Andrew and Kayla Blanchflower are the co-founders of Rogue Dwellings, and Andrew is also a contributer to Dark Mountain magazine. As a family they manifest their environmental activism in their way of life, free from land ownership, and through their presence at Standing Rock.
Andrew and Kayla Blacnflower, and their 5 beautiful kids born to tipi living; Rowan, Ayla, Sequoia, Tamarac and Raven inspire others to see how another type of parallel low-impact life is possible where we consume less and live more.
Living in handmade tipis that they teach others to make and travelling in an old school bus, the family invite strangers in for chai and a chat about life with respect for mother nature. Through their voices and sound recordings, listeners can feel a glimpse of how their everyday life also shapes a closeness to each other and how external resilience can in turn create an inner resilience, that also results in a softer impact on mother earth.
Podcast episode 6: ON BELONGING
SOUND: DIEGO INTRO
Welcome to Nordic By Nature, a podcast on ecology today inspired by the Norwegian Philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the term Deep Ecology.
As Naess once wrote, there seems to be no place for PLACE anymore. The things, we need appear like magic into our lives. For that convenience we often have to sacrifice connection and community. We become isolated from each other as we become more dependent on faceless corporations to provide the things we need, rather than people who produce them. Our ecological selves are being separated from the very idea of home. But somehow, the loss of place is felt, on a deeper level, and the longing for home persists.
According to Naess and deep ecology, we need to articulate what it means to belong to a place.
Number 1. As humans, we are locally and globally connected at all times. Our everyday life patterns and culture interweave with every other living thing. We need to understand this experience if we are to create profound relationships of stewardship for our own lives and the lives of future generations.
Number 2. We must not confuse a place with our own house. We do not own a place. Other humans and non-humans have the right to be part of the ecology of a place. It is important for us to share our sense of place with others, for that a place to thrive. It does not threaten our own identity or way of life to invite others to share the spaces where we feel we belong.
Number 3. Natural experiences are not commodities to be consumed. A place is a living entity, a collection of interconnected ecosystems. A place has a value independent of the services it provides humans. But humans can be an integral and natural part of an ecosystem.
Number 4. There is Wilderness and there is Countryside. One sees Nature as separate to humankind and the other sees humankind as a Keeper of Nature. Both concepts are human constructs.
Number 5. We need to regain a sense of scale. Places and their ecosystems are being degraded by massive amounts of waste. Microscopic damage is also occurring depleting the soil and our nutrition. We must also conserve the invisible equilibrium on which all life relies.
In this episode ON BELONGING, you will hear from three people who have thought a lot about what ‘home’ means to them and what defines our relationship to a place.
First you will hear the words of Andrew and Kayla Blanchflower, tipi dwellers and makers whose way of the life can be an inspiration to all of us to live lighter. Andrew and Kayla met and fell in love in Oregon in the States, and decided to raise their family with a closer contact to the earth and Mother Nature.
You will then hear the voice of Yvette Neshi Lokotz teacher of hand drumming and making, practitioner of the Medicine Wheel or Sacred Hoop healing, and tribal member of the Potawatomi Nation.
Please listen to this podcast with your headphones.
My name’s Andrew. I’ve lived in tipis since the early ‘90s. The story goes back to those days in Hulme. We would go up to Saddleworth Moors and graze on mushrooms in the autumn. I think that was my first taste of the system that was bigger than any political system that there is the system that is…I could just call it Mother Earth or Gaia right now….
SOUND: Walking through woodland
We’d come back to Hulme like this low rise six story social housing disaster, which was actually great for squats and young, single people and ….I think I’ve forgotten that time of my life my early growing up until my late teens that there was such a longing and such a missing, like, I remember that when I see people in town these days just with that confusion or that… that kind of “there’s something bigger than this, I know that there’s something bigger than this or just something… that has to be more.”
