Find yourself in a yurt
Circular tents a great way to connect with nature
Lately, in the evening, I’ve been lighting candles that smell like apple or pumpkin or apple-pumpkin, releasing scented clouds that hang drowsily in my living room.
And, blinking the sleep from my eyes in the morning, I’ve felt a chill streaming through my window, and I’ve heard the birds chirping on my neighbor’s singing clock.
A relationship with nature is a beautiful thing.
When I set out to write a story about a local yurt and the people who stay there, and when scheduling conflicts foiled my first few attempts, I thought, “What better way to learn what it’s like to stay in a yurt, than to stay in a yurt?”
Just in case. Yurt (noun): a sort of circular tent used by nomads in Asia.
I made the arrangements with Cate Belleveau, who rents out the cozy little structure at her home in Puposky, about 25 minutes from downtown Bemidji. Cate and her husband Al Belleveau opened the yurt to guests last year, housing mostly artists and people wanting to escape the buzz of the city, with 4.8 stars out of a possible 5 on airbnb.com.
Getting ready for work the last Thursday of October, I buttoned into my campiest shirt and stuffed my second-campiest into a duffle bag. I packed my warm coat and far too many socks.
It might freeze, my phone said.
My family are motorhome people.
Camping trips during my childhood didn’t feel much different from staying home, except we were constantly bumping into each other, and my sister and I were made to sleep on stiff, too-small couches as our parents snoozed in the loft above the cab.
My mom is the kind of person who would vacuum the dirt off the ground.
My dad is the kind of person who would smile and wink at his kids.
Growing up, my sister and I planned every summer to pitch a tent about 50 feet from the house and spend the night “roughing it.” We were the kind of kids who never actually did.
This trip was a chance to score one for the family, for us indoor cats who cooked meals in our motorhome kitchenette as other families presumably killed and grilled something.
After work, I got into my car and grabbed dinner-in-a-bag from Subway, merging onto the highway with a golden sun dissolving in the west.
Seven pop songs later, Cate was there to greet me.
I followed in my car as she led me through her forest property dotted with lawn art, down a winding trail that runs behind the Belleveau house.
The yurt sits on a wooden platform in a clearing about 100 yards from the highway, a ribbon of smoke curling from its skinny metal chimney. Wind ripples the canvas walls. The door sticks from moisture locked inside the wood.
We entered the little room, baked by a glowing black stove.
Candles flickered fragile light on pillows and rugs with Kyrgyzstani designs — geometric patterns of pink, blue and green. A pillow-buried bed seemed to fill half the room, and the wood stove hissed as Cate showed me the tricks to keeping the flames alive.
This small space, about 15 feet in diameter, had just about everything I would need, she said.
There are logs to sustain the fire and kindling to start it again; there’s a flashlight should a rustling bush need investigating; there’s a water dispenser for drinking or a make-do shower.
That’s about it, Cate said.
I could always head over to the house if I needed anything.
“And Al says you shouldn’t put matches on the stove. I guess they might explode.
“And you see here?” Cate said, running her hand along a patch in the canvas wall.
It’s all fixed, the slash from a bear’s claw.
I lay on a rug by the fire, eating my sandwich, looking out the window in the door, amazed by how black it gets without city lights. Two flies droned around the room, this pocket about 40 degrees warmer than the surrounding woods. After a few unsuccessful swats, I decided they could stay.
My dying phone was my entertainment, my clock, my lifeline to the world. It drained to 12 percent before I put it away, needing its alarm to wake up in the morning.
About 10 paces from the yurt’s platform is a small cabin with cases of books, and about 10 paces from the cabin is an outhouse with a cold toilet seat.
My flashlight illuminated the path to the library, and I browsed.
Plays by Shaw and Shakespeare. Guides on drawing and mask-making. A bound collection of Monet’s gauzy landscapes.
I pulled “Romeo and Juliet” from the shelf, thinking I might appreciate it now that I’m not a freshman in high school, stepping back into the cool darkness pierced by my flashlight.
Wolf-howling and dog-howling, at particular times and places, really are indistinguishable.
My night in the yurt melted away with the permission of each new log slipped into the fire.
Darkness darkened. Romeo called to Juliet on her balcony. I had to use the outhouse.
My phone said it was 40 degrees. Into the cold air, into the outhouse, back into the night.
I was halfway to the yurt when I raised my flashlight to meet the wooden platform and a light-brown, dog-sized animal as it dashed across the deck, disappearing at the back of the yurt, the side with the door.
I’ll let others throw around words like brave or unshakeable, but I climbed up the platform steps and approached the door without breaking stride, believing my forest friend was probably a fox or a figment, seeing it was gone now, whatever it was.
I didn’t need my phone to wake me up after all.
Shivers broke my sleep around 1:30, and I kicked the covers away, headed for the stove.
My left hand clutched the handle as my right reached for a log. That my left hand was feeling extreme heat and not extreme cold took about two seconds for my brain to process.
This frozen room had a roaring fire in its stove. This frozen room couldn’t get any warmer.
I dipped my hand in a mug of water and got back into bed. My thumb still shines with the same curved groove as that handle.
Around 3:30 I was up again, this time using a potholder to open the stove, finding only ashes. Twenty or so minutes of trial and error with various newspaper-to-kindling-to-log ratios, and I had the fire going better than it was before. Better. Stronger. Hotter.
I was up for good around 6, thanks to the Belleveau rooster I didn’t know existed.
I squeezed a gob of Crest onto my toothbrush and stepped outside, as I had the night before. Standing on the platform as if on the edge of the world, it was liberating to spit anywhere.
A few minutes later, back on the platform with a pitcher of chilled water in my hand, I made the best of my only means for a shower, and just a head shower at that.
I knew extreme cold when I felt it.
Cate walked over an hour or two later, excited I had seen an animal. She offered me breakfast, the second “b” in Airbnb, but I was happy at one “b” and had to go to work.
Staying in a yurt wasn’t so bad, I told her, it’s actually kind of nice — for a night or two, if you don’t mind animal noises and deviating from your shower routine.
We said goodbye, and I got into my car having slew a childhood dragon.
I crawled toward the highway at 5 mph, the Belleveau hens all over the trail.
And Shakespeare, the alarm-clock rooster.