Yurt Years: Daegan’s Instincts

September 1999 – Ava, Missouri

We’re getting to a pretty decent routine of living – all of the necessities are covered. Cooking is now done on a gas stove, we have gravity fed “running water” (cold only) from a jug near our sink that runs down the drain and outside. My day even has a bit of a routine:

I wake up, make coffee for myself, and start pancakes for the family. Usually they are made of a mixture of cornmeal and buckwheat flour. They’re pretty heavy but with a bit of peanut butter they stick with you for the whole morning.


Once that is done I’ll grab two 7 gallon water jugs and take them to the hose outside the house and fill them up with the day’s water. They each weigh about 75 lbs but after a few weeks of doing this every day, Sage and I can both manage to carry them the 500 feet to the yurt with relative ease.

With food, coffee, and water taken care of for the whole family, Sage goes off to “work” where she does web design for a few local businesses. She’ll go to our friend’s house, work on our computer, and while she’s there she’ll print out my emails. I will answer them in writing and she’ll transcribe them on her next trip. While she’s gone the day can vary. Sometimes it might just be playing with Daegan or reading to him while music plays. Other days we’ll pack up our things and head out with him in the sling, to explore the woods. I bring a bow saw on some of these trips and cut wood for campfires and our eventual wood stove. Somewhere in there lunch happens. In the summer it’s been something as cold as we can get. Often it is a simple pasta salad made of spiral pasta (rinsed in cold water to cool it down), a few veggies cut up in it, maybe some beans and Italian salad dressing mixed in. Daegan rarely naps, but if there’s a chance of it it’ll be a walk in the sling that does it. To try to get some time for myself I’ll try this most days. I’d say once a week he will fall asleep and I’ll spend an hour or two relaxing in the hammock with a book and coffee.

As the afternoon comes, Sage returns and I start to think about making dinner. On this day I have a bit of tofu in the “fridge”, a cooler I buried in the ground nearby. There’s a tarp over it in the summer to keep the worst of the summer sun from heating things up. You have to be careful, though, when you’re there. In recent days a pygmy rattlesnake seems to have moved in. You can hear her rattle when you get close by. But we’ve worked out an understanding. I haven’t hurt her and she hasn’t bitten me so we’re good.


I pull out two pounds of tofu and notice that the jug of water normally frozen to keep things cool is quite warm as is the tofu. But it’s fine, I’m sure. I go inside and start dinner, fry some onions and garlic and add some jerk seasoning I found a jar of some time ago. It smells deliciously of nutmeg and chillies and I am looking forward to it. As I add the tofu to the pot, I start some brown rice in another pot.

Dinner is ready and it smells delicious. The jerk tofu has a bit of sauce with it that tastes delicious spooned over the rice. I offer a bowl to Sage who says “Jerk sauce isn’t really my thing, it smells good though!” and makes her own dinner. That leaves Daegan and I. I get him a bowl and set on the floor in front of him. I get up from the spot where we’re eating to get myself a bowl, and as I turn back around I see Daegan. He’s now peeing in his bowl of tofu. He may be barely old enough to stand steadily, but his aim is impeccable – none is going on the floor or anywhere else. Just in the food. As there’s none left, I end up washing his bowl, and Sage shares her dinner with him. I will be the only person to enjoy tonight’s dinner, clearly.

We have a wonderful night, listening to the BBC on our short wave radio and Sage crochets by the light of two oil lamps.


Not long after the sun sets, we’re all sleepy so off to bed we go.  At just after midnight I wake up and realize I have to pee. This isn’t unusual. Just get up, walk in to the bushes and go. Except tonight. Tonight I stand up and the world spins like a carnival ride. As I fall to the floor, I realize not only do I have to pee, I’m also going to be sick. I crawl out the door as quickly as I can, trying my best to crawl in a straight line, making it outside just in time. The sound wakes Sage and she comes to check on me, remarking that I feel quite feverish.

I make my way back inside and have a fitful sleep filled with fever dreams. When I wake, I am unable to eat anything and to drink much more than the tiniest bit of water, most of which doesn’t stay down. I feel a little better toward the end of the day and am told I’m invited to use the shower in the house if I’d like (usually we bathe outside using a solar shower or bucket). The luxury sounds amazing. I find a walking stick and slowly proceed to the house along the path that just days before I strode along carrying 150 lbs of water. Now I am leaning heavily on my stick. The shower is nice but by the time I get home to the yurt I am exhausted and discouraged. And I throw up again.

It takes three days before I’m able to eat my first solid food. Sage, who doesn’t usually make me dinner, makes me cabbage dal and rice – one of my favourites – and it feels like the most luxurious feast.

Meanwhile, Sage and Daegan, who avoided the tofu before, never got sick. Perhaps Daegan, who had yet to learn to speak, was trying to communicate in the most effective way he knew how, that the jerk tofu was to be avoided.

4 thoughts on “Yurt Years: Daegan’s Instincts

    1. I know, right? He may have been doing it in an unconventional way but looking back his message was *extremely* clear. To this day he’s always had a bit of a sense for freshness of food like that. I do listen to him now, you bet!

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