I remember having these conversations the Shenyen who was then named Martin and it would be like: “What was the most amazing life that you could dream of, that you could imagine+” For Shenyen, it was being an ordained monk in India or Tibet. For me it was living in a tipi.
And then it was like “Okay well can we just, do you want to just try moving towards that and see what happens?” And so that’s what happened, and then I met people that live in a tipi community in Wales of all places and my people that live in tipi he’s in Wales all year round to me was a revelation that people could still actually do that.
And I met some of those people at various festivals, at Glastonbury Festival and various healing gatherings, and they were just making a cup of tea around the fire, and I was just perceiving these people like these amazing epic characters that knew how to just boil kettle in a few minutes.
SOUND: BLESSED BE SONG.m4a
SOUND: 2. ANDREW PENNYWHISTLE.wav
INTRO: KAYLA’S STORY
SOUND: 3. BACKGROUND BIRDS KAYLA.wav
I love the way we met. I think it’s, it’s so romantic. He was playing the penny whistle. There was one evening he was playing in this little town called Ashland in Oregon and at night he was playing his whistle on the street. And I was out for a walk. I was actually quite heartbroken that night. And I was going on a walk with a friend, sort of crying and sharing my, my broken heart. And then we parted ways this friend and I, and I heard this whistle in the distance. It just felt so healing and soothing to me and so I decided I would close my eyes and walk to where that whistle was coming from.
And now here we are. However, many years this is later. This is like almost 20 years later and we have five children.
On Tipi Life
ANDREW Basically we live in tipis because we can be on the ground around the fire. Like it’s a way of manifest in our elements directly. I can get wood and water, find the spring or a creek or something. There’s like two basics taken care of as far as elements.
KAYLA At the moment everyone’s busy in the shop. All the kids are in there making things; we’re making shoes for the trip, and making backpacks, a travelling lodge and a bag for the travelling lodge, and Ayla is making some gifts. She wants to bring these baby carriers to give to some kids that she knows over there. Yeah. everyone’s really busy using the sewing machines right now and making things for the journey and that’s a lot of fun.
SOUND: 4. WHITE THROATED SPARROW.m4a
KAYLA So we have five children. All of our children were born to living in the tipi.
That’s sort of one of the things that I kind of captivated me about Andy was that he, he lived in a tipi and he had come from a tipi community in Wales, and he knew how to make them, and how, how to live in them in a way that wasn’t like roughing it or camping but quite luxuriously.
And so all of our children were born to the tipi. Not all of them were born in it. Some were born outside of the tipi or in water, or our firstborn was born in a birth centre. It was a beautiful birth and it was that birth that then set up the rest for us to be pretty strong about just having him and I be there for the births.
So, we had a midwife for our first child and she was a wonderful woman. She’s dear in my heart. I have sought counsel with her throughout all the rest of our children, but not as a regular midwife and she did not attend any more births.
I’m grateful for her and it really helped me get in touch with the wisdom in my bones of just how to how to birth with a lot of love with whatever family was around.
SOUND: 6. AMBIENT LODGE 1.wav & 7. AMBIENT LODGE WATER.wav
On Tipi Village, from Wales to Oregon
KAYLA It was when we were pregnant with our second child that we wanted to just be somewhere wild where we could feel really comfortable and at home and so we decided to just go to those mountains in the distance, and we set up our lodge, and I don’t know a little while after we set it up maybe some days or so. someone came down and it turned out they were the title holders.
But they loved the Tipi. We made them tea which is what we’ll often do when surprise visitors come. And you know let the fire do its magic on them like it does. They came down and they had tea and they welcomed us and said that they you know they had access to thousands of acres. They opened it up to us. I mean that the short version.
And that’s where the valley the tipi Valley model where Andy came from in Wales had such a strong influence in this little place in Oregon which we ended up calling tipi village.
It’s amazing that those stories, those people, those events, in Wales they’re all of those how far they travelled and how they’re like seeds that floated over and just grew in this other place, and I guess stories do that. They kind of travel like that.
