Search

Yurt in the Hollow

a handmade life

The Sounds of Yurt Life

We are sitting down to dinner, and the frogs are singing a chorus outside the yurt: “spring is coming! Spring is coming!” The light still fades early in February, so we light the candles. We’ve been here in our 30′ yurt for over three months now, and love it a little more every day. Neither of us has ever felt more at home in a place before.

We finally got it raised in early November, with the threat of winter moving in. It took my husband and two other guys two days to put up the frame and roof insulation/canvas, and me and him another day to hang the walls.

 

It still gives me a thrill every time I walk back from the lake and see the white dome through the trees. So many months of envisioning our home, of drawing out designs on graph paper, of looking at photo after photo of yurts online…it’s almost like a dream to see it in reality!

IMG_0588

The frogs exemplify my favorite part of yurt living: the sounds. A canvas yurt is, after all, somewhat like an extravagant tent. You know those mornings when you’re camping and you wake up and hear all the noises of the forest through the walls? With not much of a sound barrier, it feels like you’re privy to the secret life of the forest.

As we’re eating our dinner, we hear the ethereal hoot of an owl signal that dusk is falling. Then silence as it swoops from treetop to treetop, and another hoot from the other side of the Hollow. I hear the owl almost every night, and still it sends a thrill through my blood. Like listening to a choir of monks chant in unison. Spiritual.

And the ravens! I love the ravens. They cock their black heads and watch you with their black eyes, and you feel that you are being appraised by a being of equal intelligence. They have so many different calls. We’re starting to understand some of them. Especially the one that means “A human! A human!”

At first it was an adjustment, living all in one round room. Though 700 sq ft felt spacious compared to the Tiny House where we’d spent the fall, the lack of square angles threw me for a loop. I’ll be honest, for awhile I mourned for the “normalcy” of our farmhouse. It’s one thing to dream, but actually taking the leap away from what society considers normal can be frightening. However, the more we’ve gotten used to it, the more we adore life in the round. There hasn’t been one moment yet where we felt it was too small, even though we are five people, and it’s forced us to find many creative space-saving solutions (which I will share with you here in future posts!).

Dinner is done and the kids have wandered off to continue construction on their train track, which currently stretches from one end of the yurt to the other.

We linger by the fire with our tea, discussing what needs to be done the next day. Soon we will be doing the second round of excavation in preparation for starting our gardens and orchard.

This is almost a bigger deal to us than getting the yurt up! Our second main goal, after squeezing ourselves out from under the banks and the weight of a mortgage, is to feed ourselves. Entirely. If not 100%, then as close to that as we can get. This is the main reason we chose this piece of property: the dirt. The beautiful, rich soil here. That, and the amazing system of rainwater catchment ponds. Not only is the cost of feeding a family a weighty load, but for years we’ve been pulling on the thread of what is moral and healthy to eat. In past years most of our efforts have gone towards raising animals. Producing our own milk, meat, and eggs, so that we didn’t have to buy into the mass torture that is factory farming.

But we’ve found we don’t really enjoy that part of farming. It weighs heavy on the soul, raising other beings only to slaughter them. Even more than that, we’ve found that we just don’t like the chores of animal farming, for the most part. It’s not our niche. A milk goat is hard to leave when you want to travel, and so one’s freedom is limited in a way that we both find claustrophobic. In reaction, I’ve been attracted to Veganism as a viable option, but the truth is that you find pain and unsunstainability at the end of almost every thread in the industrial food chain that you pull. Whether the pain is that of a pig raised in confinement, or that of human women burning their hands shelling acidic cashews for less than $1 a day, there is no way to shop at the grocery store that does not somehow involve buying into a flawed system.

