Four years

The four fabric yurt windows were awninged wide open to the winds and light for months, the wooden front door neglected in place of the full screen door.



Then, quite suddenly it seemed, it was time the windows must be shut and white insulation panels drawn over them to retain what heat we could through the chill night. Door closed.  Outside smells and sounds and sights were replaced by suffocating darkness, light reduced mainly to the overhead dome.  The air goes stagnant without open windows, enclosed within the yurt covering’s laminated vinyl fabric.

The next morning the children and I woke to the first wood stove fire of the season. Aria sat before it, a reminder of when we first moved in four years ago.



Time had come full circle.  Just as quickly as autumn’s chill arrived, I arrived at being completely ready to move on from the fabric yurt.

I’ve been excited about the idea of living in the wooden yurt “someday.” Yet the fabric yurt has been home for such a long while now, and for such a large portion of my children’s memory.  Josh has been very ready for the transition for quite awhile, the small space wearing on him to some degree year round.  I couldn’t quite imagine leaving its coziness for the expansiveness of the wooden one.  The fabric yurt has definitely been an adventure, a home, a trusty shelter (enough) for the four years we have been here.  Still, winters in the fabric yurt have been cumulatively more difficult, even with a recent milder one. Perhaps that was the spark I felt on this first really chilly morning, the premonition of the claustrophobia that can set in on those dark Maine winter days living in a small dark space.

So, I’m ready.  And thank goodness there might not be much longer before that new home is too, to be surrounded by wood, space, light, substance… Sometimes we go in there in the mornings just to feel the heat the wooden yurt retains, that the fabric yurt’s thin layers cannot.  To be within the almost 80 windows worth of light….



Almost all windows are now in.  All on the third level, all on the second level, almost all on the first level.


A stove base was made, and stone cut to create a hearth and a mantel.  The logistics of having “running water” while cutting stone quite entertaining when living with a hand pump…












A wood cook stove is now settled into her new position.  The necessary stovepipe has been found, the fabricator search underway for the unique connecting piece needed between that stovepipe and the wood stove.



The electricity is underway, continuing this weekend.  This was a hard piece for some of us, partly feeling like it didn’t seem right to add outlets and wiring and such to this space.  As much as we all love Dickinsons Reach and the natural sanctuary that is Bill Coperthwaite’s non-wired yurt there… we also know that lights will be good, especially on those long winter days, especially with schoolchildren, especially with a work from home momma needing to work from her computer…


Staining and more staining has been done to protect the walls and floors and posts already in place.  Wooden sleepers rise from the cement, Roxul insulation run between them, awaiting the spruce flooring that will be delivered any day.  Then the wall boards, cut and stacked and waiting, will rise from that floor to the windows.  Friends say “let me know when,” and the anticipation of progress and community brews.

A soapstone kitchen sink, quietly waiting decades forgotten in a Maine barn, now waits in front of the yurt for the floor to be in place.  And there are the final three opening windows that must be made and fitted into place.  These windows we tried to see if we could order pre-made, but with a price tag of $1,000, seemed well worth Josh taking the time and effort of learning how to make these sliding opening ones for the first floor.  Wood has been milled for the cupola that will cover the opening at the top of the yurt, plans in motion for friends who were there at the beginning to be here to create this cap to it all.

Another part that was a necessity before moving in was some type of railing for the stairwell that has already seen one big fall too many.  I imagined a multi-purpose book shelf version, and Josh made it a reality.  Using the leftover freezer paper from the end of summer pig harvesting, a form was made and pieces cut (who knew sewing pattern tricks could transfer to woodworking?).  At some point a back will be added along the stairwell.  But already, books and readers are settling in…








Gone are the expansive days of summer, of seemingly endless light and time, when children could walk into the garden to pick and eat corn for breakfast, husk cherries for breakfast dessert.  Yet it still feels like there might be enough pre-winter days for it all to come together, as the red squirrel keeps scurrying from the garden with sungold tomato after tomato bulging from her mouth.  Echos of summer warmth come each midday, making it easy to forget that the cold will come back each night and that this cold will keep creeping more and more into each midday.  Even so, there is warmth enough to keep alive that full-family hope of being in by Thanksgiving.

None of us is set on it, knowing anything may or may not happen.  How very many times we’ve learned that lesson, even just this summer.  You never know when a chicken might unexpectedly dig out a hole at the bottom of the front steps, and someone might sprain an ankle in it running out to the garden…  You never know when a power tool might slip and a quite important thumb be out of commission…  Like you can never know when those medicinal plants we keep working on building up here might come in handy, not knowing that the “someday” we might need them would be this summer for plantain, yarrow, St. John’s wort, witch hazel, comfrey… We never really know, do we…

It is still as much a puzzle as ever, aligning parts and people and time, and sometimes we are stuck in the waiting place.  This can be nerve-wracking for those of us with particularly small reservoirs of patience, but it can also be quite productive.  Sometimes things get bumped up on the to do list that are not necessarily needed before we move in.  Like my desk that will come off of the stairwell bookcase (or rather a potential good hiding nook, depending on who you ask).  It is also not fully complete, as more will be built out from the non-bookcase side of it, but still manifested quite wonderfully enough for now.