People would come and visit and find out if they wanted to stay for a while or not. It was a pretty organic process because you know, if if people were up for it, fetching wood and water and cooking on a fire, and living with the elements, and dealing with mould and rodents, and you know, rain dripping in and all of these things that have to be dealt with– then they would, you know, they’d make themselves a tipi and rise to it and love it —and
other people would find you know quickly or not so quickly that it wasn’t for them, and so there was no need for any, you know, egos to get involved to say you can be here. You can’t be here. The earth did the sorting out. I guess, maybe.
SOUND: 2b Rattle.wav
ANDREW Tipi Valley in Wales they always had that big lodge that was always open, and it brings so much perspective. If we want new stories new narratives, we can look back to stories that 5000 years old what’s so common in a lot of those folk tales, is the answer to the problem comes from the periphery. It doesn’t come from where we’re looking at the problem. Like it comes a spirit of the lake or an old woman in the roots of the tree or…. But we have to be open to that we have to be at that point. Maybe it’s not going to be until we’re at that point of desperation that we will be open to that and hear it.
SOUND: 8. DINNER BLESSING.wav
On what is home?
Fireplace and FIRE CRACKLING.m4a
KAYLA [00:10:58] What does home mean? These are thinking about these things are really they’re meaningful to me, and we talk about them often in our home. It’s been quite a thread for us because of I guess we kind of considered ourselves as ‘displaced’ which is interesting to say because Andy isn’t from the west of Turtle Island but we made our family there, all the kids were born there this whole village from out of the ground and blossomed there, other children in the community were born there.
For many years we all moved together seasonally. There was a summer grounds and winter grounds and so we’re very connected with a place there.
We moved within a range, a valley, and a mountain range and so we had high elevation camp and we had a low elevation camp.
We often hear that the only place where that’s normal is where you’re at like the Nordic regions is like that that kind of stuff is more widely accepted and known in here. It is a little bit. I mean sometimes we’re in places where we might be a bit more of the freak show. We don’t find so many but enough that we aren’t alone really. Right now, all winter we’ve been living on this beautiful ridge and with three other families.
I mean a community doesn’t need to be a huge amount of people, there’s enough people here where we can bounce off each other and there’s enough, you know, diversity be amongst the different skills between the grown-ups that the kids can like, you know, they go to what’s inspiring for them for input and there’s other children here and they have this wide open wild space to just be in and learn about together.
SOUND: 11. CRACKING FIRE & ROWAN.m4a
KAYLA Because I think there is some great power to us knowing the stories of a landscape and feeling how our stories are woven into those stories and then we know our place because we know the land so I feel like home. Place is relevant in talking about home, but I don’t think it’s exclusive to place and I think it could be at least here in the United States, there’s that consciousness of its like its ‘settler colonialism’ that really claims a place and says this is mine.
ANDREW Stories really intimate and woven in with place, like they come from a place and they emerge out of the ground. As far as a new narrative is becoming apparent that a monolithic… a single narrative isn’t really the way forward. It seems like in order to find unity we’re having to kind of decentralise. Someone a few years ago on a radio show was talking about that the only thing that unites us is our uniqueness. Like the thing that unites us does our uniqueness. We’re all different. So the ability to adapt. We’re forgetting how to adapt.
People are forgetting how to write down on paper, through the seduction of convenience, people forget how to feel a bit uncomfortable, and just rise to the occasion. I don’t know what there is to do other than just try and be resilient and adapt.
ANDREW That brings it back to that relationship with place being something more dimensional than mere economics. It is just one single level or dimension of how a holistic relationship to ‘place’ can be.
KAYLA I think at that time I might have been very much one to say that home in place were more closely related but then as Tipi village, I mean the story as tragic, and it’s beautiful and it was you know, the land titles shifted hands and that’s a long story.
It was enough for us that push was enough, and we got a school bus real quick and made a quick conversion and got on the road and for the first year I would say we travelled around just traumatized and gutted like we had lost everything that, that meant something to us like the birthplace of our children, and we had such a vision woven in with that place, of a future of a way forward that we were so dedicated to and believed so firmly in.
