Overhead, the Fire Hole
|A ger at night, aglow.|
My yurt is modern—no yak hair, buttered with unspeakable lards—and no wolf skulls and rugs decorating the interior, although I wouldn’t mind it. It has a Gortex exterior, insulated with something that looks a bit like bubble wrap, and a thinner, interior wall that hangs on a cross-hatch called a “baby gate” for the way it looks once unwound from the packaging. I ordered it online, after touring a smaller yurt in a neighboring county. And to be honest, the idea of a yurt wasn’t my first concept of a special place to write. I wanted a little writer’s cottage that could be landscaped to look like something out of the French countryside.
I had my eye on the back of our acre for a long time. My father had a number of interesting little projects there at any given time. He first devised a “park” there for my daughters when they were very small. He laid in sod and roses and irises around an old walnut tree, where they swung on funky swings and sang silly little songs to the neighborhood wildlife—deer, foxes, skunks, raccoons, squirrels, and bullfrogs. After the girls grew up and my mother died, he cut down the walnut tree and refashioned the area into a meditation garden with a bench, a crude Torii gate (we lived in Japan when I was a child) and yellow roses in memory of my mother. At the center was a three-foot high Kwan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, to whom he would tell his troubles.
He grew increasingly frail, unable to go to his space to meditate. Dad suggested we might want to build my study out there, an idea I loved. As our search for acceptable structures grew more frustrating, a short article was published in This Old House magazine about the beauty of a modern yurt. We researched county codes and could find nothing to prohibit the raising of a temporary structure. My idea was born in February. By March, the wheels were in motion and I had settled on Pacific Yurts as the company to make my yurt.
There were many custom options. Modern yurts no longer have fire holes, but they do have an option for a crank-open acrylic dome. Ventilation and beauty! The yurt kit contains other options which I ordered—windows with matching Gortex covers applied with Velcro, which allows some shade and certainly protects against the cold. I chose a double set of double doors with windows, also for beauty and air circulation. Where my yurt is situated, there is scant shade, so this was essential. And the colors! I lingered over a deep green, a sand brown, and a terra cotta earth color. With our adobe dirt, it seemed that terra cotta was the only choice.
I took pictures and fabric samples around to the neighbors, who had left their yards open to ours for a good view of the woods. One was divided by a cyclone fence, another by a low, split level fence. After we had buy-in (or so we thought), we ordered the yurt kit and called friends to join us in a yurt raising. By October, we had already put in a platform for the deck, knowing how easily the area flooded. A couple of weeks later, about a half dozen folks showed up; without them, there would be no yurt! It was a fascinating and simple process, which quickly became complex, given the eccentric nature of our friends.
The men lugged the heavy stuff (after a single Fed Ex delivery woman got the behemoth crates of material off the back of her semi.) One of my friends, a stickler for detail, quickly became the reader of the manual.
|St Peter in the halo of Gert the Yurt|
And so it went. The yurt went up quickly, and we spent the next couple of weeks tightening cables and bolts that installed a “semi-storm rafter system” of timbers that has saved it from blowing over in wind storms.
By this time, our formerly agreeable neighbors were calling to express, variously, “the invasive nature of that thing,” or my personal favorite, “it looks like the circus has come to town.” One neighbor instantly put up a badly built pre-fab fence with lattice extensions. But nothing would hide Gert. Eventually, everyone came to accept the yurt, once they were able to accept that it wasn’t built as a platform to invade their privacy or as a tent where fortunes might be told. These days, I can best describe their emotional reactions as yurt envy.
None of that matters now that I’ve spent four years writing in this sacred space. I’ve only allowed my daughter, her husband and their kids to sleep in it once. I prefer to separate the dreams of others from my own. As a creative writer, I need all the flights of my own imagination that my sub-consciousness can hold.
When I first wrote in the yurt, I had not retired yet. I worked for a loan corporation and conducted conference calls and wrote products in the yurt. Once I retired, I still took freelance assignments for private foundations for a year or two, investigating proposals and grant seekers from my “tent in the woods.” Finally, came the time for me to write solely for myself. What great abandon I have in this structure, this round house of spirit and space!
The experience of writing poetry in a yurt is mystical. One of my first big projects was in collaboration with the painter Mario Uribe—a Buddhist tea master who paints the Zen circular symbol called an ensô. Mario brought 24 paintings he had created in 24 hours and asked me to write on them. I was sure I would be sent to hell for such a thing! I kept them quite a while, laying them out in a circle, meditating on them, arranging them as I saw fit. As time went on, I started to whittle down the bloated poetry (which had grown to over 30 pages by that point) to 24 lines, one for each painting. The simplicity of this exercise was cleansing, beautiful, intelligent.
After 24 weeks, I returned the paintings with the lines written on them in my clumsy hand. They were exhibited, photographed for prints, and we were approached a Chinese art book publisher about a book. The book took almost two years to come to life—about 24 months. Finally, it arrived and debuted on June 24. After this experience, I knew I was meant to write out my days in the quiet and grace of this structure.
I wrote another book of poetry in the yurt before the Ensô book, a compilation of epistolary poems I had been writing for years, Letters to Pablo Neruda. This was also a winnowing experience. I chose 50 favorites from 500 poems. Both books have a pleasing and graceful look, all born in my magical space. From my desk, a semi-circular, I look into the woods behind us. Some mornings, quail perch on the Hopi statue in the garden. From spring to fall, the garden spreads to my left, the leafy, small vineyard my father left on both sides.
The yurt is not always hospitable. It can be very cold in the winter (I once slipped and fell, hard, on the icy deck) and it can be hellishly hot in the height of summer. When it’s that hot, I change my writing hours to the evening or early morning hours.
And the yurt has a life of its own. In wind storms, I open the skylight slightly so that it can breathe—which it does noisily. Sometimes, there is the faintest whistle that comes when a breeze drifts by, perhaps the muse bending over me, singing, “write, write, write.”