How Sydney Bridges became SMC’s Tent Master Extraordinaire


By Whitney Trotta //

We all have a unique story—a path that led us to where we are today.

This is the story of how Sydney Bridges, the man from England who is a self-taught engineer, with a PhD in Chemistry and Master’s degrees in Computer Science and Public Health, became the Tent Master Extraordinaire at Shambhala Mountain Center.

It was a wintry May afternoon (gotta love “spring in the Rockies!”), when I sat down with Syd. I was ready for a long conversation, prepared with a cup of tea (English breakfast, of course), and a pen and paper in hand, ready to record Syd’s story.

With a resume like Syd’s, it’s clear he has accomplished a lot. And so I had to ask, What brought a British man with a PhD and engineering experience to SMC? He began the story this way:

In 1996, I first became a US resident when I came to work in New Jersey. My job in England had finished, and there was a similar project in New Jersey, and they were short of engineers.

While in New Jersey, my boss invited me to the UCC (United Church of Christ). After I’d been there a year, I met a couple in the pew behind me. As I turned to greet them, it turned out that the wife was English! I got to know Fred and Helen very well.

Eventually the job went down the pan and I found myself unemployed at the age of 52—which is not the best time in your career [to lose your job], as you’re just nearing your maximum earnings.

Without work in the states, Syd decided to return to England in 2009.

While Syd was back in England, his new friends Fred and Helen decided to retire to Loveland, Colorado. Soon they bought a property in Red Feather Lakes, and on a visit back to the States, Syd spent a couple weeks with them to help Fred with some renovation work on their house.

“And that’s where I met Mark Corwin!” Syd exclaimed.

For those of you who don’t know Mark, he is pretty much an SMC legend. He was the Lead Carpenter and lived and worked at SMC for approximately 15 years.

Syd continued:

Mark was doing some work for Fred, and Mark and I hit it off really well. He thought I’d really enjoy working at Shambhala, and although I hadn’t really thought much about Buddhism at the time, I thought it would be a very interesting experience.

Syd eventually came up to SMC and did three weeks of Fall Take-Down in 2011 and “was certainly impressed by the size of the tents and platforms!”

Syd’s first time at SMC as a Volunteer for Fall Takedown in 2011

Syd returned to Shambhala in April 2012, where he worked the summer as the intern in the IT office before joining Facilities in the fall. As some may remember, Summer 2012 was a particularly challenging one: Syd, along with most of the SMC staff, was evacuated for 17 days due to the High Park Fire.

The next spring, Syd returned to SMC from England and became Tent Master. From day one, however, the work has presented Syd with challenges:

My first day as tent master was pretty traumatic. We had very strong winds, and at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the corner pole went through the dining tent platform, collapsing that corner. I had to rush down to facilities, get a piece of wood, screw it over the hole to put the corner up.

The wind was ripping the PMH tent (entrance to the Main Shrine Tent), so we actually had to screw into the walls—the only way to keep them from ripping off. In the evening, the winds actually started to lift the roof of the dining tent off the side poles! That was my first night; it ended at 10:30pm. The next day we had lost the MST. I figured it couldn’t get much worse than that! 

Wind damage to tents after Syd’s First day on the job as Tent Master—May 31st, 2013

Since then, Syd has spent over 5 years of his time at Shambhala Mountain Center, and has been responsible for the upkeep of the tents and platforms.

It’s not an easy job, and I was curious what inspired him to keep coming back.

I sort of look at my time at UCC and SMC as different ways for addressing the question of “How to live a decent life.” You are put on the earth, and so, do you leave the earth better than if you hadn’t been on it, much the same, or do you destroy and leave it much worse?

His question alludes to another passion of Syd’s: climate change. His concern for caring for the earth is seen in the public talks he has shared with SMC Staff over the years, as well as in his writing. Currently, he is writing a novel about “the freeing of the Titan Prometheus,” which is a commentary on climate change.

“It’s absolutely tied into how humans are treating the earth. It was my motivation for writing it. Unless we act, we’re going to be in incredibly serious trouble,” according to Syd.

With his concern for our earth, and his advanced training, I asked Syd why he chooses to spend his time here with us at SMC.

“It’s just a wonderful place to live!” he said. “You get up in the morning, there are mountains, there’s snow, sun, trees, wildlife… and there are friendly people. Who could ask for more?”

Syd is so many things to SMC: Tent Master, snow-shoveler, fixer of things; but more importantly, he is a central part of our community. His expertise and passionate concern for our planet is an important part of our collective story, and SMC wouldn’t be the same without Syd.

Shambhala Mountain Center is a 501(c)3 educational non-profit that relies on the generosity of donors. If you are inspired to support SMC, please click here. (Even $1/month helps!)

About Sydney Bridges

Syd was born in England in 1950 and is an identical twin. Growing up, he attended school for the partially sighted until age 17. In his professional career, he worked in computing and electronics, and has a PhD in Chemistry and Master’s degrees in Computer Science and Public Health. Syd has been at Shambhala Mountain Center since 2012 and serves as the Tent Master.

2 replies
  1. Adam Masek says:

    I was Tentmaster at SMC in 2009. I feel lucky to have had the gig. They gave you a radio (phones don’t work up there) and a worn down flatbed pickup and say, “OK, remember those 100 or so tents of various sizes you helped put up during Set-Up? Great. Now respond to anything remotely happening with those until Fall/Take Down.” Hornet’s nest? Your problem. High winds? (I feel for this guy. The Main tents are HUGE and I don’t know how I would have reacted to this) Your problem. Clean out tents for the next occupants? Weatherproof the tents? Go to Denver to buy tent stuff? All your problem. But hey…it was kinda fun. I greatly enjoyed an environment that stopped to meditate 3 times a day, I had a tiny trailer all to myself. I learned a lot about the Dharma, and I still reflect on that learning to this day. It may be the ONLY time in my life when I felt like there was an honest relationship between labor and management – that I had the job because I did a good job, basically. IDK how it works now but they sort of picked a Tentmaster from among the group of people who were there from the very first day of Set-Up in Spring. For anyone wondering…it didn’t pay hardly anything. Barely enough for cigarettes (don’t worry – I’ve quit smoking a long time ago) but the deal is that they would feed and house you. If you wanted to learn to meditate and live on the Land, it was a good deal. Met some people I’ll remember forever. RIP Dave Sell. – Adam M.

  2. Dhi Good says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Adam — and thanks for all your work on the land to keep the tents up and the meditators sheltered! Being here in 2009 must have been joyful and challenging and magical. Everything has changed, and yet it remains joyful, challenging and magical to this day. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *