“This is what we call the chicken tunnel,” Susanne said, pointing at a few plucky hens as they scuttled from their outdoor pen to their coop.
“Two paths converged — the people one and the chicken one, so we figured we could have them go over or under.”
I laughed as I pictured a chicken bridge.
Susanne was giving me a tour of the grounds where she and her partner Ken run the Tipi Village Retreat in the verdant Marcola, Oregon, just a half hour northeast of Eugene (home to the University of Oregon).
This sort of ingenuity was evident throughout the property, with custom stonework and carpentry around every turn.
I arrived during the “golden hour,” when the light was filtering through the trees. I was instantly enchanted by the property. The stream that ran by their main home looked like it was on fire as dusk descended, with two tipis (more commonly spelled tepees) perched on its banks.
But my favorite part of the grounds was the forest behind the main house, where five more traditional tipis sat. As we walked through the cedars, the tipis would appear and disappear behind the trees as if they were playing hide and seek.
I was the only guest for the evening, as their season was officially opening the next day. On the phone, Susanne had kindly agreed to let me stay, but warned me they were not quite in working order yet. I insisted it was no problem, and offered to help them get ready in any way I could.
After the tour was over and the sun had set, we cut lettuce from Susanne’s garden, and she whipped up a dinner of homemade lentil burgers, salad, and Kombucha.
“When guests are here we are usually outside grilling by the river or making pizza in our wood burning oven,” Ken said. “It’s a shame you’re missing out on that part of the experience. It’s really fun.”
I was thankful to be having dinner with these lovely people in their home — a nice change of pace from the solo dining I’d been getting used to since leaving my own.
When I asked what had motivated them to open up their home as a tipi retreat, Susanne said that there was a moment she remembered when they had friends visiting with their kids and they were all taking a walk in the forest. It was after they’d removed large piles of junk that had accumulated on the property before purchasing it.
“The trees seemed to stand taller with the kids around. I saw it in their eyes, she said. “I knew I wanted to share this special place with people.”
“It was almost as if we had to,” Ken added. “Like we didn’t have a choice in the matter.”
The next morning I helped Susanne lay out the rugs in the tipis and sweep one of the pathways, and reluctantly packed my things from the tipi I’d stayed in, called the Calapooya Tipi, named after the group of Indians that had lived in the area.
After a breakfast of farm fresh eggs and toast, I hit the road and added the Tipi Village Retreat and its hosts to the growing list of places and people I know will be lasting friends.
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Shannon is photographing with an Olympus PEN E-PM1 and an Olympus Tough TG-820.