Living in the Round: Life in a Mongolian Yurt

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Unless you’ve been to the Asiatic steppe of Mongolia and Tibet, you may not know what a yurt is. Actually they have been a primary dwelling space even back when Genghis Khan ruled the Mongol emprie, and they are round, made of indigenous materials and can be built down and transported across the land, hearkening back to the times when the Kazakh hunters and nomadic Mongolian peoples roamed across the land with their camels, yaks, and few possessions. These beautiful curved structures have no corners and only one wall that surrounds the circular space within. The walls are made of heavy canvas, traditionally probably made of leather pelts, inside is a think felted wool of sheep, with the inside braces hand cut of wood, tied with camel rawhide, held together with horsehair around the perimeter of the wall, on top the urgh which is a weather protective cover is painted with the unending knot, one that weaves into itself, and the interior yurt poles are also painted with designs of dunes, clouds, waves, and flowing steppe grass, at least these are the images I see. It is held up in the middle of the hut by two beams, almost like an Irminsul pole. They are functional in four seasons, are elegantly beautiful, they also have a propensity to increase dream frequency.

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I have made one of these small yurts my winter home and have now been in the northern Ontario forest for almost a month, lending my two hands and the fire of my accumulated skill and luck to some new friends who are trying to get off grid, and gather a small hamlet around them while subsisting off the land, and growing their own family.  My good friend who owns the yurts is also a herbal maiden, mother, yogi, ex-midwife, she hunts with a shotgun, and is a pretty good kitchen witch. I have come to know her as a sister of the tribe, and we have made some very important realizations about the future of this place. These nordic winter days wane early, and leave just the prime of the morning and afternoon for any real progress on the land, but we have been able to tackle a few projects, and initiate the land clearing deeper in the bush for the eventual spring move of the yurt farm. So far we have installed a new chimney in the sauna, where on especially cold nights it is favorable to sweat by the infrared heat of the flames. We built a deluxe dog hotel, for three German Sheppard’s, waterproofed the one man yurt, and are currently renovating a tiny home on wheels for winter sleeping spaces. Tombs of seasoned wood have been split by the cord, stacked, burned and cooked over, trees have been felled, and the wild hunts have brought us out on the land to stalk rabbit and partridge. We’ve fired no shots yet, but we did find the home of two such porcupines at a crystal vein on the ridge of a small cliff, where we built an inuk’shuk, and made offerings to the old Gods.

Time spent in the yurt is usually focused on preparing the next meal; bison burgers, hearty chilies and stir fries, pancakes, homemade pizza, locally caught fish, hunted partridge, lots of root veg, and the meat of the free range animals that lived and were harvested on the farm itself, both from this property and the first location in the south. This means, thick slices of bacon, and organic chicken. The food has been abundant and healthy. We’re also roasting our own coffee beans and brewing some kombucha, and making just about everything from scratch. In the mother yurt there is electricity, but in the one man where I live, there is no wired connection, only a solar panel on the outside of the yurt, enough to power an l.e.d. for about 3 hours, or charge my camera once. There is no running water which makes simple things like doing dishes or heeding nature’s call rather different than living in a normal home. Having to divorce one’s feeling from constant comfort, waking in the middle of a -25 night, stoking the fire over again and walking through two feet of snow to get to the outhouse is a kind of raw connection with place in the most humble of ways. Wifi signal is weak if at all on says when it snows, and I use a solitary beeswax candle for my primary light source in the morning when I groom or at night for brushing up on some books. Primitive housing is not unfamiliar to me, but these conditions are the ways in which I prefer to live. In touch with what is real, and stripped down. Lacking the material excess of modern consumer lifestyle, where everything one owns must have a multi purpose or it is in the way, and creates clutter. When you live in a yurt of only twelve foot diameter floor space, everything places therein takes on a kind of zen-like quality, to be placed aright, even the way the wood is stacked up and the orientation of the bed, I have my head to the west with the setting sun, the door of the yurt is low, facing the east, which encourages the guest to enter and leave with grace. I try not to bring any negative energy into the space, whether it be behavioral, emotional or electrical. In the morning I have been making chaga, and at night reading a Saga or verses from the Havamal. Sometimes the snow piles high at the threshold of my door then freezes it shut in the night, which can be a interesting lesson on the trickiness of winter weather. On clearer nights I can see the moon through the vinyl sky windows.

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In the meanwhile we are working hard on a tiny home that will be moved further into the bush to become off grid, and more autonomous. Tiny homes are gaining popularity in Europe and North America, this one has a barnhouse style and will provide the basic sleeping quarters. Life in the yurt can be challenging as privacy is compromised, and space is limited. The facilities are rustic, and are grounded in a more humble mode of life. There are the boasting rites as well of saying you live in a Mongolian hand-built home, shipped from the other side of the world. There is another yurt farm about two hours from here with buffalo, and living in the round seems to be gaining intrigue amongst old worlders, and it beats living in a box with four walls and corners, in my honest opinion.

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