My baby brother Matthew arrives at the Sanctuary in a giant pickup truck with his three daughters, his oldest daughter’s fiancé (Christian), and two dogs (Grizzly and Whiskey). They climb out of the vehicle holding the dogs on leashes because my two bad dogs are little and theirs are big; we don’t want anyone getting hurt before everyone has a chance to sniff bums and concur that cordiality will rule the day. The whole crew weaves through sage bushes to get to my deck, and then they come inside.

My three nieces from this particular brother (I have seven nieces and two nephews—my brothers are prolific) are Angel (almost 21), Izzy (almost 17), and Abby (11). None of them has ever been inside of a yurt before.

As my brother and the kids enter (I make them keep the dogs outside for the time being), there is a smattering of exclamations:

“This is so cool.”

“I could totally live here.”

“It’s so cozy.”

“Wow, I wasn’t expecting this!”

They all settle in with the pizza they brought with them, while I get drinks for the peeps. Bud Zero for Christian, Sprites for Matt, Angel, and Izzy, and water in a giant plastic wine glass for little Abbey.

Everyone sits in a circle (because, um… it’s a yurt and is, therefore, a circle). And then the questions start:

“Are there snakes here?”

“Where do you poop, Aunt Cami?”

“Is there a shower here?”

“Did you know sage wards off evil? Can I take some home with me?” This last question is from Abby who has recently heard from somewhere (the scary podcast she listens to?) about “smudging.”

I answer each question one by one, eventually giving Abby a pair of scissors so she can go cut as much sage as her small hands can hold.

And I get to thinking…. I hear a lot of the same questions—mostly on my Facebook page or Instagram posts. Maybe I should just answer them, since people seem curious.

So here goes.

Where do you poop?

This is the most common question, so let it be answered once and for all. Friends, there are three options. My grandfather built an outhouse that is still standing (though it’s old and precarious at this point—and may come crashing down with one good windstorm). The outhouse stands downhill from and downwind of their trailer (which is still here and has been revamped thanks to bro Matt), and—because the outhouse has no door—it has a great view of the mountains and of Mt. Rainier, in particular. After my morning coffee, when I want to take a little time for my daily constitution, the outhouse is my preferred pooping venue. I call it the “Miradora” and appreciate the knowledge that I shit on the shit of my ancestors. We build on what was given us, do we not? Even the toxicity of the generations which came before us is the building material of our lives, so… I like the metaphor of the Miradora… Secondly, for middle of the night peeing, I usually just squat somewhere near the yurt and bury the toilet paper under a clump of dirt. Unfortunately, I haven’t perfected this technique and have ended up sprinkling on my feet several times, which annoys me to no end, being a city girl and not expert at aiming my stream when in a squatting position. So… the third option is something my friend, van-lifer Pam, turned me onto: a “Luggable Loo.” I keep this 5-gallon bucket on the opposite side of the deck from the stairs. This portable toilet has compostable bags you can keep (put?) your waste in. Then I can toss these bags into a hole GP dug for me last summer and bury them with a shovelful of dirt. I use the Luggable Loo now in the middle of the night and whenever I don’t feel like hiking over to the Miradora. I will eventually build a new outhouse (bro Chad and I have been talking about what that could look like), probably with a self-composting toilet. But for now… well, I get the job done. Don’t worry about it.

How do you shower when you’re out t/here?

Well, since I don’t have a well, I don’t have a shower. Don’t get very close to me after I’ve been here for three days! I usually use wipes to get clean-ish, and then I go into town every couple of days and use running water (somewhere) to get as many parts clean as I can in a public bathroom (thank you, Starbucks). I’m planning on getting a club membership at Planet Fitness, which is close enough that I should be able to get a shower every other day when I’m at the yurt for extended periods of time. I also have a solar camping shower I haven’t tried out yet, but I’m sure I will before the summer is over. Eventually I may drill a well and pump in water for a permanent solar powered shower, but everything will be happening in stages, so for now a spit bath and an occasional off site shower is the best I can do.

Where do you get your water?

I lug it over from Seattle. Until this weekend, I had several one- and two-gallon containers I filled up and dragged into the yurt, but this weekend I bought a five-gallon camping container. There is always enough drinking water for the dogs and me and enough water to wash dishes and make coffee and brush my teeth, but I wanted to make my water situation more efficient and require fewer trips between the car and the yurt and, thus, the new 5-gallon container (which I’ll probably set up outside in the shade under the yurt to keep it out of the way). If I wanted to bring enough water for the camping shower, I would need to get a second big container and fill that back in Seattle, too. There IS a brook on the property that runs through the middle of the 20 acres when the snow is melting, but I haven’t figured out how to collect that water and pump it up the hill yet (feel free to ‘splain to me, if you know how). It would be great to have grey water harvested (do you “harvest” water?) here on the property somehow.

What do you do in the dark?

I have little battery-operated strings of lights hung around the yurt, a couple of rechargeable battery-operated lanterns, a headlamp, a motion light (also on batteries) for night-time Luggable Loo runs, and thanks to bro Dane, some Edison lights I can plug into the generator he gave me (off of which I also run a small refrigerator, a little microwave, and a hotpot for boiling water for my coffee). Also, pals Jack and Eric (who helped erect the yurt) both gave me outdoor solar lights that come on when the sun goes down.

