Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Yurt Life

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Yurt in the Winter

yurt |yoŏrt; yərt|
noun
a circular tent of felt or skins on a collapsible framework, used by nomads in Mongolia, Siberia, and Turkey

Mike and I have been discussing the possibility of building a yurt for about a year. Our intention is to build as much of it ourselves as we can, set it up before next winter, and live off-grid for a while. As you can imagine, we have received a very mixed bag of reactions from our friends and family. When we mention that we plan to live in a yurt, some people light up excitedly and express sincere happiness for us while others suddenly transform into broody teenagers who disagree with anything abnormal and hit us with “the look”. You know the look: think back to high school and imagine that one guy or girl who refused to accept anyone or anything new – the judgemental stare down that you received from them as a teen when you tried to do something out of the box is the same look we have received from a few of our friends. Thankfully, the most common reaction is not “the look” but is both well-intentioned and humourous: an awkward, high-pitched, if not flustered “Oh…that’s interesting.” This is perhaps the best reaction one could give because it is painfully obvious to us that this person can imagine nothing worse than living in a yurt, yet they still try to encourage us in our endeavours. Regardless of the reaction, people have a lot of questions that I have tried to answer the best I can.

Yurta Interior

What will you do in the winter?
The yurt will be very well insulated (well insulated for a tent, at least) with layers of wool felt and canvas. It will protect us from the elements while [hopefully] keeping the heat in. We bought a Rayburn wood stove a while ago that we will use as our cooking stove, hot water heater and boiler (for radiators). Evidently, when the fire has not been stoked for a while the yurt will feel like a round ice box, so wool sweaters and socks will abound, but we should be able to live comfortably the rest of the time.

What about electricity?
We are looking into a few options – solar panels, stationary bikes, and using our truck to charge deep-cycle batteries and we have a few oil lamps that will provide us with light sans electricity. We will have to cut back on our electricity usage – a lot – in order to live in the yurt, but this feels like an adventure so it seems fun. We have a gramophone and a pile of records, so even on the days when we have absolutely no power stored up, we can listen to music. My laptop can be charged at work or the library, and our cell phone can be charged in the car.

What will you do about a bathroom?
This has been one of my questions as well, and is perhaps the most difficult to answer because I only know theoretically what we plan to do – Mike is the mastermind and has a plan. He intends to build a cistern or water tank to hold rain water that will be heated by the Rayburn; this water will be used for dishes and showers. A composting toilet seems is the favoured option, as far as toilets go, as it uses no water, is practical in a yurt, and apparently does not smell. The bathroom is the part that most people will get hung up on, and that is completely understandable.

Yurt Interior

What will you do for potable water?
Eventually, it would be nice to filter our own rain water, however, for the time being, we will fill up jugs of water in town.

Obviously, the yurt life is not for everyone. Maybe it isn’t even for us. We might get into our yurt and decide after a year that we don’t like the lifestyle. For now, however, the benefits of a nomadic, off-grid home far outweigh the disadvantages and we are really excited about the whole process.

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Bush Goggles

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bush goggles: noun
1.      referring to a state of mind that occurs after one has been confined in the woods for a prolonged period of time with the same group of people

Bush goggles affect us in a few different ways: how we view ourselves, how we view others of the same sex, and how we view the opposite sex.

How We See Ourselves

There aren’t many mirrors in camp, so it is easy to forget what you look like. And since you can’t actually see what you look like it, it is easy to pretend that you look much better than you do in reality. This is one of the best things about bush goggles – you see how filthy and unkempt everyone else is while still maintaining that you yourself are quite well put together. You couldn’t possibly look as filthy and exhausted as everyone else, so you imagine yourself in a much more sympathetic light. What looks like a dirty bird’s nest to those around you is imagined as a sexy, voluminous mane in your own mind; a tired face made streaky from a mixture of dirt, sunscreen and sweat is believed to be fresh, youthful and glowing; and ripped, bleach-stained clothing is pictured as laid-back and cute.

How We See Others

Beauty is not something a girl can paint onto herself in the woods – she must earn it. A girl is not beautiful because of how polished she is; she is beautiful becauseof how unpolished she is – dirt and grime are marks of beauty that one can be proud to wear. If a girl spends time each morning putting on makeup, fixing her hair and creating her outfit before she ventures out onto the block, she is thought ridiculous by the other women in camp. On the other hand, if she crawls out of her sleeping bag into yesterday’s clothes and migrates to the breakfast table in a matter of minutes, she is highly regarded by the other members of her sex. In a sense, disheveled women love company much in the same way that misery loves company; the more ragged those around you become, the more ragged you yourself are allowed to be.