And so our ethical search has led us back in time, back to when this peninsula was populated by small tribes of hunter-gatherers. In the end, the only ethical way to eat is from your own foodshed, whatever and wherever that is. It’s food at it’s most simple and basic. Eat what grows around you. Eat what nature offers in your own locale, whether you raise it yourself or support others who do. Here, where the forest is rich with life and the weather is mild enough that you can garden nearly year-round, the diet can be mostly plant-based, with some supplementation of seafood and lake fish. In, preparation, we’ve purchased a used aluminum fishing boat for use on the Puget Sound, and a wooden canoe to fish on our own lake. I also still have a few hens that came with us from the farm, and in turn for eating the bugs off of our lettuce, we use their eggs.

We spread our lists and color-coded maps of what and where to plant over the table. My husband is the real horticulturist in the family. He’s been meticulously tracking the sunlight’s daily path across the Hollow and planning out our crop rotations and the amounts of each thing we need to grow. We want to include as much of a variety of native plant species as we can, starting with our basic outdoor crops and hopefully moving on to constructing a greenhouse next year to house the exotic foods we love, like avocados, coffee beans, and bananas, as well as our winter fresh crop. It’s a long-haul plan for sure, one that our children will probably benefit from more than us. Right now we are trying to design a system for pumping the water up from our rain-catchment ponds and into the irrigation canals.

The owl hoots again and the conversation turns to sump pumps, and the inevitable conclusion: we should probably just give in and go on the grid. Neither of us wants to.

We’ve lived off grid now ever since September, first in our “Tiny House” and now in the yurt. We never intended to be off-grid when we started this project, but if there’s one rule of construction it’s that everything takes much longer than anticipated. At first this bothered me. I wanted everything DONE. RIGHT. NOW. Patience is not my forte. But I’ve sure gained some this winter! I’ve learned the beauty and necessity of letting things unfold naturally. One comes up with much better solutions when you actually live in a space for a time. And starting from scratch has given us a very honest look at what resources we use, and what we really “need” and don’t need.

And boy have we started from scratch! For months now we’ve been carrying all the water we use for dish washing and bathing in five gallon buckets up from our rainwater-catchment pond and heating it up on the woodstove. When you carry every drop of water you use, you see experientially what amount it takes to function. Our well is finally up and running, so we don’t have to buy drinking water. That was a big moment, the first time we drank a glass of our own water. It felt like a huge milestone. Afer all, water makes life sustainable. And my, is it beautiful, clear water! Not like the rotten-egg smelling wellwater at our farmhouse, which stained all of our appliances yellow.

Soon we will excavate a trench from the well down the hill to the yurt, and lay a pipe to run water to the pressure tank. From there it will be heated by two small tankless water heaters for our shower and sink. Oh! To have running hot water! The first thing I’m going to do is fill the tub to the brim and have a good soak. We’ve been bathing for months in a small tin tub by the woodstove. Even so, I already feel nostalgia for the simple way of life we’ve managed this winter.

And electricity: don’t get me started! We’ve gone back and forth a hundred times on whether to go on-grid. We’d like to do solar, but in reality, we don’t get enough daytime sun hours in this little wooded Hollow, and we’d end up spending a pretty penny on a solar system that would likely function poorly. We’ve also considered just sticking with the method we’re already using: a small inverter generator that we turn on for a couple of hours a day. Just like carrying water, using power in this way really narrows down your actual needs. For months now, all through the dark days of winter, we’ve been only using the generator to charge up the batteries on our cell phones and laptops, or sometimes to watch a movie during the long dark evenings. For heat, we have the woodstove (another huge learning curve!), which is also our always-on surface for cooking. For light we have candles. We’ve quite enjoyed the daily routine that lack of electric light forces one into. Every day, when dusk starts to fall, we all help clean up the yurt, to avoid stepping on legos in the dim light. Once it’s “candle time”, our world shrinks to the size of the warm glow around the table and woodstove.

