Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Yurting" for the Somewhat Uninitiated

A yurt is an experience in alternative shelter.  Being in one is an immersion into altered space, light, texture, and sound.  The interior feel offers a greater interface with the outdoors; it is much more intimate than traditional housing, but you are still sheltered and safe from the sometimes harshness of the elements. 
Yurts have existed in various forms in many cultures for thousands of years.  There are variations, but most traditional are the circular homes found in the steppes of Mongolia.  These cylindrical structures are made of felted wool which covers wooden lattice walls topped with a cone-like dome of wooden rafters and more felt.  They are dry, warm and easily transported, suiting the semi-nomadic life-style of the owners who herd sheep, goats and cows.  Some are highly decorated; all are beautiful.
Modern yurts are a spin-off on the traditional design and are now found in many parts of the world, from the arctic to the tropics. They are embellished with highly engineered fabrics, modern wood and steel parts; perhaps stronger and more durable.  Most have a large (5-6 ft.) plastic dome at the apex, which offers a variety of visuals; stars and moonlight, blue sky and clouds, rain, snow, and lightning.  Becky Kemery’s book, Living in the Round is a good source on all things yurt, from their history through the current state of modern yurts.  There are a host of websites as well.
 I generally say the work yurt like it rhymes with hurt.  I have read that it is more traditionally said with a "g" sound, coming out something like "gair" (rhymes with air).
By the way, someone recently asked me if there is such a word as yurting, well let’s try it out and see.
I have never been in a traditional yurt, but I have been in several modern ones, and in thunder and lightning!  My first yurting experience was a 3 day stay at an outfitter in the southern Adirondacks, called Back to Basics.  Snow was just about gone, so I packed my gear, bike, skis, and headed out.  It was a great stay.  The yurts were set up in Adirondack camp style: bunks, rough wooden tables, etc.  A wood stove provided heat at night.  Hiking, skiing, and all sorts of outdoor adventure could be found nearby.  The most memorable event was an afternoon thunderstorm.  Strong gust, crashing thunder and bright flashes of lightning shook the yurt (and me).  It was a very visceral moment.  Scary yet exciting, the yurt experience put me almost in the storm, yet I was safe and dry.
Sadly, this outfitter is no longer in business, but many others are, offering an enhanced alternative to camping.  Good fun!
Next time, Yurts in the basement, yurts in the woods.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The yurt thing...

I'm not sure when I became a yurt person.  Likely it was when I first saw the classic photo of one that Pacific Yurt Co. uses on its web page, brochures etc. http://www.pacificyurts.com/
Kudos to them (and the person who lives in it!) for promoting the beauty of the structure in a gorgeous setting.  I have yearned for the experience ever since.
Long before the yurts, my interest was in some sort of back to the land project.  It was a 60's thing I guess.  The words to Joni Mitchell's Woodstock resonated "'I'm going to camp out on the land I'm going to try an' get my soul free".   It goes back even farther to my Ohio roots where we lived and played a little bit closer to the land.  The outdoors, the ways of our ancestors...it was our recreation and out sustenance.  But as it sometimes happens, things get in the way of dreams that are not swiftly acted upon: Relationships, finances, children, careers, etc.  But it was always there.  I never totally let go.
And when I first learned of yurts they seemed like a perfect fit, a vehicle that could allow a bit of scheming and planning to "Goin' to get back to the land to set my soul free" as it goes in the CSNY version.  Yurts are affordable, versatile, and they have eco-friendly aspects to them.  (More on this at a later time.)  So  a guy like me, in my situation financially and otherwise, might just be able to buy into the dream.
So dream I did.  I have amassed a file folder of yurt information over the years.  I studied the details, visited web pages, read books, and sought out yurt experiences.  I hope to share some of these things in coming installments.
Meanwhile, we are on the verge of a New England snowstorm here in Connecticut.  A yurt in Hawaii is looking more and more attractive!