The woodsy craft of putting up a wickiup Recreation program: In the chill, eight children learn how to make an 'earth shelter' patterned after one used by some Native Americans.

November 26, 1995|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

With a sturdy tree for a wall, and an unlimited supply of logs, twigs and leaves for building materials, anyone can make a shelter.

It will be dark and damp, but a wickiup is enough to keep out the cold night air.

A chill wind blew, and clouds blocked the sun Friday, but eight children worked up a healthy sweat as they practiced wickiup construction in the woods at Hashawha Environmental Appreciation Center north of Westminster. The program was one of several sponsored by the county recreation department.

The children hiked about a mile to a woody ravine to build the earth shelters, patterned after the Native American wickiup. They had help from survival instructors Hannah Stone and Ted McNett.

"Now is the best time for this kind of activity," said Mr. McNett, an education major at Western Maryland College. "Leaves are all over the ground, and the kids will find logs, sticks and branches piled together."

A ravine full of trees and fallen timber makes "a wonderful spot for a shelter," said Ms. Stone, a Towson State University student.

"We are protected here from the wind, and the trees will block the rain," said Josh Larrimore, 10.

Mr. McNett asked the group to imagine a scenario where they would have to shelter themselves.

Patrick Auld, 10, remembered the American pilot shot down over Bosnia. "He sheltered himself, and he ate bugs," said Patrick, snacking on a granola bar.

Time would be essential in a crisis, because ?

"Your body temperature goes below normal and you could get frostbite," said Josh.

L Mr. McNett said cold affects the body's ability to function.

"You would be so confused you might jump into a pond," he said.

"I wouldn't do that," said James Billingslea, 8. "I don't even want to bathe in my own tub."

James wore the perfect cold-weather topping, a hat he occasionally pulled down over his face. Layers of clothing protected the children from the cold.

However, many shed overcoats as they worked on their shelters.

Kyle Adams, 8, tossed his ski mask into a pile of leaves, then he carried logs over his shoulder with the skill of a seasoned woodsman.

"Ours won't be as permanent as the ones Native Americans built," said Mr. McNett. "But they will work."

The group broke into two teams and raced to complete a shelter-for-four first. Each group found a sturdy tree to support the shelter. Then, the children dragged the longest logs they could carry and braced them against their tree.

"We should build a triangle off the tree," said Patrick Barnes, 8.

With logs and branches in place, the children covered the logs with leaves.

"Zillions of leaves," said Aaron Wingert, 8. "I'm really getting my hands messy."

A 3-foot layer of leaves makes a shelter suitable, Mr. McNett said, but getting young children to gather that many leaves requires tenacity. As the instructors urged more and more leaves, Josh said, "I could use a rake."

Kyle developed the speediest process: Fall flat on the ground, spread the arms wide and scoop up maximum piles.

"Keep piling, guys," shouted Ms. Stone. "We want as little air inside as possible."

Leaves inside the shelter would add to the insulation and comfort, said Stephanie Crumbaugh, 10.

"It's pretty dark in here," said Kyle, the first to test the interior.

James decided the other team's shelter was much smaller.

"It doesn't matter, if all four of them fit," said Mr. McNett.

Once the construction deadline passed, the teams critiqued their work.

"Their entrance is at a ditch, and water could come in," said Josh.

Stephanie, who had urged placement of the door at the east end of the shelter to protect from storms that come from the north or west, had a criticism of her own.

"Theirs is too big, and an animal could come in," she said.

Maybe, but James quickly demonstrated an escape plan through a secret back door.

"Both shelters are imperfect and need work," said Mr. McNett. "But, if we had worked until dark, we would be able to sleep in them."

After an hour's labor, the children had to dismantle their projects.

"Get the logs as far away as you can," said Mr. McNett. "You want to make it harder for the next group to build."

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