Giving in and going on-grid will mostly be so that we can install a geo-thermal heat pump to keep temperatures even. It’s amazing how the body can adjust physiologically to varying temperatures. In the first weeks of moving in here, we were dying at waking up to 50 degrees. Now, as long as it’s above 40 in the mornings nobody feels bothered. We just don a warm sweater and some slippers and hang out by the fire for awhile. However, during the occasional cold snaps, where temperatures dip into freezing, it can get a bit unbearable to let the fire go out. At one point over the holidays, when we’d been away for the night, we came home to find our boots frozen to the floor. Waking up to 30 degrees is not much fun, though it does wonders for expanding one’s sense of humor!

IMG_0773

We’re also resigned to the fact that a heat pump may also be the only reasonable method of keeping a stable temperature in our greenhouse. We could have a second woodstove in there, but that would require doubling the already-intense amount of wood we use, not to mention that tending a fire is a rather constant chore, even with so many helpers.

IMG_0975

Tropical plants would also never adjust to the temperature variations of the fire going out at night, like we have.

So many decisions to make. We are not just building a home, but a dream. A dream of what a life of no compromise can look like. A dream of how a human family can live without causing harm to other beings and the earth we live on. A dream of a life without waste, where we give back to our surroundings more than we take. It’s easy to talk and speculate, but as our species tumbles in gleeful headlong abandon towards it’s own oil-guzzling, water-polluting destruction, what can we actually DO to live differently? The shackles of “convenience” are insidious. Some of you beautiful humans might join the sciences to study the melting arctic ice, or head off to save the white rhino. We are trying to prove, if only to ourselves, that it is possible to live with less. Less money. Less energy. Less water. Less space. Less harm. Which equals more time. More peace. More freedom. More health. More honesty.

IMG_0575

I am sharing our journey in order to inspire and inform anyone who wishes to begin their own journey towards simplification. It’s a way to pay it forward, as we were inspired by so many other bloggers.

They are lofty goals. Right now they start with the minutia of pH testing our soil and trying to figure out how to wash cloth diapers by hand. Every great adventure is traversed by a thousand tiny steps.

The frogs go silent and in the distance a coyote howls. It starts to rain. I love the sound of the rain on the yurt roof. It’s like a lullaby.

Three Kids, One Tiny House!

We’re finally living in the Hollow…hooray!!

2015-09-17 12.26.32

We were getting close to the time we needed to move, and the yurt decking was still mid-flooring, so we needed a temporary solution…motel? Camper? Not really our style. So we came up with the perfect solution:

2015-10-02 12.12.20   image

This is the 12×16 cabin that will be our bathhouse (laundry, shower, composting toilet), so my ingenious hubby simply wired it with an outdoor plug for the generator, slapped up the recycled-material insulation and drywall and…voila! It’s a Tiny House! We even put up a coop for our hens attached.

2015-10-02 13.01.06

Five people in less than two hundred square feet? No problem. So far we’re loving it. We’ve got everything we need: a Tiny kitchen with our toaster oven (did you know you can even bake bread from scratch in these little things?), a hotplate (I’m mastering the one-pot meal! Think curries and stews), and the utility sink which will be a part of my laundry room. We run down to the state park every couple of days and fill up our water buckets (and shower!), and I can even do the dishes, with an empty bucket under the drain to catch the graywater, which then goes to water the plants outside our door!

image image

An all-purpose shelf for toys, books, homeschool stuff, etc:

image      image

Our fancy dining room:

2015-09-30 19.06.31

And just enough room in the eventual ‘bathroom’ for a bunk bed, mattress, and dresser! I’ll say this: now that I’ve figured out how to downsize everyone’s clothes to fit in one drawr each…I don’t think I’ll ever go back! So much of what we think we ‘need’ is superfluous. Most aspects of Tiny living we’re finding simply take you down to the essentials. Help you to focus on what’s actually important. Mommy’s favorite part? In a Tiny House you can only make Tiny messes!

