I first heard about yurts in a conversation with Sean Gaultois when we used to be
office mates back in the 90's. I was in my 'tarp as a shelter' phase
and making little domiciles in my backyard with all sorts of left-over
rope and nylon tarps. I really liked the idea that you could make
something quite substantial out of a few basic materials.
What strikes me most about a yurt is the basic
structure. Like a bicycle, the design is more than time-tested and has
hasn't changed much since it's inception. Circles, triangles and arches
are the most efficient shapes and we have used them for shelter (igloos, teepees, yurts) and
transportation (carts, bridges, bikes) since we crawled out of caves.
I have it in the back of my mind to build a yurt as the first structure
on a small woodlot I hope to buy in the Valley a few years after I leave
Dalhousie. When the chance came up to get hands-on
experience in Nova Scotia, I immediately signed up and told Sean. He
and his wife Sarah also signed up as they have some land on the Noel
shore and are looking to build a timber-frame house, with the yurt more of a small shed.
The workshop is put on by Alex and Selene at Little Foot Yurts
and it was a great weekend all around. The food was fantastic, the
people very interesting and the whole experience had quite an effect on
me then, and I am hoping will continue to help bend and shape what I do
and who I am over the next number of years.
The weekend was busy and yet quite laid back at the same time. We
all met for a pot-luck supper on Friday and everyone got to know a bit
about the other participants. We then watched Mujaan (The Craftsman),
a movie about a man called Sukhé
making a yurt from scratch in some part of Mongolia. When
you get right down to it, the yurt was made with some wood, some rope,
some wool, lots of labour and a few hand tools. Simplicity itself.
Watching buddy split 12" logs with a hand-axe and some home-made wooden mallets and wedges
blew me away. My father was a power-tool guy from the get-go. If I
thought a yurt was the coolest design ever, finding out that it could be
built with simple tools...Man, I'm hooked.
Friday nite, we headed out to the workshop site, which involved a
covered work area, 2 yurts and a small cabin with a wood stove that would serve as Selene's
kitchen. Each yurt had a wood stove and a small lamp run off a deep-cell
battery. An outhouse provided the washroom facilities.
Friday nite's entertainment was provided by Sarah on guitar, Paul on
guitar and harmonica, Jake on bongo, Rémi on guitar and bongo and Ken on
berimbau, an instrument I had never even heard of much less seen and
heard. A very cool evening.
We had 7 people sleeping in our 17' foot, which still left a lot of
room. When the other 'croo came over for the music, we had 13 people in
there with still lots of room. It's hard to realize just how open these structures are
until you're in one. My favorite view was the light canvas covering the
tono wheel made out of bent ash. Nice way to go to sleep.
Saturday morning, we all filled up on serious coffee, more serious oatmeal, apple
sauce, yogurt, juices and home-made bread. Just what you need to spend
the rest of the day outside, working on your first yurt.
The food was being provided by Selene, using just that wood stove. Delicious, hot
soup and bread for lunch, ongoing muffins, tea, squares and brownies, a
wonderful curry dish for dinner. The food really was as memorable as the
While Alex covered the classtime and outdoor teaching,
Selene was in charge of everything else, including
the agenda and timing and class participation. Us Canadians can be quite
shy in groups, and she structured the talks so that everyone was
encouraged to open up a little about themselves and offer their
opinions on some of the issues that were being discussed. This workshop
was about more than yurts, it was about woodland management, ecological
footprint, lifestyle sustainability and the health of the planet, things
we have gotten away from in the past few generations. While it is
obvious to most people that the planet's inhabitants can't keep using up
resources as we currently do, it is people like Alex and Selene that are
trying to bring back skills and attitudes that make sense for our very
Building a yurt takes time. While the ingredients are simple enough, it's
hard to realize just how much labor is involved until you actually start
building one. Alex was a great teacher, lots of skills, tons of
enthusiasm and a strong committent to making sure we each got our hands
dirty with the various tasks involved. His ability to adjust to the
situation or 'MacGyver' a solution to a problem was a skill to be
admired. I wish I had taken pictures of his steam-box and forge, Lee
Valley be damned. The man is unstoppable!
Saturday was spent making a kana or wall section, building a green-wood
break, constructing a small yurt (including our new wall) and enjoying a walk in the
woods to identify tree types and learning about coppicing. There was
also a nice mix of class time, which allowed us to get lots of
background on what we were doing. The day got a little long when we had to start
doing math to figure
the length of wood poles and just how many of them it took to build a
wall that would give you the size of yurt you wanted. The good news is that we finished putting
together a yurt, including the wall section we had built and got to see the results of our handiwork.
Sunday, we had another kick-ass breakfast, some classes and time spent
cleaning the bark off of wood poles using our newly built green-wood
breaks and some drawknives. The work was again much slower than
anticipated. We also got to work on some red maple, to see the
difference that hardwood makes, harder to make long peels, but easier
overall to clean, as the wood has more resistance.
We also got to use a froe and split some nice, long ash logs, just like
the guy in the video. How cool is that!
How much did I like this workshop? I really liked the agenda, which had us
getting to know each other in a very short period of time. I liked the
back and forth mix of class time and field time. I was very impressed
with the enthusiasm and knowledge that both Alex and Selene exhibited.
We had a lot to learn and they put together a workshop that imparted
about as much knowledge and hands-on experience that you can deal with
in a weekend. I loved the food, the preparation, the flavor, the
diversity, the amount. Healthy, tasty food, and lots of it. I really
liked the participation factor. We all had our say and our time at each
task. I liked the participants. Definitely a varied crew, all sorts of
ages and experiences and talents, everybody friendly and helpful.
I really enjoyed the headspace and speed at which the weekend chugged along.
We were busy, but not rushed, and that was because of Alex and Selene
and their good friend, Sammy. She came up to provide support during the
weekend. This was a great idea, as both Alex and Selene were going non-stop all 3 days. Sammy provided the glue between the participants and the instructors,
helping whenever and wherever she could. She also ministered my foot,
which I had injured at hockey on Friday.
A great workshop all around and one that just about everyone could get a lot