There’s No Place Like Home, or a Teepee

Rachel Pukall

Sleeping outdoors in this polar vortex sounds like the last thing one would ever want to do, but not for Gerrid Greenwood, who lives in a teepee along the backwaters of the Wisconsin River.

Greenwood, a senior majoring in Wildlife Ecology, has lived in his teepee since late August of last year.

“Approximately 5 months since I did not live in it over winter break,” Greenwood said.

Photo by Emily Hoffmann.  Gerrid standing in his tepee among many animal skins and an assortment of baskets he has made.

Photo by Emily Hoffmann.
Gerrid standing in his tepee among many animal skins and an assortment of baskets he has made.

Greenwood got the idea to live in a teepee by reading a book called “The Last American Man” by Elizabeth Gilbert.

“It’s about Eustace Conway, a modern day mountain man,” Greenwood said. “He lived in a teepee and off the land during his college years which inspired me to take a similar path.”

Greenwood purchased the cover and liner for his teepee from a company out west that makes teepees. He did all of the assembly himself, but received some help from his family.

“I harvested and prepared the 17 black spruce poles that are used to hold up the canvas cover and liner,” Greenwood said. “I also built the plywood floor which keeps me insulated from the ground.”

Greenwood loves living in a teepee, but that does not mean it does not have its challenges.

“I stay warm by wearing lots of warm clothes, wool in particular, but I have a cast iron wood stove that warms the inside of the teepee enough to where it’s comfortable to wear a T-shirt or sweater during mildly cold nights,” Greenwood said. “My bed is very warm and consists mostly of wool blankets. I put one sheet over my head when I sleep so my head doesn’t freeze. You get used to the cold.”

While the extreme cold has been a slight annoyance at times, Greenwood says it is all part of the experience.

“It’s only a problem when my lantern has a hard time lighting and when I wake up in the morning and have to put my clothes on before I start the wood stove, which usually goes out during the night,” Greenwood said. “It’s also difficult to keep my water from freezing, which really isn’t a big deal because I can just heat it up on my stove.”

Greenwood stores his food that can be frozen in tin containers.

“The tin is to keep mice out, which I really haven’t had much problems with, besides one time when I was gone for a few days and mice, along with chipmunks, stashed acorns all over my teepee including my bed,” Greenwood said.

Greenwood stores food that cannot be frozen, like his wild canned food, in a wooden box that is buried in the ground inside the teepee.

“The ground stays at a relatively constant temperature and prevents the food from freezing,” Greenwood said.

Greenwood cooks with cast iron pots and pans on his wood stove during the colder months and during the warmer seasons he likes to cook outside in his fire pit.

“I prefer to eat wild foods because of their high nutrient content and lack of pesticides, but I do go to the grocery store once in a while for basic things like bread, cheese, eggs, fruits, and vegetables,” Greenwood said. “But I am actually starting to prefer the taste of wild foods over cultivated.”

Greenwood showers at the hockey rink after intramural hockey or at a friend’s house if necessary.

“Showering every day is really not healthy for your skin, but people seem to think it’s necessary,” Greenwood said. “I usually shower twice a week and I have never had anyone tell me that I smell bad. The smoke from my stove basically eliminates all other odors so I always just smell like a campfire.”

Greenwood plans to live in a teepee for at least a few more years and then move on to other sustainable dwellings such as wigwams, yurts and log cabins.

“I refuse to live in a conventional home with all of the unnecessary amenities,” Greenwood said.

Greenwood says that living in a teepee has allowed him to experience more of the joys of nature.

“Like sitting in my bed calling to the owls outside or listening to the woodpecker as it excavates the trees,” Greenwood said. “Most days I get to watch the sunset and every night I make it a point to look at the stars.”

Greenwood says that he is more aware of the changes in weather and the seasons by living outside as well.

“For example, I never realized how long the fall colors lasted until I watched the progression day after day,” Greenwood said.

“I would like to invite anyone who is interested in living closer to the earth or an alternative lifestyle to come out to my teepee and have a cup of tea and talk about living off the land, primitive living, and crafting,” Greenwood said. “I want to share my experience and the joys of sustainable living.”

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