Thursday, May 30, 2013


For the past two year or so I have been enjoying yurt life on the slopes of Mauna Kea.  I am located at about 1500 ft. on the Hamakua coast, east Hawaii.  Here we get frequent trade winds and plenty of rain, sometimes over 200 inches per year. 
This window gets the most wind and rain, and is not easily reached.
This rain is often driven by the wind makes adjusting the windows a challenge.  The windows need to serve two purposes here: To keep out the rain out while allowing in cooling breezes.  Even with the dome lifter open and three windows and two doors open, ventilation of the 80 degree heat is a challenge.  And because of the windows are adjusted from the outside, reaching them on my sloping land is almost impossible without a ladder.  I have tried various adjustment combinations of the privacy flap and the clear plastic storm window, but I still get wind driven rain on the inside floor.
I can reach this more easily.
There seems to be two options.  Colorado Yurt now offers a fully operational window, which can be opened and closed from the interior, for an additional $1650.00 plus shipping and instillation.  I don’t believe these were available when I purchased my yurt three years ago.
The second option is an awning kit which converts the privacy flap into an awning.  I have 3 on order at $175.00 each.  I am hoping these will help.   It is suggested you could build your own.  Plans would be helpful.

So take into consideration the wind and rain at your site, if you are planning a yurt.  Locate the windows and doors appropriately.  A little extra expense for the special windows might be  worthwhile.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Paul’s Yurt, Progress Report, March, 2013 Ninole, Hawaii

Into each life some sun will shine
It has been a little over two years since my Colorado Yurt Co. 24’ high wall yurt was erected on a sloping piece of land mauka in a rain forest region on the Hamakua Coast.

 Fitting it out with furnishings and utilities has been an ongoing process based loosely on the Japanese aesthetic philosophy referred to as Wabi-sabi. This aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete". Driving this philosophy has been a combination of personal taste, funds, and the availability of materials.  The interior has been furnished with the highest respect for the beautiful, open vaulted interior space that is so attractive and pleasing.  No walls or partitions have been permanently constructed, but rather furnishings, fabrics and other movables have been used to define the living spaces; seating, storage, sleeping, cooking, etc.  Emphasis has been given to natural materials, such as wooden floors and furniture, while color has been added with printed wall hangings, blankets, pillows etc. 

 Other objects with the theme of peace have been added both as decoration and to help focus the tranquil tone of the interior.  Closeness to the natural world is emphasized with views of plants, flowers, Mauna Kea and the Pacific Ocean from windows, doors, and a small lanai.  Rain in its many forms, the wind in nearby Eucalyptus trees, animal calls, and a small stream create a peaceful acoustic soundscape.

 There is still much to be done in the interior, and in the spirit of Wabi-sabi these changes will come as the vision matures and the appropriate furnishings and items make themselves apparent.  There is a conscious theme of moving away from items made of plastic and replacing them (chairs are high on the list) with re-purposed pieces made of more natural materials that have character and spirit.


And that sun can become electric...
 Several utilities and conveniences have been added to make the yurt comfortable and practical.  Perhaps the most useful modern addition has been the recent completion of an off-grid photovoltaic electric system.  This system consisting of four solar panels, batteries, a battery charger and an inverter allows the yurt to support computers, a printer, lights, a radio, other plug-ins, and a refrigerator.  I am still wrestling with a growing number of black cords and power strips, which challenge the Wabi-sabi aesthetic!  The system hardware is located on the exterior of the yurt; panels in a nearby open area, and the electric devices installed in a storage closet in an open space under the yurt.

 The kitchen, located inside the yurt along the wall, consists of a granite topped cart that stores cookware and utensils, and a single burner gas cook top.  Interior water, used for cooking and drinking is carried in by hand at this point.  Exterior water, used for washing and bathing, is collected in 55 gallon barrels and then pumped through hoses to outlets and to a propane instant-on gas heater.  The finishing touches of an outdoor shower are being currently complete.  The shower which is located in an open space under the yurt features an ocean view!

Loveable Loo
 A composting toilet, referred as a “Loveable-loo” is found in the open area under the lanai.  Waste matter mixed with absorbent peat moss is collected in the toilet device and periodically emptied into the compost bin, elegantly recycling the waste back to the land.

 The composting toilet, photovoltaic electric, catchment water, and instant on hot water system reflect an ongoing value of living simply and respectfully on the land while striving to be as independent and self-sustaining as possible.  

