A year in a wooden yurt

She skipped out our arched doorway on her way to school today, pom-pom bouncing on hatted head, radiant smile almost still visible from behind, eager to share with her second grade classmates.  My feeling of fullness was as vivid as her, she with this palpable joy from having spent yesterday’s blizzard day (and evening, and this 2-hour school delay morning) crocheting her own hat and then mittens, ones that now warmed her head and hands heading off into the cold white day.  I had that feeling of stopping and looking around on the path (the path so less taken that the way has been trying, often, overgrown branches clawing, footing unstable, muddy here, dark there, unmarked) and beholding the breath-slowing beauty that has been ventured into.  The stillness, serenity, awe, being that is possible within simple living.

And just as suddenly as the door closed behind her skipping up the path to the car, it suddenly felt right to send off this post of random yarns woven together here and there over the last several months.  Writing… that opportunity to live twice!


The calendar shows more than one year since we moved into the wooden yurt, three years since we started raising it at our yurt building workshops, five years since we moved onto this land, six years since we moved to Maine…  I can’t really take that in, looking at the calendar.  I do not really feel it until I’m sitting at a craft morning, passing my scissors to five-year-old Shep, discussing glue guns and the tiny drill used to make ornament string holes in acorn caps; this boy who was still tucked inside his mother when we first started clearing this land.  And again when I pat the bright blond head of the whirl of five-year-old Magnus as he zooms by at school, born one month before we moved into the fabric yurt.  When I share trail mix with little Ella at Dickinson’s Reach, I think of her mother’s belly filling out with her on the day we buried Bill Coperthwaite there, now four years ago.  Time is there in wee Rosemary’s full-cheeked smile as those little hands clasp the paper angel cutout I can’t help but happily give to her when asked.  This little sprite who was days old during our first wooden yurt building workshop (oh, how tiny in the workshop picture below), who can now skip around in the same clothes my own daughter did during those workshops.

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I felt it in November, when Josh headed off for the morning to help friends with post-windstorm roof fixing.  And the next morning when suddenly our cupola was finally ready to go up and that same friend was then here on our roof, his son running with our children, as they did when the land was being cleared, as they did when the wooden yurt was going up.  And I am struck with knowing that six years ago there was not a Shep or a Magnus or an Ella or a Rosemary, or any connection with those families that now feel so family…

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I didn’t really feel this passage of a year of living in the wooden yurt until the year had happened.  There was that calendar that showed each month tick by.  If I had been told it would take a whole year to feel really steady and grounded after finally moving in… Well, I wouldn’t have believed it, would have denied the possibility, would have pushed against it.  And I did deny it, and did push against it.  Because shouldn’t that time after reaching the overarching goal be bliss and fulfillment, satisfied sighs?  To some degree, yes.  But also, alas, no.

There was still much necessary work to be done in the months that followed that move in, albeit less tangible.  Who were we when we were no longer “family building wooden yurt”?  Would our focus on shifting values, priorities, aspirations shift with us?  Or would settling into the wooden yurt lead to a different sort of settling, like most of Eleanor Agnew’s examples in Back from the Land: How Young Americans Went to Nature in the 1970s, and Why They Came Back?  Would we drift back to formerly familiar passive living, just now in an extra ordinary round house, thinking of those most fulfilling days of our lives when once we…?  Could we keep up with the rhythm and time needed for simple systems, carrying water in from the hand pump, firewood chopping, garden harvesting in, toilet compost out, etc., amidst full work and sports and community schedules, as our own children grew more into peer-pressure-full and outward ages?  Did the effort of weaving together our simple-living striving matter against the complicated tangle of the outer world?  When we no longer had the structure of simplicity inherent in those four years of small canvas yurt living, and no longer had the large purposeful goal of home-building, would the resonant wisdom of Bill Coperthwaite’s teachings become distant echos for our family?

I think of two pear trees we planted.  They were quite tired and twiggy in the many months post-transplanting, despite plenty of space and amendments and fencing and hoping and all, and we wondered how they’d fare against that first winter.  The following summer they stretched tall, spreading branches lifting sunward, bountifully leafed.  Now we understand that they needed that first year to just focus on rooting themselves in.  Little did I know I’d need that too, a seemingly way-too-long expanse of time turned inward.  Hindsight… Inside-sight…

Somewhere within these recent months I’ve felt the shift of moving beyond that need to keep rooting, grounding.  Maybe it’s because the final top was put on the wooden yurt this fall, the final major unfinished piece, finished, with a whole year of knowing what living beneath it could be.  I remember so clearly being up on that topmost roof almost one Rosemary ago, putting plastic in place to cover the hole to keep the weather out until we would someday put this planned cupola in place.  Then there were the windstorms that would flap that plastic at night, long after all other plastic had finally been replaced with windows and doors on other wooden yurt openings.  And the point when this last plastic degraded to where rain made its way in, needing to clean the water up, Josh climbing on the cold and slippery roofs to replace the plastic, double-layered this time.

