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She smiled, and the look on her face was more like, “What are you, crazy?”
I brought out the plans and laid them on the table. She studied them for a minute and said, “I think we can do
I loved her spirit. We immediately went out and purchased the canvas and began making the teepee. (I
chuckle as I recalled how she burned out two sewing machines making that teepee for me.) When she was done,
we set it up at the farm and admired her work. It was magnificent!
The pack I would carry on my vision quest weighed about one hundred and thirty pounds. That weight may
not sound like much, but when you consider that I was going into the woods two miles or more in four feet of
snow on snowshoes, it was quite a bit of weight. On the day I was leaving, I heard the weather report. Not only
was it cold where I was headed, but the forecasters mentioned a chance of rain. That concerned me but not
enough to dissuade me from making the trip. It took me almost two hours to reach the entrance of the Mohawk
Trail State Park.
I met a wonderful Native American at the gate. He looked at my car and asked, “Heading in for any length of
“Probably four or five days,” I replied.
“Be careful in there,” he said. “The weather can change in the blink of an eye.”
“Thanks,” I answered, and drove to find a place to park. I took out my pack and began to put everything
Back then, we didn’t have equipment like we have today. There were no 30-degree-below-zero sleeping bags
or tents that could withstand the frigid temperatures. They also didn’t take just a few minutes to set up. I had to
improvise and make do. After all, the purpose of the vision quest, as I understood from reading Ed McGaa’s
book, was to challenge and engage the body and spirit in a quest for answers. I had a snow shovel and an axe, as
well as a hatchet. I put on my snowshoes, hoisted the pack onto my back, and began my journey into the woods.
It had snowed four feet over the past few weeks, and as soon as I made my way into the woods, it began to
rainand rain hard. There were small rivers of melting snow along the path. I was soaked to the bone within an
hour. I fell twice, and my pack was so heavy, I had to take it off in order to get back on my feet. I needed to
make good time since I had to cut down twelve good-size trees for teepee poles and skin them in order to get the
teepee up before nightfall. Prior to setting up the teepee, I had to dig through four feet of snow in a circle fifteen
feet across in order to make a place for the teepee on solid ground.
I arrived late morning at a spot I thought would be perfect. The rain didn’t stop for a minute. As a matter of
fact, it was raining harder now than when I began the hike. I took off my pack and proceeded to cut the teepee
poles and prepare the frame. I finished that task around three p.m. It was beginning to get dark, and I was
soaked to the bone. I was working hard, but as long as I kept moving, I wasn’t concerned about hypothermia.
Next, I dug the snow from the spot where I was placing the teepee. I needed to leave a few inches of snow on
the ground, or I would find myself in a mud-hole. I placed pine boughs from the small trees I had cleaned over
the snow to keep me insulated from the slush on the ground. The rain was coming down in buckets. It was six
p.m. before I had finally completed the teepee. I placed all my gear inside and began my quest for firewood.
I brought a few pieces of gumwood for kindling, but with so much rain, I began to question if I brought
enough to get the fire going. Once I had it started, I would keep it going over the four days until I left. I had no
intention of leaving the teepee unless the rain stopped. I went out to find the driest wood available, but much to
my disappointment, I had little success.
I brought small branches into the teepee and splayed the ends so they would ignite easier. I used the
gumwood to get the fire started. I worked on that fire for more than an hour and a half but could not get the fire
to stay lit. It was dark, raining, and I was getting cold. I was now completely out of gumwood, and I knew it
was time to make some serious decisions or I could find myself dead from hypothermia. I sat down and made
myself as comfortable as possible, then began to go within. In a matter of moments, the question was answered.
I needed to leave immediately. If I stayed, I would soon find myself in serious jeopardy since there was no way
to get warm.
I took a picture of the teepee before I dismantled it. The canvas now weighed about a hundred pounds by
itself, under the added weight of water. I was going to have to make two trips in order to get everything out. I
picked up the teepee, placed it on my pack frame, and began the walk back toward the car. As I started through
the woods, I could hear the coyotes walking alongside me in the woods, which gave me a bit more incentive to