 The process of building and creating a yurt-home is ongoing and fulfilling.  As Ferris Bueller once said, “I highly recommend it, if you have the means.” 
I consider myself a fortunate and rich man.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Yurt Geometry

The geometry of this yurt works subtly on me.  Rays of sun often splash across the parallel wooden floorboards leaving fleeting prints of light and shadow defined by lattice-shaped diamonds.   On recent evenings moonlight projects through the dome onto floor and walls, searching and highlighting.  Perpendicular to the perimeter of the circle 2-bys rise, giving a lightness, a buoyant lift to the roof and the space it encloses. 

The yurt is cozy but not claustrophobic, and its structure always feels larger on the inside.  The roof beams soar overhead surrounding and directing my eyes upward to the ocular dome and  beyond towards the sky and heavens above, painting the ceiling with parading clouds and the stars of the Milky Way.  

The forms of furnishings both highlight and challenge these geometries forming contrasting triangles, rectangles and arcs. 

It might be a busy vision, but it is not.  The wisdom and grace of the design, along with the refined wood grained materials work together creating a peaceful energy; safe, strong and welcoming.

It is my stout shelter, my creative retreat, and my quiet home.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013


     I haven't been able, in my two years of yurt living, to commit to building walls or any other more permanent features inside my yurt space.  Perhaps this is a commentary on the occupant (commitment issues??) but more likely is the simpler explanation; I enjoy the freedom of flexibility and the aesthetic bounty of openness, both in my floor plan and in the light and radiance overhead.  Plain and simple; wabi-sabi. 
     In my 24 foot circle I have chairs and a bench clustered about a small table forming a seating area.  My bed is a small peninsula across the floor.  A hammock is slung in front of a window offering a swinging view of tree and sky.  A cabinet and dresser along with a small table and cart,  form my kitchen, skirting the interior windowless wall.  The back door leads to a lanai with a view of the ocean and a bird filled wooded gulch.  The front door opens to a grassy-ferny meadow and my path to the outside world.  The ever-changing view here is of the mountains, which this morning were purple and pink reflecting the morning sunrise.  The sky is generously open.  Clouds collect and dissipate in many forms and colors.  Blue skies with warm sun pass into fog or gray rain clouds.  All of this can happen suddenly before your eyes with rain or sun lasting for days.  I am, both indoors and out, at the whim of the ocean.
     To the right of my front door is a small raised bed garden.  Planted and growing are tomatoes, beans, cilantro, lettuce and green peppers.  The garden is a bit of a science experiment, as all gardens are.  What will grow and thrive, what will not survive?  It is a different ecosystem here, one that I am just beginning to acclimatize to, different in some important ways than the temperate mainland.  And like all science experiments, Hawaiian gardens require patient observation, vigilance, and some trial and error. Living in a fabric home, sound travels easily in and out.  Last week, a feral pig snorted nearby.  I chased it off with a clap of hands, protecting my lettuce for an other's meal.
     The beauty of this in and out existence is that it all right there, just a few quick steps away.  Yurts are for outdoor people,  who enjoy both the comfort and the intimacy that it provides.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Mouse Wars

I have never been to a real war.  That is by choice primarily, and also by luck. My homeland has never been invaded, although I now live in Hawaii, which was infamously attached.  War…what is it good for?  I believe there should be alternatives…
But recently I have been called into battle to defend my home, my yurt, from an onslaught of mice.  They started it.  Although the truth be known, I have built my round home in their native territory, and so they been called to defend it and even take advantage of it in their mouse-like way; they assault the walls and enter through the weak points, near the doors.  And they scamper and gnaw, especially at night.  I believe I am suffering Hype-Mouse-Awareness Syndrome.  They disturb the peace by chewing the insulation into tiny bits, leaving small drifts of silver shreds on the floor.  I guess they are building nests…bringing in re-enforcements, establishing a beachhead?   And in their mouse-chauvinistic way they mark their victories by pooping -seed like feces- everywhere.
So reluctantly, I go to war.  These mice are not repugnant rats that I could learn to hate; no they are cute little lava gray fur balls.   In another part of the world at a different time I may have been buying them for pets or for science projects.  But now they have crossed a line, one that they do not see, for it is a line of mine; they have crossed my border of sensibility.  They are disturbing my peace and they must die.  They are the dirty evil hordes.
There is no reasoning with them.  They know not of truce or compromise.  So I must summon my strongest weapon, hate. Why, I remember one bit me once, DIE!  And all those times they pooped in the silverware drawer, DIE.  And the chewing and gnawing my beloved yurt walls, all night long, my place of certain serene sanctity: DIE-DIE-DIE!
So I have been warring, mainly using traps (you know, the “build a better mousetrap “type.)  They are quick and “merciful” in dispatching these rodent invaders.  I have dispatched, neutralized, mitigated, etc., aka killed more than a dozen.  Little lives mashed and crushed.  They are rather clever enemies not easy to kill.  I have actually witnessed one standing on the trap, gorging itself in a feast of the peanut butter bait.  Flaunting its skills or tempting its fate?  Oh yes, and to assure victory, a box of green poison pills, for our allies at Decon.  Better living through chemistry. Heaven (Hell) knows how that chemical warfare works, but it mercifully distances me from the mayhem. 
No Johnny Appleseed am I.  But I do believe in peace.  But the model of live and let live, of acceptance and patience, how does that apply?  If this so called enemy crosses that “line” how does that act played so innocently push me beyond my tolerance?  They are just trying to live as best they know how…is this not always possible?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Very loosely translated Wabi-Sabi means design in a clean, functional, natural way, with emphasis on reusable materials.  It is the way I am approaching the use of my yurt.  I want to live simply and make as little negative impact upon the rest of the natural world.  Good idea, eh?  A modern yurt, manufactured with a history of simple, natural design fits this directive, sort of.  The wood is beautiful and sustainable.  The walls and roof material are of man made fibers, essentially plastic.  Plastic...plastic!!!  But it is durable, so it will likely last a lifetime, with care.  And in Hawaii natural things tend to decompose (which is of course a natural process) quickly.  So there is need to compromise in the Wabi-Sabi philosophy.  Low impact needs, not no impact needs.
Rubbermaid storage unit (plastic!)  for water sensitive PV components.

