They bought it and the dilemma remained: To build or not to build? "We decided the place you most want to put a house is the place to leave alone," says Bruce wryly. Meanwhile on their schoolhouse floors, writhed city folk in sleeping bags. That's when a friend, Beverley Sandberg, brought in Don Ellis, the former cowpoke who owns White Buffalo Lodges in Livingston. Supplier to Jane Fonda and Ted Turner, Ellis offers four tribal variations (instead of Sioux, you can have Blackfeet, Cheyenne, or Crow) on the basic Plains Indian tepee.

The encounter launched an experiment in outdoor living. Says Weber, "I fell in love with the idea of "alternative housing' that wouldn't be a blot on the landscape." He likes the look of lodgepoles against the sky once the canvas is removed, in clusters of 11 - 24, depending on diameter (Weber's tepees measure from 9 to 24 feet across). "Once Don puts a tepee up, you realize the incredible intelligence and architectural sensibility of the Plains Indians. A tepee's wonderful in summer, and in situations like the freak snowstorm we had one morning, it can be a lifesaver. "The storm knocked out the cabin generator, and as Bruce and Nan clinked against the dead wiring of their electric blankets, everybody in the tepees settled back into various configurations of Pratesi and L.L. Bean to read or gossip by the fire. (You need only adjust a flap or two and smoke sweeps straight up and out.)

Ellis cuts his tepees out of canvas much as the Indians have been doing since about 1850 when trading posts began to offer bolts of it in exchange for scraped and cured buffalo hides. The canvas is usually left plan (in the old days, painted tepees were linked to tribal religion and medicine). Weber's tepees are pristine, but Ellis does take a look inside now and then. Despite dreams of scampering field mice and lurking coyotes, terrors that spur the occasional guest to decline, the final verdict on Little Bear's accommodations is Don Ellis': "pretty plush in there!"
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