I have been considering for years the prospect of writing a book about our time living in the yurt. It’s pretty overwhelming, and I’m not sure where to start and where to focus but every now and again I go through some of my old blog entries to look for inspiration. Yesterday I was doing that again and came across the original entry about the story I just recently wrote up here. It’s interesting to see what details I got right and what things I messed up completely. I got the day almost right: June 23, 1999 but the meal was a bit different. Incidentally I found another entry about cooking on the fire from a year after that and my fire making in the rain game got even better. That time I had an air pump for blowing up an air mattress and made it in to a bellows. I remember that being really effective.
For fun I’m going to add a few notes from present-day me. They’ll be in brackets like this: [“Here’s a note from today.”]
And so without further delay, here’s June 23, 1999’s entry, “No, that’s Shelly”
It’s pouring outside which on the one hand is great – the creek was nearly dry [“That summer was really dry – huge drought, really hot but almost never rained. With no a/c or fans that was pretty rough. We’d just sit outside and read aloud to one another for most of the day until it cooled off.”] but on the other hand is a pain since it makes cooking outside a challenge – but (I’m so proud of myself) I was able to make a batch of beans, a cup of coffee and start four potatoes baking for lunch.
All it took was a small piece of sheet metal over the fire grate. It was a bit slower but not impossible. [“Interesting to see how little I talked about my feelings then. I was really proud of myself. I was having such a hard time with the fact that I felt completely useless and incompetent at everything. I was no longer working and as a result got none of the usual pleasant work feedback. Some can be blamed on the fact that at this time many of my entries were actually handwritten and transcribed later by Sage who would post them to the site. So maybe that’s why I didn’t talk a lot about how proud of myself I was or how hard a time I had been having.”) In the meantime I had a ball outside playing with our jury-rigged rain collection system. The yurt was wonderful in every way except one that we could see – that when it rained if you didn’t have the vinyl windows on on or the weather flaps unrolled you’d have water dripping in through the screens. So Kite [“Sage’s mom“] thought to tie the flaps to trees to make awnings which when it rains collect a ton of water – we placed containers under each of the four windows and got five gallons in about 15 minutes. Not good to drink or cook with but good for washing.
Meanwhile Cilantro, our longhaired cat has died of cytauxzoonosis – it’s a pretty horrible disease in that it’s nearly always fatal and there’s no treatment or vaccine but fortunately it is mercifully quick – no more than a few days between a healthy cat and death. I felt somewhat sad in that I didn’t really know her – she didn’t like the other cats much and didn’t seem to care much for people either. [“OK, clearly I had trouble talking about feelings then. I’m a little better now I hope. We were pretty upset. We lost two cats in about a month to that disease and almost lost a third. But no, here I was, my New England sensibilities making sure I keep a stiff upper lip for everyone.”]
In other animal news we seem to have a nightly visitor – a possum – who likes to poke around our outdoor kitchen to see if we left any dirty dishes (we generally do) try to open our compost bucket and see if we left the cat food out. I’d seen it several times after Sage went to bed and I’d wake her up to see it but she’d be too tired to come to the door. One night I saw it just after we went to bed checking out the cat food and by the time I called Sage over the possum had left and Shelly was in it’s place eating the food. Sage said “No, that’s Shelly” [“Our oldest cat – at that time she was about 8-9. She’s actually visible in the photo above.”] and laughed at me. Since then she keeps asking me if I’d seen the Snuffleupagus lately (those of us early 70’s watchers of Sesame Street will get that). Finally though last night the possum came to eat some cat food just outside the door when Sage woke up to pee and I was able to show her. [“We had many other visitors around that time. Armadillos came until the nearby dogs got them. They made adorable little snuffling noises as they looked for food. One night I went out to pee and heard rustling in the narrow little tree above me. I shone the flashlight up and there was another possum swinging back and forth in the top of this tiny sassafras tree wishing himself invisible. Often we’d go out at night and hear the startled “SNORT!” and rustle of deer running away from us. Another night a couple of skunks came by and Sage went out with a boom box and loud hip hop music to try to drive them away until they stomped at her and were clearly going to spray her. They came back the next night with their babies – adorable little kitten-like creatures that made burbling noises. By then we kept the cat food inside and had no troubles. They would come to the compost bins sometimes but they were far enough away from the yurt that they didn’t bother us.”]