The times Josh and I worked together on the cupola, rare in our often separate simple living task divvying, not exactly side-by-side but a necessary inside-and-outside together to put in the copper rivets that would pull the layers of cedar together – Josh hammering them on the outside, me (often with company) on the inside applying counter pressure.  Then there were the times Josh pieced together the shingling over the summer.

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Then it was time in November, time when the roof plastic could be removed because the pieces of lexan and glass had been attached and the cupola officially finished, ready, roof dry enough, wind low enough, to add a tiny cap to the large wooden wonder we call home. That cupola, started a year earlier, a micro of the macro of the wooden yurt project, beginning with the help of those who’ve gathered more experience, followed by much time and scratching of heads trying to figure out how to then take it to completion on our own… But eventually getting there, a bit older, a little wiser, a lot relieved when it actually eventually works out.

Time.  I felt it again as I planted garlic last fall.  The same as I’ve planted garlic for what the calendar shows as eight years now, but what I understand more fully when I look at my seven-year-old Aria, a tiny sprouting seed inside me when I tentatively planted those first few cloves with her then three-year-old brother.  Those 33 ancestor cloves, planted in what feels like a land so far away and impossibly long ago (oh, that little boy)…

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I felt the layers of time as I pried garlic heads apart to separate each clove seed, saved from last summer’s harvest.  I felt it when I made the furrows, and then instinctively stretched my pointer and thumb apart, again and again, to mark where each of the now 330 cloves would be planted in, no longer needing a book to guide the way, but needing multiple days and multiple beds to tuck them all in.  I felt it when that somehow now eleven-year-old boy held the camera, his vibrantly present sister larking near.  I felt it when I turned up peach pit after peach pit that much smaller children tried to plant in this garden bed, one of the first beds I formed here, this garden bed that was forest floor just one small Shep ago…


This blog began as a place to process living in a canvas yurt, moving toward a wooden yurt.  It felt somehow closed to me when we reached that milestone, finished in a way.  Except of course the miles keep going, more stones found, landscape ever shifting and changing as we go.  So here I am again, with even the blog interface new and strange since I last visited.  Still, I feel the pull to take it up anew, to have a closer look and thought into those layers of a year and beyond.  Goodness, where did it go?!  What happens in a year of rooting in?  I wonder…  Sifting through the time capsule of pictures, it quickly becomes clear that there was more than one foundation being built during those early home building years, a maker impulse that rooted into all of us and continues to grow, continues to define and hold us as a family, in so many ways.


Thinking back to where I left off, last mid-winter…  I can’t quite imagine what’s it’s like to be somewhere without restorative winter, forced hibernation, forced downtime to recoup and rebuild that desire to pour energy out again.  By the time we moved into this wooden yurt and started settling in more than a year ago, we were done, wells depleted.  We thankfully dropped the push to build more within the wooden yurt, the push to build out more and more gardens….

There was beauty in those hibernating months last winter.  Getting up to light a candle in the deep darkness of cold mornings.  Watching the foxes glide across the shadowy clearing.  Seeing the barred owl swoop in, resting on the garden post, retreating before the sun fully arrived.  I was drawn to the straightforwardness of braiding, braiding, braiding, lacing, lacing, lacing….  And someone else was drawn to the simplicity of this, finding her taking up my braiding and lacing, and then deciding to take up her own version, always in her own way…

I’d find Josh’s sketches, woodshed ideas simmering, waiting for warmer days…

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As spring birthdays approached, rug braiding was set aside, body parts assembled, taking the time to take doll-making a step beyond the still well-loved tiny “Rosehip” from the previous winter…

There’s a point at which a doll starts to feel alive, when it feels unkind to put them face-down to stitch on hair.  I wondered if my daughter was too old for this kind of armful of snuggle doll, the kind of doll I’d wanted to make when she was 4 or 5, when nary a stitch of time was free outside of home planning/building.  I had the pattern marked for years in Meg McElwee‘s book Growing Up Sew Liberated: Making Handmade Clothes and Projects for Your Creative Child.  I went with the better-ever-than-never approach, okay with the fact that I might be too late, that the doll might be relegated to the back of a shelf.

The doll gets no lack of love from her seven-year-old.  Now, 10 months later, at the end of every goodnight my girl still searches for that tangle of woolen hair and pulls the doll close, calling her nothing more than “Girl” and insisting they’re well snuggled in together before I start the specific songs she also insists upon.  I think of the many, many years my children would be up all hours of the night, and am ever thankful to send her off for a peaceful night (for all of us) with that woolly love and song.  And to watch her insist on stuffing all of Girl’s wool stuffiness into her bag for sleepovers, to see Girl appear at the breakfast table, to see her buckled into the car on the way to school.

