The other night when I was supposed to be baking a birthday cake, I found myself under a dead tree on one of the town’s alleys instead, picking up a twisted branch as thick as my wrists. It fanned out at all the right angles, looking like a set of antlers. Perfect decor for our Indian Camp, I thought. My great-grandmother’s tribe, the Miami, hasn’t been recognized by the federal government since 1897, but papers or no papers, if the legend is right, we’ve got roots in a people who knew the woods like the back of their hand.

So, I walked around some other dead branches and heaved the big antlers over my shoulder to head toward home. I set the antlers up near the teepee, the shelter of choice for the Great Plains nomadic tribes, to which I have no genetic connection. Not so politically correct, but really, who doesn’t love a teepee?


I walked over to inspect our old walnut tree logs that we’d meant to turn into a rustic table and stool set for the kids. Mud and bugs and worms and moss had gone to work on them instead. I took a stick and carved into the mud until the grooves of bark showed. On one side, the layer of bark had begun to peel away from the log itself. With a light tap, it separated from the ribbons of wood that had attached it, and fell to the ground.

I looked at the bark and my antler branches and suddenly, I had an idea.

I remembered another large castaway system of branches further back on that alley. With a lot of stares and offers to help, I walked down the street and came back with the mini tree over my head. Back in my yard, I cleared the dead leaves from the branches and clipped off stray twigs. Flipping the antlers and pointing the tips into the soft earth, I stabilized the center branch in a slot on my iron fence. I worked a branch from the mini tree into a triangular meeting of branches on the antlers and together the two pieces formed the frame of a little wooden dome something like the ones I’d seen in old drawings and at the historic Lenape Indian Camp. We had ourselves a wigwam.


I felt even more energized than the time I’d hunted nearby construction sites for natural rocks to border my garden. I wasn’t just observing nature, I was interacting with it, making something from its throwaways, seeing beyond what is into what can be, and feeling the exhilaration of strenuous work.

Smacking the mosquitos away, I grabbed a roll of twine and started weaving it in and out of the branches to hold them to the ground. I was going to get this done before the light faded. I couldn’t wait to show the kids.

When my son saw what I’d been up to, he ran outside grabbed the bark and laid it over the open places. It’s a rough-shod version of a wigwam, but I felt so pleased with the magic of those dead branches turning into this little hideaway, I was like a child calling out to her parents after building a living room fort out of sheets. I seriously wanted to show it to my mom.


All this is pretty much the opposite of how I feel when I let social media eat away an hour or two of my evening. That night, my shoulders were sore from working the muscles instead of tensing them. I felt the joy of being a participant and not just a spectator. And the job had a stopping point, unlike the endless stream of the newsfeed. I’ve got to get past the feeling that I’ll be missing out on something if I don’t check in on social media every hour or so, because when I lock in there, I may be missing out on the best of my lost culture, the joy that waits in the great outdoors.

At the party, most of the kids ran wild in the yard, back and forth between the Indian camp and the side of the house where they were striking rocks together over and over trying to start a fire. A few minutes later, I walked out to find my brother with a magnifying glass over a pile of straw, little smoke signals swirling up. We’re from the Woodlands, for sure.

Here’s a little Internet break for you. Right now, before you do anything else online….
Go on a nature walk and gather interesting items along the way. Make a collage…or a wigwam. 😉



{I’m linking up with Nester for her annual 31 Days blog get together. Don’t want to miss this series? Be sure to subscribe by entering your email in the box on the homepage sidebar. Find all posts in the series here.}