Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Coming Full Circle, or: To Build a Yurt

In my composition class, we were required to write an essay describing a pivotal point in our lives. Following is the account of my decision to live off grid in a yurt:

My dog greeted me enthusiastically as I dragged myself through the front door of my house sore, dirty, and physically and mentally beaten. I paid her no attention. I flipped on the computer, grabbed a beer, and plopped down to shoot some zombies. I then paused for a moment to consider my life. My wife had left me for her now girlfriend. I was working a job that, while lucrative and challenging was unfulfilling and slowly destroying my body. Sure, I was going to school to become an engineer and finally do something that I liked, but that was far off and I had no way to pay for it. My plan to work while my wife went to school and then switch off when she graduated had a flaw or two in it now. I was stuck in a lease for a two bedroom house that was far too big, full of too much furniture and unnecessary possessions. I was living the wasteful, foreign energy dependent life that I had always been so vocal against. I was floating through life, simply existing, with no direction. My life was bloated and fat. Something had to change.

I needed a miracle diet for my life. So I contemplated my options. I considered moving to Alaska and repairing airplanes, moving to a big city and getting lost in the crowd, and moving to the mountains and being a hermit. There were problems with all of these, though. I despise repairing aircraft, I can't stand big cities or crowds, and I actually like most people. I realized that I couldn't simply run away. Anywhere I moved, my problems would remain.

This needed to be a lifestyle change, a slimming down of sorts- a going back to the basics. I didn't need that much space. I didn't need all those possessions. I thought perhaps I could get a small apartment or roommates. I then remembered that I hate apartments and am far too independent for roommates. I needed somewhere cheap, somewhere small, that I could have my workshop to build projects while I was in school. I suddenly remembered my best friend Fuzzy, a short bearded man who more than a little resembles Gimli from The Lord of The Rings. We were at the Sustainable Living Fair shortly after my divorce, wishing we could afford to live sustainably. "Hey, you could live in a yurt!," he told me, "Nothing holding you back now."

Why would I want to live in a portable Mongolian hut? The thought was both jarring and absurd. Where did that come from? I glared accusingly at my beer, half empty, and checked the alcohol content. I considered other things, and each time, I came back to the yurt. Each time it made even more sense. A yurt is small, but round, so there is no wasted space in corners. Well insulated and built to withstand Siberian winters, it would be more than cozy in the winter. It would be a perfect test bed for my chemical-free wind power system that I was developing. I could get wireless internet service and stay connected. Not only would this be a cheap way to live while going to college, but it could also be entirely sustainable! I had already done the research. I already had the skills to build it. I was going to live off grid in a yurt! I then got a grip on myself. This was insanity. I tried to convince myself that the idea was purely a knee-jerk reaction to the divorce. Finally, I dispelled the notion, drank the rest of my beer, and shot my zombies.

In spite of this, I found myself daydreaming more and more about the yurt over the next several weeks. Each time I thought of it, I jumped one more obstacle, solved one more problem. Eventually, I had a fully-formed and workable plan. The idea had persisted long enough that I knew that it could not simply be a knee-jerk reaction. I had to tell someone, to see if I was crazy or if it really was a good idea. So I ran it by my dog, Cider. She listened intently, one ear perked up and head cocked to the side, while I spelled out my plan. She paused for a moment when I was done, then ran out of the room and brought back her tennis ball as if ready to move in that instant. The rest of my friends were not as easy. I got reactions ranging from enthusiastic agreement and offers of help to quizzical silence, as if they were waiting for the punchline. All eventually came around and supported and assisted me as I worked out problems, drafted plans, and researched building and health codes.

It is now four months ETY(Estimated Time to Yurt) and counting. I get home from work, still tired, but no longer beaten. I still grab a beer but this time settle down with a building code book, Walden, or a tongue-in-cheek volume about composting gastric byproducts. I reach down to pet Cider, patiently waiting with tennis ball in mouth, and reflect on the changes of the last few months. From an outside point of view, my situation has actually gotten worse. I have even less money, only a part-time job that's even worse that the last, and yet somehow I feel at peace. No longer do I drift through life aimlessly and unaware. I'm focused, driven, and conscious of how I affect my world. I look forward to my next busy day, whether I'm going to school, working, or scrounging for materials. I view each day not as simply another day, but as a potentially better one. I now have a plan, and am going to be all right.

The next several posts will detail my plans for the yurt, system by sytem. I'll start with the main structure, then move on to the internal bits(electrical, plumbing, etc.). Till next time...


  1. If you need a helping hand let me know. good lock

  2. Yeah, totally. If you need a helping hand let Stacey know.

  3. This looks a lot better on Firefox! I look forward to checking in frequently and witnessing your progress. What a grand and worthy adventure.


  4. We welcome you as a follower of An Eclectic Life. We commend you on your decision to live in an off grid dwelling. (yurt) Living an "alternative, sustainable lifestyle" will always raise eyebrows, but what a better way to live?! We look forward to hearing from you and checking in on your progress.