Ojo Tipi

Gifted to the Ojo in 2010

A Tipi Story by Dave...

What memories does the word 'tipi' bring to mind? For me it was the westerns I watched growing up. Once, when I picked apples in the 70's, our group stayed in a tipi that we set up in the orchard. I can imagine today, a plains rider and family setting up a tipi on the prairie of old. But I bet his traveling house was a bit smaller than this set up.

A tipi creates a space that can be hard to describe. The poles converge somewhere above your head and daytime shadows are always dancing around the spaces between them. In the dark with a fire the shadows are cast from within, but still dancing. You must duck down a bit as you enter, and this humbles you a bit. You may have received a blessing from someone before you entered, and a pinch of tobacco to toss on the fire comes in real handy.

I like our tipi, because it sets right on the ground which in our case is sand. There is a small gap where the fabric does not quite make it to the ground as it is pulled taut around the poles. There might be feathers above the door, or ribbons hanging about. Pegs attach to straps to hold the structure firm, and in great gusts of wind only the rustling of the surrounding cottonwoods is heard. That is, unless there is drumming, and flute playing, and stick knocking, and vocalizations and such. For tipis were designed not just for that Plains family to bed down in, but for groups to settle in and speak their mind or dream loftily into the array of poles.

A pipe carrier may be present with a beautiful pipe and aromatic sage mixed with a little of the tobacco all laid out on a lovely piece of fabric or leather. There might be some feathers attached to the pipe or not. Certainly, words will be spoken to invoke the ancestors and energies of the Place to lend their knowledge to the assembled group. As the pipe makes its journey around the circle you feel the hands of the person before still warm on the pipe. Some choose not to inhale the smoke, most do; only a small amount is needed to connect you with a sense of that old Indian chief you remember from the movies. And all this causes you to pause in your normal thinking, and focus on more immediate matters, matters that have more importance than jobs, and the price of gas, and the distant wars and arguing, and plane tickets.

The tipi brings people together because everyone has some sort of connection with it, be it an old memory or a need to be in some sort of sacred structure. But really it is because we all need some place that is special, that is unlike our living rooms and kitchens, and bathrooms and bedrooms, and libraries, and offices and downtowns, and highways. We need a tipi, with that smoke hole up there and that smoke going through it. This small society of 6 or 8 or 13 sitting around the fire wondering, if just for a few brief hours, that life could be so simple and so full.


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