A Tipi, Iowa Prairie and a Whole Lot of Ants
Close your eyes, well not literally because I want you to keep reading but play along, and imagine you've been transported back 300 years to this land we now call Iowa.
Prairie grasses spread out as far as you can see and there are no paths worn into the ground beneath your feet. The Native Americans crossing over this territory blazed their own trails through grasses reaching to the sky, often taller than they.
At night you slept under the stars or, maybe, you were able to move under the cover of a what is known as a 15-pole tipi.
Now, imagine being able to relive that experience today. You can if you want because that's what you get a little taste of at the Walking Stick Adventures Farm just west of Williamsburg, Iowa.
I'd been looking forward to my weekend there for a very long time. I first learned about it a couple of years ago, pre-covid, and this was my first opportunity to experience it.
I was not disappointed.
The tipi is located on a four-acre plot, behind the farm house of the couple who own it. From the tipi, a line of trees blocks your view of their house so you don’t even know it’s there.
Marie, the wife, is a biologist and this is her passion project. In addition to renting the tipi out to guests she also leads outings for school field trips and other groups at the site.
The land was originally a corn field the couple plowed under and replanted with grasses native to this area. It takes time to bring those grasses back, years actually, and she said this is the first year it has fully matured.
There are trails around and through the property making it easy to explore. Don't worry, you won't be blazing trails like the Native Americans. These trails are well groomed, easy to follow and not all that long. If you can walk down a sidewalk, you’ll be able to walk these trails.
A gravel road runs along the property and windmills can be seen in the distance. But, when you walk the outer edge, turn your back to the road and use just a little imagination, it's easy to see what those Native Americans and early settlers to the region saw as they crossed the Midwest.
The land is a mixture of greens and brown grasses of varying heights with colorful wild flowers, monarch butterflies floating about and an occasional bee buzzing by. Any fan of our country's history, or just nature and the outdoors, will find themselves lost in the images of what Iowa once was.
Sleeping in the tipi is a true experience. It can easily sleep a half dozen people and wouldn’t take a lot of maneuvering to fit in a dozen or more.
There’s a fire pit in the center for cooler times of the year. It was nearly 90 degrees the days I was there so, for obvious reason, I did not lite it up. The smoke rises straight up and through the tipi’s top opening so no, you won’t be sitting in a haze of smoke while inside.
Before she left, Marie showed me how to close the top opening in case of rain, which it did the second night I was there. It’s a simple process involving lifting up two long poles, the length of the tipi poles, and pulling the fabric at the top of the tipi across the opening. It does not completely cover the opening so you can still have the fire pit going.
The floor of the tent is covered by indoor/outdoor carpeting that is very flat and comfortable. The bottom edge of the tent is open to the ground so I had plenty of company from crickets, grasshoppers and, yes, a couple of spiders. One cricket in particular was not happy with my presence the first night, chirping especially loudly for quite some time.
Adding even more to the experience, there’s a large farm pond just a short stroll from the tipi. It’s stocked with all sorts of fish, including some catfish that were easily a foot in length.
The fish are somewhat domesticated, Marie and her husband regularly feed them from the shore and leave a large jar of food for visitors to throw out themselves. As soon as you walk up to the shore dozens of fish, mostly the smaller ones, come looking for food. I didn’t even see those large catfish until I threw out the first handfuls and suddenly they appeared.
The water is clear and clean. An aerator keeps fresh oxygen bubbling up through the water. Marie said she regularly swims in the pond and welcomes visitors to do so as well.
While there, I checked two more things off my list of things I’ve never done. Believe it or not, I’ve never been in a hammock. A large hammock, stretched between two trees near the pond was all too welcoming for an afternoon rest to ignore.
I’ve also never been in a kayak. A number of kayaks and canoe, along with life vests, are available for use at no additional charge.
I’d been in a canoe, back in my old Boy Scout days, but never a kayak so, not being one to pass up an opportunity, I went kayaking both days. I won’t claim to have become an expert after two times on a quiet farm pond, but I think I got the hang of it.
One thing did go awry however.
I wore a life jacket on both outings. Being alone, as well as someone who swims like a rock with an anchor tied around it, caution seemed in order.
On my second excursion onto the water, I pulled out the same kayak and life jacket I’d used the previous day. About five minutes out, and on the opposite end of the pond from the shore, I started feeling like something was crawling on my arm, and legs, and neck, and it wasn’t one something, it was several somethings.
Looking down, I discovered ants all over my arms. Looking more closely, the front of my life jacket was covered with dozens of ants. For some reason, since the previous day, ants had decided to infest that life jacket.
I felt like I was suddenly a character in a horror movie, Attack of the Killer Ants. It was exactly like one of those B-movie horror scripts. I was alone, on a farm, out in the middle of a body of water, and ants were covering my body. I had images of being eaten alive by these tiny insects, only to have my body found late the next day after I’d missed the checkout time.
I quickly put what little new-found kayaking experience I’d acquired to use, turned the kayak around and paddled as fast as I could to shore, ripped the jacket off, threw it in the water and began swatting all around my body to thwart off the ant attack.
But that’s a part of being in nature. The odds of that happening to anyone else are probably pretty slim. Though I still think I have the makings of a movie in there.
Once I felt I’d disposed of whatever ants were still on me, I grabbed another kayak, and a fresh life jacket I closely examined for any unwelcome creatures prior to putting it on, and went back on the water.
Marie really has thought of everything. I felt like I was in my own outdoor house. The tipi was my bedroom, the lake my rec room, the trails my backyard and, the area adjacent to the pond was my living room.
In that area next to the pond is the aforementioned hammock, a picnic table, fire ring and chairs. Wood and kindling is available nearby. Closed tubs carry the items needed to start the fire, bug repellents, some paper plates and utensils, and more. There’s even a tub filled with plastic toys for children to use to build castles on a sand beach they’ve created.
I spent a good deal of time just sitting by the pond, a book in one hand and, as evening came around, a honey whisky in the other.
I even had a friend spend a couple of hours with me Saturday night. Her name is Samantha. She’s the owners’ old black lab and she was looking to make a new friend.
My second afternoon I took time out to drive to the nearby Fireside Winery. It’s a place I’d wanted to visit for some time but had yet to do so.
The truth is, even though the winery is quite nice and I’m sure I will return, I spent the entire time there wanting to get back to the tipi and pond.
I’ve always been one that needs activity. I’ve camped out many times but it’s always been at a music festival, the state fair or somewhere else that something is going on.
I never thought I would be captivated by a place where you just sit and watch the sunset but the tipi did just. I’ll just double check that life jacket for ants the next time around.
**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask that you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address, alansheaven.com, or a link back to this page.