On Sunday Sage, the baby and I were invited to the nearby Womyns’ land [“Sage’s mom lived with a few other women on Womyns Land not far from us. What is Womyn’s Land? Basically a commune that is (primarily) a women-only space. Wikipedia has a bit of info.“] for lunch and after lunch to make and listen to music. (They very occasionally will invite men over but this is more the exception than the rule – I’ve only been once before with Sage to visit in 1995 – incidentally, that’s where we saw our first yurt brochure) We had a wonderful time. The baby was really interested in the musical instruments and would sit rapt watching people play them. He really seemed to learn well from watching too — he first saw a guitar in the morning and he just grabbed a handful of strings and pulled. The second time he touched the guitar was hours later after he watched it being played for some time and he plucked individual strings with his thumb. It was so cool to see that learning process happen. [“That process took a little break but came back hugely in the past few years as Daegan loves to play the guitar now.“]
We have yet another web site we might do – this time for a local craftsperson. Especially cool is that she and her family just moved here a year ago to a nearby farm to do the same sort of thing we are – to be two stay at home parents getting back to basics. Also cool is that we plan to barter for the whole site design – they make things we need like goat’s milk, cheese, bread, soap and candles which works well for us since that saves us spending as much on food and since food is about all we spend money on these days it’s as good as getting paid in cash.
It’s so good to be meeting people of like mind -while we’re doing our best as parents we really would like to meet others of similar mind to exchange ideas and learn from – and as the baby gets older it will be nice to have some other children for him to play with. I’m really thrilled and excited for the rain to stop – I have a plan when it gets dry to do some more south Indian cooking. Last week I made rava dosa on the fire with pretty good success (the last time I tried – on an electric stove – was a complete *flop* with inedible results [“Wow – I totally forgot about this. I always say I’ve never been able to make dosa well ever. But there was that one time, under a hot Ozark sun on a wood fire in a cast iron frying pan…”]) – and now I have borrowed Kite’s mortar and pestle so I can grind spices and make rice powders. Rice powders are especially good – dals, spices, coconut (sometimes, and red chilli peppers all roasted together and ground to a coarse powder. Then you serve it as a rice condiment along with ghee (clarified butter) It makes a really quick meal that is really tasty. I also ordered some spices online – tamarind among them in order to make sambar. Speaking of which, does anyone know where I can get curry leaves? The Indian grocery I used to shop at in Allentown had them but none of the online ones seem to carry them. Those and fresh green/red chillies. We’re getting by with jalapenos but it isn’t quite the same. [“Times have changed a lot since then. There was no online ordering but check this out: the Indian Grocery would ship to us and send us a bill and we’d send them a cheque. E-commerce was still a ways off and we had no credit card. Also: compare this to me 18 years or so later: We have several Indian groceries nearby with every ingredient I could possibly want from spices to fresh produce to so many kinds of dal. It’s just a matter of setting aside the time to make something new – which I have plans for soon…”]
Oh – I almost forgot – regarding cooking today – it was an interesting experience. I was at the house [“I’m not sure how clear I was in the original journal but here was the situation. A friend bought some land with a house and 40 acres. They lived with their partner in the house and we built a yurt about 500 feet away in the yurt. We had a computer set up in one room and had a deal where we would pay for the Internet and share it with everyone and give free “tech support” in exchange for the space for our computer. We sometimes charged batteries for our radio and later laptop batteries in the house as well but as time went on things sometimes got a bit contentious and we gradually used less and less of the resources in the house.”] with Sage and the baby checking email and doing laundry (diapers) when it started to pour. I got really crabby and thought that either I wouldn’t eat or have coffee (gasp!) or see if Sage would cook today. But instead I just thought to change my outlook – that cooking on a fire in the rain didn’t have to be a miserable experience – it could be fun and challenging. Just looking at it that different way made a lot of difference. I also remembered a bit from the book The Waiting Land by Dervla Murphy -a journal of her time spent in Nepal working in a Tibetan refugee camp in 1965. A huge storm came and drenched the camp destroying many tents and making everything sopping wet. What she noticed, though was that the Tibetans still kept their sense of humor and joy of being alive as they did what they needed to do to get their lives back together. It was helpful to remember that as I cooked in the downpour. I was the one who was faced with this situation and I could choose how to feel about it – crabby and miserable or good humored and happy. This may be obvious to many of you but not to me – I’m a terrible procrastinator and it is becoming evident to me that I do it because I’m not that great at making my work fun. But from doing this and my last time doing dishes outdoors with the baby (the most fun I had doing dishes I’ll tell you!) I can see it’s possible if I make the effort to enjoy even distasteful tasks.
So interesting to look back on it. I can see my voice in there but it’s also a bit different. Also way less polished. I had to correct a number of spelling errors and the like. And of course, like I said, I kept a lot of my feelings to myself there. Hopefully if I do get around to that book I will be a bit more open about that…