Tending the land, tending wild plants, returning seasonally, watching it grow, living lightly with a place, as a people, as a community. So then that’s when I think the journey of being separated from place but still maintaining home, began for me personally.
SOUND: NeshiDrumming_6/4/19_2.mp3 (DIEGO Arrangement)
On Standing Rock
KAYLA: And then we kind of heard that call to go to Standing Rock. Well not kind of. It came through really strong. That’s another story. I mean it was quite an incredible direction for us to head in, after having gone through the seven years of tipi village, and being able to be in a bus, with a workshop that made tipis, and we can just pull up to Standing Rock and make shelter and have our home with us. And I think that’s where maybe the journey began to shift for me in realising that home is much bigger than a place because we got there, and it felt like we met our people. I met our people.
And that our people live all around the world, like people were there from so many places, but there was such this common thread that united us. And we kept saying in so many ways it was like we had gone home.
It had such a profound impact on our lives. We were there for a year. It was the land of the paradox for me just the richest place I’ve been.
The spiritual richness was so potent that fire was burning so strong and that’s what kept us there for that long and the poverty and pain that’s there is equally as strong. It’s just the poorest and richest place. And I guess I am speaking beyond our time in camp at Standing Rock because we stayed on further with relatives that we met who live on the various reservations in the Dakotas and lived with them after the camps were closed down in February. We continued on, pitched our lodge with some other people who live between the Pine Ridge Reservation and the Rosebud reservation
On Nature and healing
ANDREW This thing that they pejoratively called the environment as if it’s an issue as if it’s something that needs to be taken care of as if it isn’t the whole of everything. All of life runs through this about out of proportion, I think.
KAYLA We’re all very present. We don’t have anywhere else to be except right at home and with each other. We’d like to say that sometimes it’s kind of like we have seven pairs of eyes were like this one body with all these eyes and all these noses and all these ears just kind of moving through space and time together and and so it feels like we’re that much more aware if we’re in it together taking care of each other paying attention to each other’s bodies. But we heat water on the fire. We have a washtub. That’s how we have baths. The healing journey requires getting sick together.
We’re blessed to have each other to have the family. I send a bit of that good feeling out to those who aren’t as fortunate to have a family container to hold them through their challenging times.
I feel humbled and blessed that we do have that with each other and we have all the time we’re so rich with time so there’s just no hurry or there’s no loss of job money. Getting ill, it has information in there of how to be live even better, how to be more activated in ourselves, maybe.
Our bodies are maps.
On being open
KAYLA With the way we move with in the bus and where we’ve been travelling across the country. It’s sort of been a requirement that we be very open. I mean I guess we could do it in a closed way but I just that’s just not the way we do it. We move really slowly and in a very open way always receiving whatever guests we meet. It’s it’s so curious to me the way a journey can unfold when we go with such open minds and heart.
Especially with technology these days we could really plan our route and plan where we stay and close our reality down so much with all this planning and being so destination bound, and then I think we miss out so much, and so, by being so open, we’re always in contact with so many different kinds of people, which I think grows in our kids a kind of adaptability and some resiliency. and a way to navigate different cultural contexts.
ANDREW Well the way we’ve done Chai is to serve it straight out of the bus because we have a 1988 Chevy Bluebird school bus like classic American school bus, and that’s what we travel, we carry our whole trip in that which is a tipi and a 28 foot seven-sided tensile tent shop.
So we might just be pulled over in a rest area or in a town and we’ll put a sign up saying “Now serving organic Chai” on the sign is to say. Donations welcome and then we thought it has a poor aesthetic, so we just even scrubbed that off, and people still managed to make donations, and sometimes… sometimes someone wouldn’t leave anything, sometimes… most people leave a couple three dollars to occasionally someone’s left one hundred dollars or bunches of kale or someone’s brought us some venison or Buffalo or whatever.
