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Outdoor living on the edge of the urban jungle

Monday, 29 January 2018 at 14:27 pm

We call our Nordic tipis “A home from home”. A development of the traditional Sami “kåta”, it has been used as a home, not a shelter, by generation after generation. And it continues to be so. Here on Tentipi we get reports from people spending years in their tents. Like Laura and Jarmo Järvinen who stayed 12 month on an island in the archipelago of Åboland in the south of Finland in their Safir 9 cp. Or the promising ultrarunner Markus Torgeby who grew sick of the pressure and moved out in the forests of central Sweden, staying in a in a Granit 14 for four years. There’s just something about getting away from it all, getting back to the basics, isn’t it?

In this episode of the Tentipiblog we meet Gina and Koen who made the quite unorthodox decison to move out into a Safir 9 cp, still keeping their regular day-to-day at their offices. 

We have this rhythm. It was never something that we agreed upon. It just evolved through repetition.

Koen is in charge of the stove, dismantling, emptying and cleaning it, while I pack – arranging the items with tetris like precision so that our lives fit neatly in the boot of the car. I consider it an art form.

We would move through this process every few days, sometimes every day, occasionally swapping roles, but always returning to the same rhythm. One day we timed it: we could disassemble camp in 30 minutes flat.

We did this for a year. A Wild Year.

It was an idea inspired by the founding fathers of the conservation movement, Thoreau, Leopold and Muir, to try and better understand how we connected with the natural environment. In his book Walden Thoreau wrote: “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth”, and after studying and teaching in nature conservation for over 10 years we started to put theory into practice on a daily basis.

Originally, we had wanted to follow in Thoreau’s footsteps, head off for the wild and spend a year building a life from scratch.

But, there was a catch. Our work is also important to us; it was not something we wanted to step away from for a year. In September 2016, we had just returned to Europe from a six-month journey that began in Brazil and ended in Canada. We had camped most of the way, and talked at length about the possibility of prolonging our time under canvas. We wanted to achieve balance, ensure that we did not just talk and lecture on the virtues of a connection with the natural world, but actively practice what we preached.

This became the momentum for the Wild Year. What if we could take the idea behind the 19th century log cabin in the woods and apply it to a modern day setting. Could we keep working and spend a decent proportion of our time outside? What would a decent proportion be? We figured it had to be marked by a majority, so it had to be 50% or more.

And, when you calculate in the amount of time spent on work, the logical way to achieve 50% of your time out of doors is to sleep outside.

So, that was what we did.

Throughout the Wild Year we slept under canvas, tarps, mossie nets, and when possible, nothing at all. But, our base was the tipi – or TipiHQ as it became fondly known.

We were drawn to the idea of tipi after spending a night in one owned by a member of the Maliseet First Nation in Canada. Sat around a fire, and with the flickering flames that made the painted handprints of friends and family dance across the canvas, we experienced a warm cosiness that we thought we could happily endure.

When we returned to Europe we looked for a modern equivalent and that was when we stumbled across Tentipi. We were drawn to the well-considered design, inspired by the Sami culture. We chose a Tentipi  Safir 9 cp together with the Eldfell stove for the space and warmth that they provided.

In addition to the tipi and the stove our core kit consisted of a rubber groundsheet, a pair of inflatable field mattresses tied together with paracord, a down duvet, two foldable chairs and an old metal army box that contained essential kitchen equipment and food. We would carry enough clothes for a few days, which did mean regular visits to family members and friends to ‘borrow’ a washing machine.

We camped up at locations close to our respective offices throughout the year, but always at ‘natural’ camping sites. This meant that facilities were basic – many of these sites operate on a community basis where users are responsible for cleaning and maintenance. We checked log piles, filled holes in paths and kept facilities clean. In the winter, there was usually only a single toilet available and one cold water tap, which made for short showers!

The bonus though was that in the cooler, wetter periods these places were rarely occupied and we often found ourselves nestled alone in green hotspots, neighbours to national parks, black woodpeckers and roe deer.

On one cool late winter evening we sat at a picnic bench in a deserted campsite. The pines hung overhead, silhouetted by a crisp moon encircled in an icy halo. We were donned in multiple layers, and I had an alpaca blanket underneath my coat for extra warmth – a habit that had been adopted as the winter weather set in. We knew that if we’d come back to a house that evening there would have been little chance of us deciding to dine out in the garden.

In ‘regular’ daily life it is easy for the outdoors to become a backdrop rather than an environment to be part of, but it is seemingly easy to rectify that disconnect with a welcome shift in routines.

The alpaca layer was one of the many tools for enjoying the winter weather. The cold had been one of my main concerns when we embarked on the Wild Year. Despite having camped in Patagonia and near Ushuaia (also known as The End of the World) in freezing temperatures, we knew the Netherlands was still able to offer its share of frosty nights that could creep right through the lining of a thick sleeping bag.

This initial concern was easily mitigated. During the first snowfall we sat with friends around the stove decked out in t-shirts. On a chilly evening we would have the stove going to cook and then we would usually stoke it before getting in to bed. By the time the fire had died out we would be warm enough in a down cocoon. For safety we always carried a carbon monoxide meter with us when we had the stove lit, but were always cautious about incomplete combustion and the wood we burnt, steering clear of damp log piles to avoid a build-up of carbon monoxide.

We honed many practical skills during our time in the tipi, refining our bushcraft techniques along the way – outdoor cooking, fire building, leaving no trace. However, this was an added bonus, not the intention, of our time outside. Which beggars the question: did it work? Did we manage to achieve a greater connection with the environment?

The answer, for both of us, is a resounding yes.

The Wild Year allowed us to slow down and switch off – or rather on.

We had less time to ‘do stuff’ each day because of the need to fulfil necessary tasks – building camp, making a fire, cooking – but this never felt like wasted time. Our setting differed every few days, from pine trees to willows, from riversides to open fields. The seasons changed and shifted, and us along with them.

The practical constraints of the wild year were minimal – the increased amount of travel, the stress of finding a camping spot in the middle of the city when work demanded it, the continuous packing – when compared with the benefits that the experiment brought: we felt healthier, we slept better, we attuned to a natural rhythm. We noticed when species arrived. When the morning alarm calls of the robin and the blackbird were accompanied by the geese overhead, followed by the storks and the cranes. And then, when they started to fade away again. We woke up warm in stifling summer heat, but struggled to get going when the sun stayed hidden behind the tree line during the winter months.

It was a year of rich and fulfilling time spent out of doors. A year that brought adventure into the everyday. A year that showed us how to “live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign [ourselves] to the influence of the earth”.

 

Gina and Koen ended the Wild Year after 379 consecutive nights outside, in the beginning of October 2017. They are currently on the lookout for a more permanent base, not necessarily indoors. Meanwhile, the Tentipi Safir 9 cp is artfully packed, awaiting the next adventure.

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