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  • Law of the land

    The potential of a property sale disrupts life at Tipi Village
  • GREENSPRINGS — Gentle wisps of smoke rising from a small cooking fire find their way out the top of the tepee as Ande Blanchflower brews a pot of English tea and scrambles eggs and sausage in a skillet for the children.
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  • GREENSPRINGS — Gentle wisps of smoke rising from a small cooking fire find their way out the top of the tepee as Ande Blanchflower brews a pot of English tea and scrambles eggs and sausage in a skillet for the children.
    Kayla Blanchflower pulls pants over Tamarack, the couple's 1-year-old son, as their three girls ages 6 and younger paw through books stacked in various corners of the only home they've ever known.
    Though deep in the recesses of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, they're still in two-bar territory. Kayla's cellphone buzzes. She's got mail.
    "We're actually quite modern," says Kayla, 31. "We're not trying to play Indian here. We're just simply trying to live harmoniously with the land."
    So are the three other families and four prospective new members who collectively make up Tipi Village, a quasi-nomadic group living what it calls a simple and wholesome existence without the entrapments of life on the grid.
    Villagers are skirting the edges of land-use laws that don't consider tepees actual dwellings and moving with the seasons between two pieces of private land owned by a family of benefactors who has let Tipi Village simply be while its members do the same for each other.
    "We practice collective autonomy here," says Ande, 45.
    But that autonomy is threatened now, and the collective could have no place for its tepee poles as early as October.
    The Mosby family that hosts Tipi Village is selling off land after the death of its patriarch this summer, and it already has received an offer for the roughly 190-acre tract where the tepees now sit.
    The Mosbys have given the villagers until Oct. 1 to raise $300,000 to trump that offer, effectively giving the spectre of land ownership to those who before now hadn't believed in it.
    The collective is looking for donations to what it calls the Land Liberation Project to buy the acreage and set it up in a trust so those of current and future Tipi Villages have a place to live and the land has protection against logging, mining and other extractions in perpetuity.
    "Do we want to continue this relationship with this land? Yeah," Ande says. "My kids were born here. We bleed here.
    "The woods and water and kids — those have taken precedence over things like fundraising," he says. "Now we have to deal with it, be in that moment. But we're nowhere near where we need to be, honestly. That's a bunch of zeros."
    They are putting their faith in the land they say they want to liberate.
    "We don't want to force ourselves on the land," Kayla says. "If it doesn't want us, we'll go. We're nomads."
    It's a lifestyle that started quietly and singularly nearly six years ago when the Blanchflowers escaped Ashland with a tepee just to give birth to their second child in the woods.
    Kayla was nearly to full term when Ande, a native Brit who spent about a decade in a tepee village in Wales, set up their poles and canvas on what they thought was a piece of federal Bureau of Land Management land east of Ashland.
    But they ended up on some of the Mosby holdings within the Tyler Creek drainage off Highway 66, where KC Mosby found them after complaints from neighbors about squatters. She brought her husband, Dave Mosby, to meet them.
    Dave says he found the couple's existence "Wild West-like," but KC saw them as very clean people with good morals and a sense of ethics about simply living with the land, Dave says.
    To allay the complaints, KC helped move them to other, more out-of-the-way family holdings.
    "If they were a type of people who could live close to nature and have as weak a carbon footprint as they do, why not?" Dave Mosby says.
    That first year's "rent" was a tepee sewn by the Blanchflowers, Mosby says.
    Over time, others joined them, and when they left, others replaced them. They began to coalesce into a village that moves from higher elevation land within the monument during the summer to other Mosby holdings off Emigrant Lake Road once the snow begins to fall.
    "It's kind of nice to have eyes in the back of the property," Mosby says.
    The Mosbys worked out a deal with the Blanchflowers that they pay $1 per tepee per day while on their lands "because nothing's free," Mosby says. It pays the property taxes, which Jackson County records show were $332.61 on that summer property with a 2012 assessed value of $120,720.
    KC died in a car crash in 2009, but the Mosbys' arrangement has continued as villagers foster their relationship with the land, each other and this semi-nomadic lifestyle.