We pull up in the town and the person who’s got TB poles on the roof is painted brown and it’s got water protective signs on the side and people are curious and often there’s a person in a uniform who’s bold enough to come and talk to us and you know we’ll charm them but. we have to invite everyone in for a cup of tea because if we don’t, if we’re not open, then we’re dangerous and we’re suspicious because we are so different.
And it is curious that there is a longing. People come in and they just smell it. And I don’t know what we smell like anymore, like mostly we just smell like wood smoke, I think, you know we’ll be cooking in there and there was a smell of chai and, time and time again, there’s just that longing for trust.
I think it’s it’s not like there’s no fear there anymore it’s more like a willingness to engage with that fear and maybe that’s what we have to do in order to stop plundering our ecology our environment is just give over and relax and know that there is enough abundance in the world.
SOUND: 10. FIRE COOKING.m4a
Everyday life is our home
KAYLA There’s these threads we have that we bring through wherever we go; the tipi and the fire and all the dailies that are required to keep that functioning and I think those are like it’s kind of the main spokes of the basket. That kind of give it some structure, and some kind of that’s their identity maybe? Maybe it’s maybe it’s like this is what we we are as a family is is what we do. We have our bus and our lodge, and we move seasonally and we don’t claim any one spot but we like to meet lots of people, and love places as we go if it’s planting trees or building labyrinths or developing springs, at different places, or transplanting things, or gathering plant medicines or praying, building sweat lodges.
There’s so there’s so many ways that we engage with the places that we go and love them where we go and then and then we are moving on. But I have to say there is some heartache and sadness about…it’s almost like we have to keep moving because of the way the system is set up.
I’m not entirely like anti…staying in one spot and I don’t. I’m not against that. It’s just not viable unless we do it in this very entitled way. This land ownership thing but tending to a place and loving a place and getting to know the stories of a place and weaving into it, I think that’s profound.I think this is crucial really for a sense of well-being, and for our knowing our own individual place and all of creation.
Even when we look at hunter and gatherer cultures, I don’t think they that people have ever just wandered around that there’s been a purpose. If it’s going for. A certain food that is ready in a certain place with the certain time of year.
When the salmon run or when the maple syrup is flowing, the wild rice is ready.
ANDREW This time last year we were in New Hampshire and we were tapping maple trees where we made 15 gallons of maple syrup and we still have some leftover. It’s that way of just diversifying. From my experience of travelling with indigenous peoples, and indigenous cultures it’s like there’s a resilience woven into those kinds of cultures.
Looking back to the dictionary definition of what Indigenous means, basically emergent from place. If I can emerge from a place like the elements that make my body, that way is to be alive. If I can honour that as much as possible as part of a… like everything else in creation. I am a strand in a multi-dimensional shimmering tapestry of life that is all my relation, which means all my relationships.
So, it’s like we have all these relationships not just the physical well I can see and hear and feel and touch around me. But things that make up what is me they the things within me and without me. How does that shimmer in the way that it’s supposed to in the way that all the rest of creation has the potential to do — if I can perceive it like that?
SOUND: REFRAIN OF 2. ANDREW PENNYWHISTLE.wav
KAYLA There’s intention and purpose. It’s not kind of a bumbling about so working with what we have, it’s been beautiful, there’s people here who take care of this place. They said come and be here for the winter. And so we have, we’ve arrived. We’ve been here as fully as we can. This is art we’ve loved this place. And it’s been amazing. Arriving in the fall when it was all going to sleep. And now being here in the spring in this completely new landscape that we don’t know a lot of these plants and trees and they’re all waking up and coming alive and surprising us at every turn. We had no idea. We were surrounded by trees that were going to give off so much colour in the spring. It’s been beautiful to get to know a new place.
It’s been quite an epic and beautiful journey. A lot of it just feeling like it’s a journey of coming more whole, and a lot of weaving.
I think we weave so beautifully together, Andy and I.