I love making dolls.  This is no small irony, given the epic dismay of my child self at receiving a handmade doll (even one created to look like me, made by a friend of my aunt) instead of a coveted “Cabbage Patch” doll when I was somewhere around my daughter’s age.  I’ve put much thought into this, what makes a handmade doll treasured or not.  I can’t help but think at least part of it is knowing the raw materials, seeing and understanding the alchemy of the doll’s actual creation, seeing the time spent, the care and detail, that is so polar opposite from a mass manufactured version.  And seeing that it’s in one’s own power to create whatever version one can imagine, to not be confined by the predetermined selection on a shelf.   Things like being able to add a girl’s favored scent of dried lavender within layers of the wool stuffing.  Being able to change her eyes from brown to purple to green on several whims.  Being able to make her hair so luxuriously long her neck can barely support it.  Knowing how to mend her if said neck no longer supports said crazy long hair…

Seeing how a doll is made, yes.  And also the freedom of a home relatively free from outer messages that tell what one should like, what one should have, what will make one happy.  To be able to feel into what one likes, what makes one happy, what one can choose to surround oneself with when that choice comes from the messages one receives from within.  Again, this is ironic, given that my child self would have bemoaned the unfairness of not getting that hour of television each day that my oh-so-strict parents stuck to, so much less TV time than every other child in the universe, excepting those odd families who didn’t have a television at all.  My adult child self is finding that odd feels just about right these past several years.  It gives space to do and imagine and follow one’s own creative urge, that sometimes leads to many hands making many, many woolly dolls and doll clothing, little creations in many forms, with a jumping off point from Shelly Down’s My Felt Doll: 12 Easy Patterns for Wonderful Whimsical Dolls.  And more inspiration from the flower fairies and sprites diy kit of Imagine Childhood.

They are presents, sometimes whisked off and “tested” before finished.  They are characters, puppets in their own house built box by box, this one a princess, this one a fairy, this one named “Shadow” with weapons and armor, now a pirate.  Anything is possible, by anyone, reinforced when doll-making takes place next to the father who built their home and is now also working on his latest knitting creation…

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Knitting creations that have led to that father assisting with Handworks at their Waldorf school this year, heading off with them to help teach knitting, crocheting, cross-stitch, weaving, sewing, and then coming home to continue stitching together wooden pieces of their home.

But I’ve jumped ahead now haven’t I… how slippery that time can be…  When we were tucked in last winter making rugs and dolls and ear warmers and sketching home project ideas, none of us knew Josh’s passion for knitting would create a place for him within their much loved school.  Back then, as last winter waned to milder spring days, firewood gathering was top of mind, thinking ahead to this new winter we’re now within.

Snow continued to melt, again, and our internal wells of energy were refilled, about overflowing by the time songbirds poured back into this clearing.  Long-booted feet freed, Josh’s winter sketch was turned into a protected place to store that wood, blessedly free from any high pressure timeline.

I must pause here, because sometimes it feels worth living a moment a third time!  A boy resting on the roof he is creating, reaching for another nail, sister below using cross boards as balance beams…

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It feels fitting to leave this off, for now, at that point last spring when the green and heat and bugs and energy were starting to return, holding that thought as yet another round of snow comes down now.  Each day I reach for the wool headband Josh knit for me last winter, or one of the many wool hats he has made over the 8 years since he first learned, or the wool hat I crocheted with my sister, or a knit wool hat that was once Bill Coperthwaite’s.  Somehow, the more I surround myself and enfold myself in these creations, the more myself I become, snuggled within intentional handmade wooliness.  It is feeling much the same for the three round wooden roofs over our heads, a cultivated creative space from which to bring form to benches and bags and tables and firewood boxes and garden rooms and entry cubbies and wool mittens and rugs and knit socks and craft cupboards and herbal tinctures and wooden spoons/spatulas/spreaders and music and birch bark containers….and ourselves.  It’s quite reassuring and gratifying to realize how much more there is that feels worth a nod of remembering, a share.  Something tells me there will be more tucked in days ahead to explore and consider what simple living has been for us, is right now, and what might be yet to come.


6 thoughts on “A year in a wooden yurt

  1. I so look forward to your stories and am thrilled today was the day for the next chapter. I’ve wondered how you were all doing. I stop and take in these posts fully, they are a delight and so appreciate you sharing your world and adventures with us.

  2. So lovely to see an update, and I just drank it all in. We think of you often! You describe it all so beautifully, and I love the photos. And I love the new woodshed, and all seeing all the creativity in that beautiful yurt. Much love! Alison

  3. Very well written as always! Can’t wait for our next visit. It’s interesting how different a child and adults perceive the same situation. We took it for granted that we were seeing it the same way. The learning curve of parents! I love your view of things.
    With love, Dad

  4. I have followed your blog since the very beginning. In times of motivation or great distress, this has always been a safe space for me to take a big drink of perspective, knowing that I will leave feeling nourished. Your family has been a big inspiration to me, and it has been an absolute pleasure to take in each and every post (multiple times!)

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart 🙂

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