Two Winters in a Tipi: My Search for the Soul of the Forest, by Mark Warren, Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, Conn., 2012, $15.95
As enticing looking as the cover of this book is, an Old West aficionado like myself might hesitate at first to pick it up. Who wants to read a contemporary story about a man and his dog living in a tipi/tepee instead of a tent for two years? But don’t overlook this book, which is informative about the real travails of 19th-century Indian life and is one of the most perfectly and colorfully written books I’ve ever laid hands on. For most of his life author Mark Warren has taught survival in the same ruggedly beautiful part of Georgia where the 1972 movie Deliverance was filmed. He founded the Medicine Bow Wilderness School, and among his many honors is a Georgia Conservation Educator of the Year Award from the National Wildlife Federation.
“All my life I have paid attention to nature,” writes Warren, who is also a national champion in whitewater canoeing and in 1999 won the World Championship Longbow Tournament. “I followed it as though it were a phantom figure slinking off into the woods, and I had to track it, to know what it was.” So after his remote cabin burned down, Warren and his dog, Elly, lived in a tepee as the Plains Indians had done, using no modern conveniences, not even matches. “Anything I needed to learn about wilderness lore, I could learn in tipi life,” he explains. Warren has also learned much about writing; he is a master storyteller, a master of metaphors and a master wordsmith. He describes one of his first nights in the tepee this way: “The moon had been blossoming like a white flower on the canvas until it sailed into view against the blackness. It began a slow journey across the triangular opening of the smoke flaps, its celestial eye looking in on me, welcoming. My life sidestepped from the march of seconds and minutes—even centuries. I had become timeless. I could have been anywhere, anyone, at any time.” And on another page he observes with simple logic: “Smoke rose from the center of the fire pit as I thought about the word hearth. Embedded inside that word lay two others: heart and earth.” Whether you want to read about Indian life the way it really was or just want a beautifully written story about living with nature and all its animal denizens, this book is for you.