By Neal Ritter
There are few primitive skills projects as impressive as a well built group shelter. A daily necessity of ancestral life, shelters are a product of the landscape. In the Utah desert, I have slept in caves. In Africa, with the Hadza, under a spreading acacia tree. At times I have built expedient shelters of piles of grasses or leaves, or made a cozy coal bed for the night. One of my favorite shelters, which expresses itself so well on the Colorado landscape, is the Wickiup. Wickiups were found throughout the Wester US, and ranged from quick throw together shade structures to well built winter dwellings.
With our youth and teen homeschool groups this year, we decided to build a cattail thatched wickiup. We created a tipi-like structure of long poles, then lashed crosspieces horizontally. The major task of the project was harvesting cattails. It took many people hours to harvest enough, and while our land is plentiful in cattails, we barely had enough.
As the cattails were harvested, crews of homeschool students learned to thatch. It required teamwork, know skills and good communication. It seemed as we made progress, we built up momentum, everyone wanting to feel the satisfaction of completing a significant undertaking.
We finished the last day of our fall homeschool session. It sits beautifully on the land, and even weathered its first snow storm. We are hoping to spend some time with it this winter, and eager to see how it holds up the Colorado weather.