Pistol Creek Longhouse June, 2022
It had been three years since I had set up my first big longhouse – enough time to forget what a pain in the ass it was and for it to sound like a lovely idea. Why not take a couple of weeks off, set up a forty-foot longhouse on Pistol Creek and see how many of my friends and relations I can talk into joining me?
Why not, indeed?
We got a late start Thursday. Walter had to get his hair done before we left. This was not a mere concession to vanity; Walter is an integral member of the team. There was no way he could haul his share of the load into camp without getting his heavy winter coat shorn.
There were seven of us: Kent, Meredith, Angus, Robert, Andy, Walter Dawg, and myself. Eight, I suppose, if you count Andy’s dog, Oreo.
Five trucks arrived at the trailhead at 7:30 p.m. The hot weather of the preceding couple of weeks had finally melted the road free of snow, but there were still patches here and there under the trees. The weather had turned once again; clouds were moving in and it was beginning to mist.
We hurried to unload our baggage and provisions from the trucks, lugging most of it an eighth of a mile down the trail where we made a cache on the other side of some deadfall. We left a set of tipi poles on the truck and hauled our food, bedding and a canvas into camp.
The light was fading fast. Robert and Andy kindled a fire while the rest of us set up the largest tipi for shelter. All of us were tuckered out by nightfall. I heated up some crab stuffed morels to eat before we turned in.
The Next Day
Rolling out of our bunks early Friday morning, we left Andy to make breakfast. The rest of us hauled several loads in from the cache. When we got back to camp my brother fed us pork chops and eggs.
After breakfast we turned our attention to constructing the longhouse. I paced off forty feet along the west edge of the meadow. Robert started leveling the south end with a hoedad then Angus and I took down the tipi and moved it over the flat ground Robert had prepared.
We erected another tipi opposite this with a twenty-seven-foot space between the two tipis. A ridgepole was lifted to bridge this gap supported by four poles in the center and the tipis at either end.
Bill and Susan showed up before we had the longhouse completed, and were drafted to help with construction. Together, we tied canvas tarps to poles and lifted the panels into place, resting them against the ridgepole.
My nephew Jonathon and his daughter arrived, followed shortly by Dave McF with Josh and Andrea.
As the new arrivals set up their cots, I reconstituted some dried boletes and put together Beef Stroganov for dinner. The camp was filled with the smell of cooking and the happy burble of friends chatting around the campfire.
The lodge required fifty poles at least twenty-three feet long. We brought in more poles from the truck, but we still came up short. Nightfall found us one panel shy of a finished longhouse, but we had enough canvas up to provide shelter for everyone present.
The First Weekend
Saturday morning I drafted Robert as sous chef to help me put together a Mountain Man Breakfast.
My brother Dave dropped by as we were cleaning up. He and Kel were going kayaking on Disappearing Lake. I couldn’t stick around and visit; we needed more poles to finish the longhouse. Robert and I spent a couple hours retrieving tipi poles cached ten miles down the road at Chanty Camp. Dave and Kellie had left by the time we got back, but my wife Amy was there.
With the additional poles we were able to install the final canvas. While we were completing the longhouse, Dave McFarlane installed a new seat on the thunderbox and built a latrine in the woods behind camp.
Andy lashed together a kitchen table. Camp was shaping up!
Angus brought an electric chainsaw. Everyone took turns cutting firewood. Meredith and I set up a small tipi across from the meadow from the longhouse.
I asked my friends to help decorate this tipi while we were out there. I collected hand prints from each camper. The women used black paint on their left hands, to the left of the door; the men, red paint on their right hands, across the opposite side.
We had a delicious Tree Planters Chili for dinner. I’m not sure what Angus put in it, but I know there were several kinds of beans, some peppers, meat, tomatoes and I’m pretty sure there was some pineapple. He served it with corn tortillas toasted directly on the coals. We had Dutch Oven rhubarb pie for dessert.
After dinner we sat around the fire, roasting peeps, drinking, and sharing lies. We had three fires going inside the longhouse, which shone through the canvas providing a warm, mellow backdrop. Across the meadow, on the other side of the cook fire, Kent and Meredith had adorned their tent with fairy-lights left over from Burning Man. Above us a billion stars winked. The campsite glowed with contentment.
My right eye had been bothering me for about a week. It was irritated and my vision was blurry. I kept telling myself it was getting better, but that was a lie. Sunday morning when I got up, my right eye was useless. I could see light and dark, but no details, no motion. My left eye was fine, but I had no depth perception, which made chopping firewood and pounding tent pegs interesting. It didn’t hurt, so I went about my business, making pancakes for breakfast. I was a little pop-eyed, but they turned out OK.
Andy’s wife, Susan, arrived at camp that afternoon. Most of the crew was pulling out, but the weather was clear and no one was in much of a hurry. The departees took their time packing up, taking numerus breaks before actually making the trek out to the trucks. The haul out was complicated when two of the carts broke down, but eventually the gear got out to the road and good byes were said.
Amy and my brother Andy stayed Sunday night. Together we put together a Shepherd’s pie and baked it in a Dutch oven. Susan left shortly after Sunday dinner. With the fading of the day, we retired to the longhouse. We sat around the fire, a pot of beans simmering over the flames while we sipped our drinks and relaxed into night.
The weather continued fair on Monday. The three of us spent most of the morning down by the creek. Later we returned to camp and worked on projects. Andy lashed together a Fred Flintstone repair of the broken cart, while Amy painted trail signs to guide our California relatives into camp when they hiked in the following weekend.
Amy and my brother packed out around four in the afternoon, leaving me alone in camp until the next group arrived some time toward the end of the week.