After dark, I tend to read (by headlamp) or watch movies on my computer. Also, this time of year, I can stare at the mountains until after 10pm, and then I can stare at the stars. I have a propane firepit up on Grandpa’s deck by the trailer, so sometimes I sit there and stare at the sky.

Do you have wifi?

Naw… but I do have a hotspot on my phone with 50 gigs of high-speed data available. That seems to work pretty well for what I need to do up here (like put up this post). I can watch movies, do Zoom meetings, send emails, Google stalk celebrities. I mean, what else do I need to do?

How does this yurt thing hold up in the wind and/or snow?

Okay, let’s talk construction of the yurt. The stability of the yurt is in the lattice work that goes around the platform. That lattice work, forming a perfect(ish) circle, is connected to the drip edge of the platform at the bottom and has a tight wire cable woven through the crotches of the lattice at the top. The rafters have divots that hook into the cable on one end and into the dome ring on the other, creating tension that holds everything in place from floor to dome. This construction alone should hold up under a pretty heavy snow load or a hefty windstorm, but because I’m on an exposed mountainside, I wanted some extra stability. I purchased what is called the “snow and wind kit” from Pacific Yurts. Every rafter is reinforced with a 2×4 brace from floor to rafter, AND there are two more thin cables that bind the rafters together so that if one ever came loose, all the others would stay in place. Before I bought the yurt, I researched the average wind strength and the snow load on roofs in this area. Without the snow and wind kit, the yurt itself was right on the edge of being able to withstand the average wind and snow occurrences here at the Sanctuary (or surrounding areas, anyway) , so I opted for some extra reinforcement.

All that said, I was here during a windstorm a couple of weeks ago, and I saw that we hadn’t battened down the canvas around the door. I was able to adjust our bolts (by “our,” I mean Dane and Chad and GP and Jack and Eric E and Jason and Steph and Susan and Christopher and Madison… in other words, my awesome team of yurt-builders) and the wind, though it tried, could not budge the structure. There is a wiggle in a strong gust, but that’s at least in part because the platform is raised and the wind barrels underneath me. Fortunately, GP and the bros put the concrete blocks for the platform on additional concrete they poured into the ground, so I’m not on shifting sand. All is secure.

What will you do for heat in the winter?

Sweaters. And I’ll also have propane heaters or electric heaters plugged into the generator. But truthfully, the snow is pretty prohibitive for part of the year. If I can get here at all in January, I’ll cozy up the best I can and spend a day or two looking at the vast white terrain. The yurt IS insulated. The bros insulated the floor, and the walls and roof have insulation, as well. That said… well… it’s a tent, so there are plenty of opportunities for the cold air to come in. I’ll be investing in some high level long johns (got recommendations? Don’t be shy! I’m not a skier, so I don’t know what snow people buy).

What do you do with your dogs, since they don’t get along with each other?

These two little assholes have taken their beef with each other to the yurt. I separate them, of course. I created an enclosure under my loft bed and one of them is there at all times. Baker is a big baby who shivers at night when the temperature goes down to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (did you ever learn to spell that word? I did NOT—thank you Autocorrect Function). Jasper walks the 20 acres like he owns the place and generally comes when called, although yesterday, I couldn’t get him to respond to the come command, so I tried all the alternatives (Wanna treat? Wanna go bye-bye in the car?”), and nothing worked, until I yelled, “Jasper, let’s go for a walk!” Then that stupid fucker, who was already OUT FOR A WALK by himself, came running like I’d offered him a free diamond ring. Anyway, they still fight, but they both get some freedom, too…

And incidentally, I’ve taken to making little mini movies where I pose as an Australian naturalist documenting the Boston Terrier in the wild. One gets a little loopy when one is alone too much.

Do you have to watch for snakes?

I dunno. People say so, but I’ve never seen one. I keep my ears and eyes open for rattlesnakes, but I haven’t heard or seen a thing. I have seen some pretty cool little lizards and some AMAZING insects. The biggest locust-like monster was in my path the other day. She was translucent and the size of my big toe. I don’t know what she was, but she didn’t bother me. I’d love to see a snake (even a rattler, as long as I saw it before it saw me or one of the dogs), but it hasn’t happened yet.

How do you protect yourself out t/here?

Deet. Nothing else works. No, but really, I’m not sure what people mean when they ask this question. I watch for snakes. I use sunscreen. I bring the dogs in before coyotes starting howling. I watch for holes in the ground, so I don’t turn an ankle. I keep asking people what they mean about the “danger” they perceive or why they say they would feel “vulnerable” if they were me. There is literally no traffic out here. The wild animals are predictably wild (and mostly deer and birds), and the weather can be watched on an app. So I protect myself by not being idiotic when there is a bad weather report, by making sure I have the provisions I need, and by knowing I’m in a very low crime location where the people who live around here as their primary residence have every reason in the world to be decent neighbors.

Does sage really ward off evil?

Totally! You should try it!

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