When my husband and I arrived in Humboldt a year ago, like many newcomers, we struggled to find a place. We spent weeks in $100-a-night slum-o motels while looking for housing. If the motels didn't bankrupt us, the rental companies with per-person applications fees would have. Eventually we, like the holy family, finally found that manger. Ours was a yurt.
We loved most of what we saw: Wood-plank flooring, lattice walls, a small storage loft, wood-burning stove, dome skylight, solar arc and small kitchen with a propane stove and electric refrigerator. The bathroom was the only exception. It had a sink and full bath but no toilet. For that we had to visit a nearby outhouse.
Still, we were thrilled to be living in a place where we could cook, sleep and shower for less than a C-note a night.
Then the rain came and the moisture built up and the olive oil froze. We're not the kind of people who give up easily and we didn't mind the rain — we had our rubber boots. But suddenly our lovely yurt was not quite the sweet spot we first envisioned.
So after living there for a year we developed the following year-in-a-yurt rules to live by:
Rule No. 1: Blankets are your friends — the more, the merrier. Humboldt winters are chilly and if you are anywhere near the marine layer they are downright frigid. Yurts are not well insulated and even though we had a wood-burning stove, its heat zone only reached the area directly in front of it. The rest of the living space remained very cold. Thus the necessity of bulking up on blankets. I recommend dressing/undressing under a blanket. It can be a challenge but keeps extremities from turning blue.
Rule No. 2: Yurt walls, like armpits, are best when kept dry. During the rainy season moisture is a problem in the yurt. Dehumidifying is absolutely necessary. Moisture buildup means mold and mold can make you sick. Daily wall inspection for moisture is advised. Remember if you see foggy windows, you are in trouble. Run that dehumidifier.
Rule No. 3: Always have butter in the refrigerator. Believe it or not, items in the refrigerator can be warmer than the outside air. We learned this the hard way. Olive oil left on our counter solidified, spoiling our dream of cooking a luscious omelet for breakfast. That's where the butter comes in. If olive oil hardens in the bottle, cook with butter as a back up.
Rule No. 4: Always check the propane before you take a shower. Think of it. You are in the shower and deliciously hot spray is warming your heat-deprived body. You soap up then lather your hair. A glob of shampoo slides down your forehead and into your eyes. Suddenly the water turns to ice because the propane has run out. Horrors, I know. Prevention is the key here. Check that propane often.
Rule No. 5: Use the outhouse before it gets dark unless you want Bigfoot to get you. I admit I'm a bit skittish and I made the mistake of letting my husband read to me about Humboldt Bigfoot sightings. It can get very dark around a yurt and when you have to pee you have to pee. A headlamp is very useful in this situation, but it doesn't stop the imagination from seeing things. Also, before you sit down be sure to check the seat for spiders or you run the risk of one crawling in your underpants.
Rule No. 6: Never turn on the toaster oven and the kettle at the same time. Yurts are wonderful spaces but can have limited power load. Just think of it as practice for a low-energy future. You can still have your toast and tea — just not at the exact same time. I recommend boiling the kettle first. While your tea is steeping, make the toast. Don't even bother unpacking your blow dryer.
Rule No. 7: When washing the dishes, turn the hot water on full blast six minutes ahead of time. On-demand water heaters sound wonderful but, in practice, can be challenging. I'm a stickler for washing up the dishes, especially before I leave the house in the morning. But on-demand is on-demand and the heater doesn't turn on till you turn on the tap. In our case it took six minutes of heavy flow for the water to warm up. Plan ahead, folks.
Rule No. 8: Never sit up in bed when your neighbor commences target practice at 2 a.m. Now this one may not apply to everyone, but it sure did us. Naturally, the first inclination is to sit bolt upright in bed and say, "What was that?" But first responses are not always the best. My recommendation is to lay low and prepare to roll onto the floor.
Rule No. 9: Never yell at your husband even if he is being a jerk. This one is important if you don't want all the neighbors to know your business. Yurts are like really sturdy tents. But even speaking at normal volume can be heard outside. So remember, whispered threats can be just as effective.
Rule No. 10: Throughout the winter, visualize a warm summer day, slap yourself, repeat. This may seem silly, but the truth is the yurt will warm up. Eventually. Some winters are longer than others but they do come to an end and give way to a beautiful mild Humboldt spring. I will always cherish my year in a yurt and consider it my right of passage into the amazing world that's Humboldt County.
Trudy Thomas is a freelance writer based in McKinleyville.