Then there are conveniences, like hot water for a shower, and electricity. These are projects underway. Solar is the way to go for H2O.  And photovoltaics are the answer for electric.  But that is also a bit dirty, at least in the manufacturing process.  Perhaps it is a bit of a wash re my carbon footprint?   

Brick floor under lanai for outdoor bathroom

The question continues, do I need these?  Can I do better, can I do without?

Next time, the Lovable Loo, aka humanure.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Early Morning

Every day starts out about the same here.  No alarm clock ringing, at least for me; instead it is a distant dog bark or the inevitable rooster crow that stirs me. Like many wake-up devices, the first dozen crows can be ignored, unless of course you do want to get up at 4:30 AM! Eventually the sun peaks over the horizon, mine being through a window looking out over the Pacific. Windows and doors are wide open now. There seems to be little rain or blowing storms. Instead there is heat and vog, which is a natural version of smog, created by combining the sulfuric gases of the volcano with sunlight, water vapor and a dash of manmade pollutants. Not what one pictures when you think of a tropical "paradise." Rain will come and the winds will shift, blowing this throat scratching soup in some other direction.

Eventually I rise. The first order of the day is to pee and brush my teeth, both of which happen over the edge of the lanai. It's just me here so I can be a little crude in my habits; the pee gets washed off in the next rain storm and becomes a bit of nitrogen cycled back into the earth. Tooth-brushing is camp style, using a splash of water from a water bottle to wet and rinse. So I pull my barn boots on and walk the 800 feet or so up to the house. In the process I pass through two gates which close the five sheep into their current pasture. They sometimes bleat a bit, hoping I might have some grain. We exchange pleasantries and I am usually gifted with a small deposit of poop on the trail. I don't take this as an editorial, just sheep being sheep.

Usually by the time I reach the house Paul H. and Scot have sat for a few minutes at the table in the open air kitchen and started the first cups of coffee. I sit and join them. The brew is strong, made in a French press. I drink it black. Sometimes there is a discussion on the weather; how much rain was in the gauge this morning (Scot and Paul keep records), or the rising sun. Next is the farm report, of sorts, talk about roosters, pigs, etc., perhaps even a foray into current events in the news, but inevitably the discussion focuses around the dogs and cats who are sniffing around, doing what they do, in a their friendly/adversarial manner. Sadie, the dog, always comes by for her fair share of attention. Bandit, the black and white cat, might hop up in a lap. This cat cuddle is appreciated on cooler mornings. I find it secretly amusing that three men watch a dog watch a cat. It's the best show available and no cover charge. A bit later after the morning kibble, Sadie the elder dog comes out to sniff about. She is ancient dog and dear to us. Most of her time is now spent snoozing in her crate. Perhaps if she were a human (a "two-legs") she might be writing her memoirs...

After a second cup, we tend to wander off to our various tasks, perhaps musing for a moment on a small point of an earlier discussion, perhaps regarding the chickens, or a tomato in the greenhouse. The pace is often slow.

Right now I am charging my batteries in the bright morning sun.  The day has begun.

Paul A