As many of you know, our family lived in a yurt in the woods from March of 1999 to January of 2001. While we were there we lived simply. We had no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. Our biggest luxury was a gas cooktop that ran from a gas cylinder I’d have to carry out to the yurt and refill about once a month. When I’d forget or run out, I would have to cook dinners outside on a wood fire. I got pretty good at doing this, even in the rain. In the summer, though the temperature might get up to 38-40C (over 100) with humidity besides, we didn’t have any fans or air conditioning.
But what we lacked in modern conveniences we made up for in family time. I had to cut my own wood from dead trees that had fallen nearby, but I could bring my son along and he could play in the woods while I did my chores. I might have cooked breakfast on a fire, but the beans and homemade corn tortillas I made tasted of smoke from the hickory wood I put on the fire. We may not have had a fan, but we had sitting outside in the shade, reading library books aloud to one another while our son played. During that time, our life was simplified enough that we could get by on less than $300 US. For that reason I was able to minimize the amount of paying work I did – never working more than 10 hours/week doing technical writing on a laptop charged at our friend’s house. Sage would also work doing web design – sometimes for money, other times for barter. I would also do on-site computer repair for cash or barter. We’ve been paid for work in everything from freshly-caught catfish, organic vegetables, or even a custom yurt kitchen. Most importantly, and the whole point of the life we were leading was that we could all be home together as a family while our son was little.
For our privacy and that of the folks on the land we were sharing, our yurt was some distance from the house and even the driveway. Here’s the general route:
From the car we would walk across the house lawn to the beginning of the path. It went through a small field that we called “Death Valley”. We called it this because while the majority of the path was well-shaded in the summer, this part was in direct sun. We made this walk at least once or twice a day at first to carry water from the tap outside the house. We tried using a wheelbarrow a couple of times but it was too difficult to navigate and so we just carried things. Both Sage and I were in good enough shape that we could carry one 70 pound water jug in each hand all the way there.
We’re finally out of Death Valley and into the woods. These photos were taken in the cold months when there were no leaves. On the plus side, this is also the time of year there were no ticks as well.
Before the path was fully worn, that bent tree was what a landmark I would use to find my way there.
Let me take a moment now to “turn around” and share a picture taken from this same spot. Even the yurt had to be brought in to its location piece by piece. The heaviest piece was the wall structure made of wood and metal. We had to think about this a bit and then came up with a solution:
Just after Daegan was born, we were doing laundry and Sage’s mom, Kiteweather, came across a house that had put a bunch of stuff outside for people to take if they wanted. Among them was a large red duvet cover made of flannel. She picked it up and we started using it on our bed. As it turned out, this was our solution. We put the blanket on the ground, set the yurt wall on it, and then six people grabbed a piece of the blanket.
This blanket, now threadbare and with holes in it is still on our bed every night.
Daegan, the woman we named Daegan after put some prayer flags up above our path where it crosses a small ravine. Once in a very great while, we would have a trickle of water in this spot.
Come on in! Dinner’s ready!
Note the tarp on the left behind the tree with the blanket on top? Under that you’ll find a cooler I buried. We didn’t often have goods that required refrigeration but when we did I could put them in there with a bit of ice and they would stay cooler longer than staying inside the yurt which could be a bit of a “greenhouse” in the summer. In the cooler months we often didn’t need the wood stove during the day because the sun would warm us up.
This is Habanero meeting us along the path as we came back. I think they knew what our car sounded like because they would often meet us just after “Death Valley”. They didn’t like going much farther as our friends in the house on the land just past “Death Valley” had dogs.
Even at night they’d meet us. When we arrived after dark we would always remember that we forgot to bring a flashlight and would end up walking in the woods in the dark, Daegan with me in his sling, often a bag of library books and/or groceries in my hands. If there was a full moon it was easy – it often was as good as if we had streetlights. If there was no moon it would be more challenging. The first few times I found myself in that situation, I would walk a little slower and feel the ground with my feet. If I felt leaves I would turn away back to the path that was packed down with no leaves. After a few times, though, I got to the point that I could walk at a normal pace through the darkness without using my eyes. My feet just knew which way to go.
The way back to the car is under these trees. This tree and the one behind it each arched over the path in such a way that that is what made me choose the spot. I felt like it was a welcoming arch to arrive home in.
The longer we lived there the more independent we became. After some time we needed to do even fewer trips because Sage’s mom had found a spring. Now, instead of carrying 70 lb jugs of water (at least 2-3 a day), we would make more frequent but much shorter trips to the spring. When it would rain we would also use water that would run off the roof – but that was only used for washing.
Sometimes, not often, we would get some snow. It usually didn’t last long though some day I will have to share the story of when we couldn’t get out on our own for 27 days due to snow and ice.
Inspired by Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge for June 1.