Putting books on the shelf, drawing imagined lines for additional built-ins, children squabbling over who was in whose bed”room” area, filling the 3rd floor bench cubbies with hats and mittens and coats and more, these are the parts that come together to make this wooden yurt space feel like a home that is more and more ready to take us in.  And not just us.  The irony is that many have already slept under these roofs for more nights than we have.  Others who put so much in during our yurt building workshops two years ago.  It’s a phenomena I had not anticipated, this cycling of people coming back to what they poured much of themselves into over the course of those four weeks.  In the past several months there have been many rounds of workshop attendees come back, from Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, California.  And more planned in the coming months.  It feels right for them to be here, this place that is theirs along with ours.  It feels right to be feeding them again, to have them all so familiar here, having lived alongside us for weeks.  It feels right for them to be sleeping under those roofs, even when we are not, not just yet.


Every time someone sleeps there, I think of Fritz.  Fritz, the first to sleep there during a particularly torrential rain storm that washed out his tent during the building workshop.  There was barely a roof on the wooden yurt then, the whole thing covered in a gigantic tarp.  He taught me much during his time with us, including having a wider view of resourcefulness.  He’d often be off exploring during our workshop lunch breaks, coming back with anecdotes about the piano repairman a few miles down the road, the boat yard that we had to visit the next town over, a brochure for a nature preserve on a nearby island.  He fully took in what was around him, followed his curiosity, full of stories of experiences.  He examined our old hand egg beater, my Amazon-bought hand broom, intent on figuring out how they worked, how they were made.  Full of deep curiosity.

Then there were the workshop breaks where he taught us to make brooms.





When someday we lived in the wooden yurt, I was certain he was going to come back to teach a workshop there on making full-sized wooden brooms.  We’d talked about it, how we’d go into the woods and choose the branches to become our broom handles.


I was certain this would happen.  But it will not happen.  Because now Fritz is no longer with us.  He died in August, following his curiosity to the end on a long hike through the Caucasus Mountains, between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea.  A life ended tragically and too soon.  But a life positively filled to its brim with living.

So much will continue to remind me of Fritz, because a part of him will always be here with us, and a part of his influence will live on within us.  Continual reminders like people sleeping in the wooden yurt.  And for Josh, every time he makes a window sill or finishes the door frames, able to because of a trick Fritz taught him during the workshop.  And every time I reach the top of our second floor stairs where that cherry riser sits (that was strangely one of the first pieces of the building to be put in place, because the second floor had to be built over it).  The riser I so clearly see Josh and Fritz working on together.  And so many other moments…

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We never would have crossed paths with Fritz if not for those wooden yurt workshops.  He came with friends, following his curiosity…  How thankful we will always be that he did.  We, and our home, are better for it.

This summer there have been many other new faces making their way here, following their curiosity about Bill Coperthwaite, about building some version of their own wooden yurt.  Sometimes its strange having so many people coming and going here.  Mostly, it feels right and wonderful to be making these connections with people leading quite fascinating and productive lives, coming from as far away as California, Washington, Australia.  Like recent visitor Travis Skinner, creating a yurt-inspired turtle shell sauna and so much more out on the west coast.

I’m not sure I know exactly what it is, but I do know that this wooden yurt is much more than just a home.  And that much good can come when we keep moving forward on it, and keep opening the door.


6 thoughts on “Four years

  1. Melanie, this is a lovely tribute to your friend Fritz. The whole process of your yurt home being built is amazing. What I find intriguing about it is how far you have come from a “normal” home in the suburbs (where I currently live!), following the path you feel called to follow. And I love that bookcase above the stairs!

  2. Congrats on the patience, perseverance, and PROGRESS, guys — it’s looking fantastic. Here’s hoping you can make the move before winter proper settles in!

  3. What a beautiful posting. So sorry about Fritz – what a lovely tribute to an amazing man. I loved when you first posted about him showing everyone how to make brooms.
    The yurt is looking gorgeous. And we love that bookcase! You describe so well that flip-flop feeling of anticipating moving out of your current shelter and into the new one. As always – we think of you all often, and look forward to the next posting! Much love from alison and rob.

  4. Your yurt is turning out just beautifully Melanie. I’m so excited Dan was able to take a small part in helping Josh and the crew. It’s so exciting see the progress that’s being made! We are very excited for you and your family.
    Best wishes,
    Stacey and Daniel Wescott

  5. The yurt looks incredible! The first time I saw a picture of it I was immediately reminded of Coperthwaite’s yurt at Dickinson Reach. I am looking forward to seeing your progress. I have two young kids myself and find myself often thinking about taking steps towards a lifestyle that is more connected with nature. Thanks for sharing!

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