The Lodge – by Tara Larkin
My lover and I spent most of the summer of 1979 living in a tipi in the White River National Forest in central Colorado.
We crafted it ourselves from #10 canvas duck that we purchased from the Sears catalogue store on the corner of Harrison Avenue and West Sixth Street in Leadville, across from the courthouse. I don’t remember how much fabric we ordered. I recall its shipping weight as seventy two pounds
The canvas had to be sealed, or it would rot. The book we used as our guide, written by Reginald and Gladys Laubin, recommended house paint as a cheap sealant. We were living in a rental house the color of icing on a lemon cake. There was some leftover paint in the detached garage.
I purchased calico cotton blend for the liner from the Ben Franklin that sat on the same block as the Golden Burro. Locals still referred to it as the Five and Dime. I cut the panels to Sam’s specifications. He was very good at math. He had graduated from high school in Manhattan at 16 and enrolled in UC Berkeley in 1963. He was now thirty two. I was twenty three.
When I had arrived in Leadville in September of 1978, I got off the bus with a paper bag of clothes, $11.04 and my Singer sewing machine. We used this machine to sew the tipi and liner. I remember my mother using that machine when I was in kindergarten. My father had paid $400.00 for it. She had been furious at him!
The canvas was thick and Sam was careless. The cam shaft broke before I had finished sewing all the panels of the liner together. I had to complete it by hand. I used a whip stitch. My sister Seana showed me how. She was visiting from Connecticut, but soon took up with a painter, sleeping at his place all day and night. I had been hoping she would stick around, but she went back east.
The liner came out quite well. The tipi was acceptable. The poles were made of lodge pole pine. We purchased them from a friend of Sam’s named Steve. Steve was a miner at Climax, and had a piece of land up towards Mosquito Pass where he had built a shanty typical of those times, made mostly out of scraps. Parts were beautifully wrought, and parts were like shit. He had a remarkable outhouse. He lived with a woman who was his sister. She, too, worked at the Climax Molybdenum Mine. I want to say her name was Judy. I always had a feeling they were having an incestuous relationship.
The poles were well seasoned, which was good, because green poles would have warped under the weight of the canvas. It was a big lodge, 18 feet in diameter. I soon started calling it a lodge instead of a tipi. Then I referred to it as an Arapahoe lodge, because the door hole was too large. Sam was inpatient by nature and didn’t believe in the old carpenters adage of “measure twice; cut once.” People called Sam intense. That was just an adjective used frequently at the time to describe anything frighteningly quixotic.
We had a 1964 Chevy pickup, agua, with a long bed. The poles we stacked in the bed on top of the folded canvas lodge, inside of which was the liner and two down sleeping bags. In the cab with us was the cardboard kitchen with cast iron skillet, Dutch kettle, Swedish saw and axe. The interior of the cab I had painted with hearts, pines, peace signs ,clouds, rainbows, diamonds. As well, the poles had to be lashed to the roof of the cab. It was slowing going; our good- running truck like a rock.
We were headed north on Route 24, following the contours of the great divide over Tennessee Pass. I no longer kept a journal. I stopped soon after moving in with Sam. He was like an orphan, hovering nearby if I tried solitude. He had written in my journal, drawn on my drawings. Each night he entwined me, closer than a second skin. During the day I’d wear his clothing.
I could not see the big picture. I knew only that I wished I could spend the rest of my life here: WEST. The sky was bigger and bluer, the mountains were Gods and Goddesses, the deep snow could be swept from a porch or truck bed with a broom. I didn’t often know what I thought but knew what I felt. I was adrift, allowing things to happen to me. I hadn’t yet learned I had the power to make things happen for me.
The lodge was erected with the principles of physics coupled with muscle, and the utility of the tripod. It was stable in the wind, warm at night.
Reginald and Gladys: “The fire is laid by placing four pieces of firewood, about three feet long and several inches in diameter parallel on the ground and pointed east/west.”
Yes! The smoke flew up and away magically through the smoke hole. The smoke flaps were easy to adjust with their dedicated poles. The only difficulty was having to go outside to do so!
We followed the guidelines in our bible, it’s paperback spine becoming soft, it’s pages sooty. We were near a spring, had plenty of firewood nearby. Sam would drive to work and I would stay and take care of the lodge, cook, gather and chop wood; mostly pine, occasionally aspen. I painted the lodge much as I had painted the cab of the truck. I had freckles on every square inch of my skin. Once a week I hitchhiked to Leadville to take a bath at the Delaware hotel. The big porcelain tub was up on claws. I could submerge and recline simultaneously, it’s size was that generous.
If Sam had money in his pocket, it burned a wicked hole. I figured I better be quick if I wanted anything It seemed like a fair enough request to go to the movies in Minturn. Sam obliged me. We went to see The China Syndrome, starring Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Jack Lemmon.
It was no longer twilight when we exited the theatre. At least eight inches of snow had fallen. It was still coming down, briskly yet quietly, soft as ash. It was the middle of June.
Tennessee Pass would be treacherous under the duress of a late snow. We were silent as Sam navigated. Battle Mountain was reduced to what I could make out in the cockeyed headlights of our Chevy. Part of our silence was certainly from the grave plot line of that now- forgotten bit of Hollywood I had subjected us to. Still ,having learned that his silences were none of my business, I was becoming skilled at invisibility.
What a reliable truck that was! Having made it back to camp, we needed to hike a bit through the snow, but it was dry. Locals called this unusual precipitation corn snow. You could hold it in your hand like crushed peanuts.
Up a small rise, and I caught site of the lodge. I felt a moment of pure astonishment. The fire still burned. The clearing was lit as if by a huge lantern of transparent gold, the glow within like a steady heart. The red bandana liner I had labored over ringed the bottom third in a perfect circle. The lines of the poles were outlined strong and black against the bright yellow skin dusted with snowfall. The designs I had painted now appeared as tattoos, glyphs, charms. The nature of it’s powerful architecture was revealed to me, and I was astounded. Nothing short of marvelous, I had never seen anything quite so beautiful. Together, we stood for a time and admired it, then went in.
For awhile, I was home.