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When Mark Warren’s home burned to the ground, he didn’t panic.
He built a tipi.
“It was an extremely hot fire,” he said. “My house had a tin roof so it reflected the heat down. And nothing survived.”
Warren was in Atlanta that weekend in 1989 when he got the call that his Dahlonega home had been struck by lightning.
“It was still glowing in places when I got back,” he said. “The last thing standing in my house was my piano. It was a pile of red embers.”
Yet, as Warren toed through the ashes of nearly everything he owned in the world, he was struck by a sense of calmness.
“I was surprised by how readily I accepted it,” he said. “I didn’t feel any panic or loss or anything. I just thought ‘Well that’s kind of interesting.’”
Perhaps that because Warren knows how to survive.
In fact, he teaches a course on it.
For the past 35 years Warren has run a wilderness school in the foothills of Lumpkin County called Medicine Bow.
So when he found himself in a bind, Warren fell back on his own teachings.
“I continued to live on the land, and a friend of mine loaned me a tent,” he said. “But the more I kept bending over to walk through that door, the more I started thinking I needed something better. And a tipi was a good choice.”
So at a time when most people would be scouring the classifieds for rental homes, Warren began searching for quality timber and a large piece of canvas
“There’s a need to feel an ownership in a tipi,” he said. “So that’s why I chose not to buy my poles but make them myself. That was two weeks of solid eight-hour-a-day work.”
When he was finished Warren was the owner of a 17-foot high, 15 foot wide canvas tipi (or teepee to some).
As the weather turned cold, the new priorities of typical tipi-life quickly became apparent.
“I measured my wealth those days by how big my firewood pile was,” he said. “That was the greatest feeling of security through the winters to know I had everything there to make myself comfortable.”
His new home was apparently comfortable enough to attract many of the woodland animals on his property too.
“All the animals paid visits at sometime,” he said.
That included an overly-friendly skunk that occasionally tried to crash at Warren’s place.
“One cold night he came in the tipi and he scooted under my bed,” he said.
Warren gingerly shooed him out the door.
“I just couldn’t bring myself to trust that the night was going to go well with him in there,” he said with a grin.
Some animals weren’t as easy to chase off.
“One day I walked out the tipi and saw a bear with a blue tag on his ear,” he said. “And I realized ‘This bear had been tagged and brought here from somewhere else because it was causing trouble.’”
Luckily, Warren had a bow-and-arrow on hand.
But he didn’t use it for hunting.
“I made special arrows with a blunt tip,” he said. “When I’d shoot a bear with that I was doing it for its own good. After I’d hit it I’d wave my arms and let him know it was me and yell something like ‘I am homosapian!’
That seemed to do the trick, he said.
After nearly two years in his tipi, Warren decided to put a more permanent roof over his head.
But he said it wasn’t the lack of TV or air conditioning or a even a mattress that convinced him to make the move.
“It was music,” he said. “I was ready for my piano again.”
Warren soon relocated his wilderness camp to a plot of land a stone’s throw from the Appalachian Trail. There he also moved into a more traditional home and began to write his book detailing his adventures, the fittingly titled Two Winters in a Tipi.
“It’s really a lovely way to live,” he said. “Of course there were some tradeoffs, but I never thought about them while I was living there.”

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Thanks to Mark Warren for this interview. And if you like this story, share it!

Editors note: All photos used in this article are from Mark Warren’s Medicine Bow web site.

story by Matt Aiken

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