How We See the Opposite Sex

Despite knowing that the men look sun-wrecked, tired, and overly too hairy, most of the women in camp can’t help but feel that many of the men are attractive. Men aren’t restricted when bush goggles are present. It is somehow socially acceptable to look like a patchy criminal when in the woods. The men appear to unite in order to convince the women that a sketchy outward appearance is completely normal. Women begin accepting wild beards, unwashed bodies (for weeks on end) and terribly unflattering clothing as the norm. In fact, they soon start believing that these men are not only tolerable, but handsome! Rather than shunning men that one would literally run away from in the real world, one instead finds them to be surprisingly attractive. I can only describe this to be the result of careful acts performed by a mind-ninja (read: a veteran treeplanter).

One day I will write about what happens when a group of bush-goggle wearing planters emerge from the woodsun into a world of non-bush-goggle wearing individuals.

An Introduction to Treeplanting

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After a year of academia, my husband and I decided that it would be wise to seek a change of pace and scenery for a while. As a seasoned planting veteran, Mike could think of no better way to spend the summer than surrounded by good friends and trees (despite having already “retired” from planting). So, we took on a cooking position as a pair – we would share the responsibility of cooking supper for 50 planters. We bought a small Boler, packed it full of books, musical instruments, sweaters, and food, and set off on our adventure only hours after my final exams.

Four days of driving finally brought us to our destination: the parking lot of a small, run-down motel in Northern Alberta. In a matter of 48-hours,  the parking lot changed from a barren wasteland to a colourful carnival of  nearly a hundred young adults garbed in woolen sweaters, bandanas and gaiters.

Most treeplanters, I observed, are twenty-somethings who enjoy the outdoors, want to give their minds a rest, and are not afraid of hard work. Each prepared for the planting season in his or her own way; shovels were shortened, bags were beaten, and boots were equipped with spikes. Nearly all of the planters accepted the job in hopes of making a large amount of money in a short amount of time. Unfortunately for all of us, however, the snow had not yet melted and we were stuck waiting around the motel until the ground was thawed enough to be sown.

Since most of us were on our last five dollars, standards and expectations became quite low. What would normally be thought of as a hole-in-the-ground establishment suddenly became a comfortable, cushy home for an undetermined number of days. Several planters crammed themselves into four-person rooms in order to save as much money as possible and I learned that if there is a television and small space on the floor on which to sleep, everyone is quite content.

During these couple of weeks of limbo, our friends kindly consented to letting us to use their washroom in their already cramped hotel room, allowing us to happily live out of our 13′ Boler. Each night brought new entertainment: the “hippie” planters from another company moved in for a few nights and entertained us with their circus theatrics (literally – fire juggling, flashy clothing and a unicycle), while other nights were seasoned with dramatics put on by the locals. A camp in the middle of nowhere was a very welcome change once we finally got there.

We set up our camp beside a beautiful lake surrounded by forested islands: a place of beauty and bugs. Small black flies were re-named “Sky Wolves” in an attempt to describe the terror they were unleashing on all of us. It was not uncommon for planters to return home at the end of the day covered with so many bug bites that their faces had taken new shape. One planter in particular – a tall, slim girl with delicate facial features – turned into a female Quasimodo at the unmerciful chomping jaws of the bugs. Her eyes swelled nearly shut, the sides of her face puffed so much that she had no distinguishable cheekbones, and her neck looked as if it had succumbed to a tropical disease.

Despite the changes in comfort that were taking place, camp life very quickly became normal. Outhouses (as well as holes in the forest floor) soon became just as comfortable as washrooms with indoor plumbing; meanwhile, laundry was contentedly washed by hand in an old bucket and hung in the trees to dry. Hairy legs became not only acceptable, but encouraged, and unwashed hair ceased to be a good indication of one’s general cleanliness. Dirt, Watkins and sunscreen became the new makeup that slowly transformed the girls into outwardly filthy, yet inwardly confident, women. I will discuss this phenomenon as well as explain the glorious concept of “Bush Goggles” in my next post…stay tuned.