Ava, Missouri – May 25, 1999
It takes some time but eventually we see the end of the flu. I come out of it first, in time to take care of the family. Daegan recovers enough a few days later for us to spend some time together. We’re building up a routine now. If the weather is nice we make a fire outside in a spot near the RV and make breakfast, usually pancakes. Daegan’s still nursing but is beginning to get curious about solid foods so we let him try small pieces of what we’re having. Most notably, after making a batch of mujadara (Lebanese-style lentils, rice, and onions), he clearly refuses to eat it without having sriracha on it like his parents do. In a lot of ways, he is not the baby we expected.
After breakfast I put him in the sling, and we go out for a walk. As we walk we can smell the smoke from our morning’s fire. We may seem to be wandering aimlessly but I do have a purpose in the back of my mind. We need to find a place to put our more permanent house. The lot our friends have is 40 acres so there’s a fair bit of space to choose from. Some is flat, but much is not: it’s not called the Ozark mountains for nothing. Still, we find a couple of candidates.
The first place I find is a couple minutes walk from the house. In the spring a small creek runs there and it’s lovely to see. I imagine hearing it running while we sleep.
Then I also imagine it flooding our house while we sleep. It’s also a little close to our friend’s house. We’re looking forward to having our own space.
One day I head east along what looks like a deer path. I walk back and forth through the forest until I get to a spot that seems relatively flat and clear with no huge trees we’d need to cut down to clear it. I take some pictures and go back to see Sage who is still recovering:
Sage likes it and a few days later when she’s feeling better I take her out there along with the woman who owns the land to make sure she’s OK with our living here. It’s all good. We’ve got a place to live.
This is a good thing because we can’t rent this RV forever. It costs about $300/month – our entire living budget. We have some savings but we need to make some permanent arrangements if we don’t want to eat up all of our savings at once. I’m a bit paralyzed with the decision. Before I left a straw bale house sounded amazing and was my favourite idea.
It would be like building with Lego bricks and once built would have amazing insulation in the summer heat and winter cold. But that’s a lot of work. There’s a foundation to dig and pour, there’s stacking and pinning the bales, and then putting vapor barrier and stucco over the whole thing – and cross your fingers and hope that the spring rains don’t make everything mould before you have it all sealed up tight. It’s pretty and cool, but more than I can handle and not practical.
The next option is one many friends of ours have done: Buy a regular garden shed and have it delivered. Cut some windows in it, add a small wood stove and/or gas heater along with some insulation and voila. Instant home. Run an indoor/outdoor extension cord from the nearest building and you even have electricity.
This is actually the type of living that made me realizing that a full sized house wasn’t something everyone needed. The price was reasonable as well – but there was one big drawback. We couldn’t put it in the location we found. You have to be able to drive a truck there. So living this way we would end up basically living in the driveway a short distance from the house. This is nobody’s vision for how our next few years will go.
Finally, we find a solution that will work for everyone: a yurt. It comes in kit form and most of the pieces are fairly small – they can be carried by 1-2 people with relative ease. One 20 foot diameter one happens to be on sale as well so we get it for $7,500. It sounds like a lot at first but then we think it through. We are buying a home outright for less than the price of a car. We put the order in and send the payment out.
The next step is to make a round deck to put it on. The yurt manufacturer sends us some general plans. I look at them and they’re mostly Greek to me. Before I left work I could have told you how a freeze dryer works to make powdered pharmaceuticals or how to grow 1,500 litres of genetically engineered cells to make antibodies, then filter and concentrate them down and make them ready for sale. But making a wooden deck was too much for me. Fortunately our friend Q came to the rescue. She’d been doing carpentry for many years. She knew how to translate the instructions in to tasks we could do and so, over the course of a few weeks (taking breaks for bad weather), we followed her instructions and stood back while she used the power tools:
“Go to town and pick up a bunch of concrete “Big Foot” footing blocks and put in an order for lumber and oak for the subfloor. Lay out the footing blocks on the ground according to the map I give you. I will cut 4 x 4 posts out here by the house where the electricity is. You carry them in and place them in the footings. These will level the floor.”
“Now take the boards I give you and nail them to the sides of the footing posts so that they hold them straight up and in place.”
“Now we’ll take the floor joists out and lay them in formation. I’ll work with you to make sure they come out level. You don’t want your floors sloping…”
“Now take all of the oak subfloor boards we bought and nail them perpendicular to the joists until it is completely covered. When that’s done, take a layer of tar paper and staple that to it. Finally, put foam board insulation over the top. When that’s done, call me and I will bring a generator and my saw out and I’ll cut it in to a circle for you.”
“OK you need to take a break. The truck driver just called. He’s at the bottom of the big driveway and there’s no way he can get his 10 wheeler all the way up the big hill to the house. We need to transfer the load from his truck in to our pickup and bring it up the hill. We’re going to need to finish that deck soon. We can’t keep the yurt in the garage forever.”
“Now take the plywood we bought and paint it with polyurethane to keep it clean. When that’s done, carry it out to the deck. I’ll screw them down as you carry them out.”
Once the floor is down it is time to cut it in to a circle one more time and then put a thin vertical board around the outside. This will be what we would screw the sides of the yurt in to and what would help keep the weather out.
All in all it takes us several weeks with Sage and I taking turns doing some of the time-consuming work like carrying wood or nailing down floor boards while the other entertains Daegan. Sometimes Kite, Sage’s mom, hangs out with him and we can both work at the same time.
We watch the weather and figure out a weekend that will have the weather we need to build our space and then invite our friends over for a yurt raising. It starts one morning about 11 AM, and we progress, carrying pieces of the yurt out to the site, Q directing everyone as to what to do. So many women have arrived that there are enough people to work on setting up the yurt and a whole crew of others to relieve them when they want a break. I spend most of my time caring for Daegan, letting him see what’s going on as our house is built. One of the biggest and heaviest pieces, the wall, has to be brought out and I do get to help with that. This piece is easily 8 feet long and weighs several hundred pounds. We have to carry it about 500 feet. It takes us a bit to figure it out but finally a solution reveals itself – right on our bed. If we put the wall on the blanket we sleep under , six of us could carry the wall at once. And like magic, out it went in to the site.
That blanket will be on our bed for nearly twenty more years before it finally wears out. Now a piece of that blanket sits on my wall behind the photo above.
This is a child and granny-friendly worksite.
Once the frame is up, the walls are hung – first an inner nylon wall to face inside, a layer of Reflectix insulation (like bubble-wrap with foil on the outside), and then a heavy canvas layer. The roof is a heavy rubber and is one of the harder portions for people to do as it had to be hauled all the way to the top. Finally, the dome was installed and we have a home. It takes about 12 hours over the course of a weekend to get it completed and we’re there.
The day we finish we put down one more coat of white polyurethane on the floor and let it dry overnight. We move in the next day:
Daegan is clearly happy here:
We may be moved in, but it will be some time before we have our life figured out. The logistics of living without electricity, indoor plumbing, running water, a proper kitchen, and a regular job may take some time to get completely figured out.
Want more stories about our adventure leaving suburbia and moving with our baby to a yurt in the woods? Visit this page.