With the generator on only to cook and warm the place up in the mornings and evenings, and no television, the kids spend more time outdoors. Practicing their reading:

2015-09-30 17.14.19

Building ‘caterpillar houses’:

image

And playing with the baby!

image      2015-09-30 17.21.14

If you need a quiet moment, you can always draw by lantern light:

2015-09-30 16.08.42

In the evenings after dinner we hike down to the lake…

image

Take in the view, and remind ourselves why we’ve chosen this simple life…

image

Where’s all our stuff? You ask. It’s in here!

image

The other 12×16 building that will be our tool shed. I can’t tell you how freeing it feels to downsize all the ‘stuff’ of life into such a small space. Everything we own in the world is in here, even my washer and dryer! No room for anything superfluous.

Yesterday we took a much needed day off to explore the local hiking:

image      image

Before we get back to work laying flooring and raising the yurt!

Deck Building Part Two

Yes, that’s right! We’re still building the deck! First rule of construction: take whatever time you thought something would take to build, and double it. And if you are two adults with three kids five and under…yeah, let’s just hope we’ll be moved in by Halloween! BUT, I can assure you, thanks to the perfectionism and extreme patience of my husband, it will be done right!

image

Hey, it takes a real man to screw in five hundred screws while wearing a baby…

image

We’ve spent days and days leveling…digging…leveling some more (thank you to Pythagoras and high school geometry!)…

image     image

Thank goodness we have such a good work crew!

image     image

Even if they do tend to take a lot of snack breaks…

image      image

And now…we finally have a structure up!

image

Now comes the douglas fir tongue and groove flooring…

image

We’ll leave that to Daddy, while the rest of us work on our own projects. Like building frog traps!

image     image

Making mud pies…

image

And rock fortresses…

image

Riding bikes…

image

Looking at the sky upside-down…

image

And turning logs into teeter-totters with our friends.

image

Oh! And what’s that sitting over there?!

It’s the YURT!

image     image

After 15 hours of driving, it’s finally here!! Doesn’t look like much now, but pretty soon this will be HOME…

Which might disappoint the people who thought we were simply going to live under the deck…

image

But excites Mommy!

image

So…less than two weeks to go till we leave the farm. Trying not to be overwhelmed by the fact that we don’t have a house to move into yet!

image

Trying to relax and enjoy the process…

image      image

Remember that we already have the things that matter the most…

image

That life is fleeting…

image

That we want to remember this transition as a happy (if a little crazy!) time…

image

And that we will get there…one step at a time.

image

Deck Building Part 1

After putting up a makeshift tool “shed” with generator,

image

And spending two days days hand leveling the excavated yurt site, the deck is now begun! 30 concrete blocks down, next comes the beams…

image        image

With a break for some frog catching of course…

image

A Hundred Steps to Freedom…

What a beautiful RAINY afternoon! We haven’t had rain here in Washington in ages. Maybe it will quiet the raging fires and clear out this smoky air.

I’ve always loved the sound of the rain in this old farmhouse. In just a few short weeks (4 weeks and 3 days, not that I’m counting), I will be listening to the sound of the rain on the roof of our yurt! Some people count the noise level as a downside of yurt living, but I look forward to it. Maybe we’ll hear those owls my husband has seen watching him work.

So why would we trade this beautiful old house for a tent in the woods?

image           image

This house where we got married, where our babies have been born. Where we each have our own bedroom and a toilet IN the house.

Over a decade ago, when we each first moved onto this farm, we thought it was rustic. My husband was raised in the city, I was from the suburbs. I still laugh to think of our first bumbling attempts at farming. As most interesting journeys do, ours began with questions. Where does our food come from? Is it necessary to rely on fossil fuels to feed ourselves? Is it necessary to go to a hospital just to have a baby, can’t I just crawl in the closet like my cat? And the clincher: must we rely on banks for every aspect of our lives? To live in the house we’re “supposed” to have, to drive the car we’re “supposed” to want, must we sign away pieces of our life? Must we spend our short lives toiling away at a job just to pay for the car, so we can drive to work, and the house, which sits empty while we’re working to pay for it??

