Oct 262007

Feathers & Fur, or Where the Wild Woman Sleeps

We have very nice cabins here, hand built and homey and warm, fully equipped with wood stoves. And I love them, they’re beautiful and full of hand-carved figurines, bear skin, Wolf’s amazing art, full bookshelves and hanging plants. But I don’t really want to sleep in there, it’s just strange to me on many levels to sleep without knowing what’s going on around me, all insulated and separate. Now if I lived in a noisy ghetto again I might feel differently, but most likely I’d just sleep in trees like I used to. As it is, I don’t really mind the baby skunks climbing over me at night of the wren that has her next right above my bed, it adds a sense of interconnectedness and homeyness.

What you need first is a nice mattress, I don’t recommend those funny type with springs and weird stuff inside because mice really like to burrow in that kind of thing. I suggest solid material of some kind, futon mattresses or memory foam or the like. Now you need a place to put the mattress, you’ll want some place that’s sheltered and cozy but with some kind of nice view. Here, we built a slanting roof onto the side of the house. The side chosen is very important though, so that the bed’s sheltered from most of the rain and wind and sunlight. You could also use a natural stone indentation or shallow cave, an open porch or an easily built lean-to. The important part is to have something over your head and at least one wall to put the bed against.

You don’t want to lay your mattress directly on the ground because this will lead to dampness, increased insect problems and quick decomposition of any organic matter. We built a wood platform for the mattress, but even a sheet of plastic would help a lot. Next, you need a secure way of covering the bed during bad storms because even with an overhang and shelter on one side, there are times you need more. So a high quality tarp can be quite useful here, or even better, you can built a big door that can be closed during bad weather or left open otherwise. The door hinges attach to the wall your bed is against and can be latched against the slanting roof. It can be as simple or complex as you have time and interest for. The more you sleep outdoors though, the more time and thought you’ll want to invest in this.

For bedding, it totally depends on your climate. The Saliz Mountains are capable of getting quite chilly so there’s about five layers of quilts and wool blankets on the bed, and then two layers of down comforters. Down comforters are AMAZING and can keep you toasty warm even at five below with the wind whipping over the top of you. In the summer, it gets stripped down to a quilt and a fuzzy blanket. If you live in a humid climate with lots of mosquito action it’s smart to have seasonal mosquito netting that you can tack up to hang over the bed.

In the winter, to stay really warm you need to be prepared. Don’t let yourself get chilled close to bedtime, get yourself nice and warm next to the stove first. Unless you have a bladder made of steel, you’ll probably have to pee in the middle of the night, so do yourself a favor and be prepared for that. Here, with no indoor plumbing we go far away from the cabins to pee so there’s the potential to get quite cold if not careful.

My favorite nighttime outfit involves pull on sheepskin lined boots, a flannel robe/dress of some sort and a wool poncho. All easy things to get on and off while half asleep. I don’t like to sleep with clothes on, so it’s important that I can hop out of bed, and pull everything on in just a second. You really don’t want to have to deal with any kind of pants in this situation unless you’re able to just run inside to pee on one of those strange water filled contraptions civilized folks use.

If you’re sleeping alone and tend towards the cold side, you might want to consider hot water bottles or warm stones from the hearth well wrapped in (fire-proof) cloth. They won’t last all night but they’ll damn sure get you settled in nice. A small cup of hot Ginger tea right before bed can also help keep you warm.

My bed faces Northeast and has the added benefit being positioned just right for the sun to wake me up each morning. Mighty nice, what with the birds singing and the elk splashing through the river and the plants standing up and dancing at the foot of the bed. Not much better in the world then crawling out the end of the bed to pick some Purslane for breakfast. Course I might wake up three hours late because it’s so overcast and have a foot of snow that blew in on the bed too. I do love being woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of clashing elk antlers or the scream of a mountain lion in heat.

There’s really no way to avoid some night time contact with bugs, mice and other critters, so you should be ok with that before embarking on this (ad)venture. Certain fragrant herbs like Bee Balm and Sage do deter many insects and some rodents to a degree if you hang them by the bed. You should clean the area regularly too, to deter spiders from building homes in the corners of the bed. As much as I like black widows, I always feel like its a good idea to move them when they build webs near the bed.

Oh yeah, you might want some pebbles or something to throw at the chipmunks when they stand on the bedside table in the morning and chatter at you because you won’t get up. 😉