    Most of their days are spent getting water from nearby Baldy Creek, gathering wood for the cooking and warming fires inside their tepees and home-schooling their children.
    They take bucket baths and spend time in their sweat lodge during new and full moons. Members follow strict health rules when eating collectively and ensure no soap gets to their water source. For waste disposal, Ande points to a portable outhouse required by Jackson County health officials.
    "We do get a bit dusty, but we're not filthy," says Mike Franklin, who came to the village last summer with his wife, Angela, and their two children. "We're not unhealthy."
    Newcomers must first stay in "the big lodge," a 27-foot-diameter tepee that is the communal center for the group.
    "It does the weeding out, see if they can deal with the wood, water, the weather, kids always in there," Kayla says. "We learn about each other. You can't hide in the big lodge."
    Franklin, 34, came to the village after years in collectives in places such as Portland. Heavily tattooed, he once played in a band he describes as part Celtic, part Gypsy and part punk music.
    He eschews what he calls the "billboard culture" of mainstream America — "It's just like a billboard. There's nothing behind it" — and believes his kids are far more well-rounded and their lifestyle far more genuine than what he could find in cities.
    "We're in a privileged place to do this," Franklin says.
    "We adapt to our environment, we don't ask our environment to adapt to us," he says.
    They work side jobs, generally within the village. The Blanchflowers make tepees for sale to new villagers or others in the outside world. Franklin forms longbows from yew, while his wife works as a seamstress. Days often blend together and members venture to town for supplies, usually weekly, Kayla says.
    "That's our weak point — we still eat from town," she says.
    The Blanchflowers travel to Ashland on Sundays to get food and play music in a band at The Black Sheep pub in downtown Ashland, providing otherwise rare interactions with non-villagers.
    "People say we smell like jerky," Ande says. "We live in tepees, you know."
    While people come and go within the village, the Blanchflowers have been the one constant. The couple believe the village paradigm they've helped create for themselves could be repeated elsewhere for others who come together with lands that they believe speak to them.
    "It's pure magic," Kayla says. "It's literally unfolding. We just wanted to go to the woods and give birth, but it's all unfolded in a big way."
    Then quickly, things unraveled this summer when John Mosby, a Lompoc, Calif., dentist and patriarch of the family, died in an auto accident. The three Mosby siblings who control the family trust decided to sell some of its holdings, including Tipi Village's summer lands off Soda Mountain Road.
    "When the phone call came that the land was for sale, there was no question," Kayla says. "We'll buy it. We have to maintain this relationship with this land."
    They've reached out to Ashland community figures for help, looking locally and nationally for donors to the Land Liberation Project.
    They say the Ashland-based Way Foundation has agreed to hold donations for them, while other money sits in an online account. They've talked of seeking out actor Johnny Depp to bankroll their dream, while even single bills and coins get collected and stored briefly in a hat pegged to the Blanchflowers' tepee before the money is shuffled into their account.
    "It may sound foo-foo to you, but we call it the Magic Hat," Kayla says.
    Fundraising is forcing village members out of their comfort zone as a small collective happily unknown in the backwoods of Jackson County. They're parachuting into mainstream America financial-dom in hopes that their message will resonate and translate into cash.
    Kayla pounds away on her laptop and smartphone to send out donation requests and post Internet updates at www.indiegogo.com/projects/land-liberation-project. That site includes an avenue for donations, and it listed contributions of $323 on Saturday afternoon.
    She's also managing a small but growing media interest that months ago would have made her cringe.
    "In the past, we've had no reason to put it out about us," Kayla says. "I'd like it to stay like that, but it's like there's a calling for us to come out of the woods.
    "We could sit here and wait for people with guns to remove us, but this is not what this is about," she says.
    If not enough donations come in by the Oct. 1 deadline and the property is sold, they will ask the foundation to keep the money for them until they find another, more affordable piece of land to "liberate," she says.
    Until then, they'll pack up their tepees and look for another piece of land with which to forge a new relationship.
    "Tipi Village can go anywhere," Kayla says. "We're nomadic. Just pick it up, move across the creek and roll it out. No problem.
    "It's not like we're all going to go live in apartments," she says.
    Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.
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