Build It And They Will Come
If my marriage can survive the building of a yurt it can survive anything. Twelve years ago my husband, step daughter and I were living downtown Denver in a tiny apartment. She was in third grade and we were both full time working college students. One morning we were at the library and my husband found a book titled “The Complete Yurt Making Handbook” by Paul King. He showed it me and said “this is our next project”. I rolled my eyes and laughed until I realized he was quite serious. We are both artists at heart so it didn’t take too much persuasion to get me on board. At this time neither one of us had ever built anything so it felt more like a dream rather than a reality.
Question: How do we build a yurt when we live in a small apartment in the middle of a big city? Answer: We become weekend warriors and use the woodshop, wood and land at my family’s home in Estes Park. My dad passed away a few years previous. He was a wood worker and a compulsive lumber collector. My mom was excited to have us come up on the weekends and utilize the wood shop and lumber. Step 2: Math, math and lots of math. How big do we go? Traditional Mongolian yurts are created to be nomadic so they are smaller and compact. My tall husband suggested that we Americanize this project so soon the math calculations became supersized.
If the husband may interject- I am not a woodworker. I am not a carpenter. When a nail doesn’t bend when I hit it, or a screw doesn’t split lumber when I drive it, I consider that to be a great outcome. Yurts (traditionally) use very few nails and very few screws. It was a match made in heaven as far as I was concerned. As with all worthwhile projects a healthy dose of ignorance, masquerading as an attitude of wonder and curiosity moves mountains, or at the very least will take a yurt over state lines a couple of times.
So, walking through the process.
Step 1, build some walls.
If you can imagine a very large lattice or baby gate, you have the right idea. The magic is that when you curve it into a semi-circle, it will make a very solid wall component. Cut the sticks to length. Drill hundreds of small holes. Feed string through the small holes, and tie knots. Build three (just to stress out traditional builders, only three).
Step 2 Roof poles.
If you’ve ever whittled a stick to make a pointy stick, you’ve got it. I misused an old jointer to do the work of a plane and made several progressively better (but far from perfect) roof poles that were kind of round on the bottom end and kind of square at the top. This is when I realized that I had no idea how to make a square hole for a square peg.
Step 3. Crown.
This, as the name would suggest, is important. It is like the cornerstone of the building, except that it weighs 60 pounds and goes 10 feet up in the air, not in the ground. Don’t screw this up. It needs to be round, allow for ventilation and keep out moisture, and it is a hub for around 50 poles. These need to be drilled at the right angle (50 times) and then chiseled square. Do screw it up, if you wish. I did, 2 or 3 times before driving to Gunnison and getting a carpenter’s help.
Step 4. Start sewing the canvas.
Use all your geometry to lay out an enormous pattern. Use the formulas for the area of cones and cylinders to order canvas. Cut everything out, with a warm spring sun warming your back. Begin sewing 13 ounce canvas on regular sewing machines. Feel the desperation build up, like the growing pile of broken sewing machine needles in the glass beside the sewing machine. Become a great sewing assistant. Flatter the person in the house with fine motor skills. Learn about industrial sewing machines. Seek them out. They will be your savior on this part of the journey. Sewing is the biggest part of this. Don’t ever forget that.
Step 5. Build a door and build a floor.
A whole bunch of 90 degree angles, except when they aren’t. Ever.
At the end of it all, it made a great building. In Estes Park, the wind howls, the snow dumps, and the yurt abides. The wind rolls around it, the snow melts off of it (eventually), and it keeps going.
Three years of blood sweat and tears, our baby was finally built! This is when I coined the term “if our marriage can survive a yurt building it can survive anything”. Located now in a small clearing behind our house, the yurt had found its permanent home. Decorated with tapestries, masks, rugs and art (many of which were donated by friends and lovers of the yurt) our baby has evolved into a beautiful space that has been a part of many important moments in our lives.
The yurt has been a gracious host to many special events over the years such as my step daughter’s first moon celebration, Summer Solstices, Winter Solstices, New Yurts Eve’s, jam sessions, guest house, life celebrations, Reiki healings, Spanish classes, business meetings, yoga, dancing and prayer groups. Being compact and portable and able to fit in the back of my small Ford Ranger, our yurt has graced the presence of many festivals and was always a crowd pleaser with our tent living neighbors when the thunderstorms came in.
I would like to say that maintenance on our yurt is easy but once every June it’s nothing of the sort. We tear it down, launder the tapestries and rugs, clean out the stove pipe, make whatever repairs are needed on the canvas and woodwork and put it back up. The tear down takes about three hours and a case of cheap beer. The rebuild takes another three hours and the redecorating always takes me much longer than it should, this is when I catch up on all of my missed This American Life episodes. Tearing it down and putting it back up every year not only cleans and tightens the structure but it gives us a chance to build it with specific spiritual intent for the year. We use sacred geometry, meditation, and prayers to build the energies we want into the structure. The yurt has become a sacred place for not only our family but for our loved ones as well.
Someone said, “Build it and they will come.”, and they have! We found a way to channel our energy into a space that restores our energy, brings us joy, and skirts building codes and zoning regulations by the slimmest whisker imaginable. Did we build this for us? We thought so in the beginning, but it has become a beloved space for our whole tribe. Long conversations and losing track of time are the norm there. It has become a sacred space for celebration and for mourning, for prayers and meditation, for dance and music, for laughter and healing.