There should be a warning label on certain questions. Beware: asking this question will unravel everything you know about everything!

At first, when we conceived of the idea of living out from under the banks, we didn’t know if it was possible. And I’ll be honest, it’s turned out it wouldn’t have been possible without a generous amount of help. It has required a complete reorganizing of our priorities. But with each layer of “Things We Need” that has been peeled back, we could breathe a little easier. I’m no longer embarrassed to drive around my 30 year old baby-poop colored volvo. We paid $1,000 cash for it ten years ago, it’s never broken down, and maintenance is cheap. Best of all, I own it. I pay no hours of sweat and toil per month to keep it. That gives me more hours per month to do things like this…

image

It galls me when I think of the $18,000 car loan I used to pay for.

And a house. What makes a house a home? Our American standards of each child having their own bedroom, of having an entire room just to eat in, seem so absurd compared to much of the world. Is it worth it to spend $24,000 per year just to live somewhere? Is it possible not to?

These are the questions we’re answering as we prepare to leave the rolling hills of Little Creek Farm, and move northward up the mountain and into the little wooded clearing we’ve deemed Hemlock Hollow. So named for the amazing hemlock tree that shelters the two unmarked graves we uncovered.

image                image

Probably they are someones cats. But the romantic in me likes to think they are the graves of the people who loved this land before us. We know someone lived here, without an address, with only a hand-dug well and no electricity, for something like 50 years. Someone planted these amazing grape vines, and these fig trees, and these plum and apple trees. Someone loved this place.

image           image

And now we will. Here we can live debt-free. Here we can afford to work doing the things we love, growing our own food, and educating our children. Here we can hopefully manage to save to reach our ultimate goal: traveling the world, this time with our children.

We got this place so cheap because of the obscene amount of tires and trash that had simply been bulldozed into piles when the place was foreclosed on. But underneath the tires we saw enormous potential. Rich, deep soil…

image

complete privacy…

image

and a pristine lake just a ten minute hike through the forest. What more could one ask for? We’d looked at dozens of properties over the course of the past few years. This was the one.

image

Of course, taking raw land and turning it into somewhere you can comfortably live with several small kids has it’s own amount of sweat and toil…

image

….but at least it’s sweat and toil we’re expending on ourselves, building something we believe in. Something for ourselves, our children, our children’s children.

image           image

At times I’ve been dizzy by the endless small decisions to be made, and the endless unexpected costs. But in the end we’ll have a home that we own, not the bank. That no one can take away (as long as we pay our property taxes!). And neither of us will have to spend the majority of our children’s childhoods away from them to pay for it.

Several weeks ago our farm finally sold, so now the adventure has officially begun! My husband has been practically living at the property, excavating the yurt and shed sights, preparing for well and electrical installation…

image

and chopping and moving endless young alder to fence the garden where we will grow most of our families food.

image                       image

The yurt location is cleared…

image

And marked out…

image        image

The wood is ready to be turned into a deck…

image

And the rest of us are busy catching frogs….

image                 image

Picking flowers….

image

Climbing trees…

image

And enjoying the shade of the hemlock while daddy works.

image        image

For now, our home will be a 30′ foot canvas yurt (that’s just over 700 sq ft), with a separate bathhouse for shower, composting toilet, and laundry (we have four kids. One of them is a three year old boy who likes to do this:

image        image

So yes, I’m bringing my industrial washer and dryer!). We’re putting in a gray-water garden out back. The three oldest children will share the loft, baby will still be with us in our tiny bedroom under the loft. We are open to the idea of someday building a more permanent structure…or not! We are also open to finding that this little round home is perfectly sufficient.

I’ll be using this blog to track our progress. Come along if you like! And while you’re here, you can dabble around in my recipes, or my thoughts on other handmade choices, such as home birth, homeschooling, and peaceful parenting.

My name is Amanda. Wife to Sanjay, mother to Fairuza, Tenzin, and Tobin, and stepmom to Sebastian. This is our journey.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