleas. Then to make sure there was nothing left we sprayed everything (tent included) with bug spray. But despite the fleas, it was a fun trip and we didn’t let that ruin our vacation! Being close to nature is good medicine for our souls and I miss it very much.

Thank you for reading. May you be blessed in your life...may you find joy in the simple things...

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