what i do in between bursts of progress on my yurt life

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When I named this blog nearly three years ago, I’d envisioned tales of slow, steady, linear progress culminating in my living in my yurt up in the mountains.

Well, the “steady” and “linear” parts of the equation have been derailed — by poorly-planned finances and the challenges of living in a gig economy and, more recently, by the weirdness that was the year 2020.

But while my progress toward living on the land is glacially slow and unevenly scattered over months and years, I’m far from idle in-between times. Here are a few ways I keep myself pointed toward my goal of living more simply and in tune with nature.

i explore the land around my yurt

Last year marked my first full turn of the seasons here in my new mountain home, and it was a year of eager exploration. Every season held some new and interesting reason to look up, look down, look around. The mountains of Western North Carolina are considered a temperate rain forest, and they teem with a diversity of plant and animal species I’ve never seen before. My first spring here I nearly drove myself batty trying to identify and catalog every tiny weed and flower and tree and mushroom and moss and lizard and toad and turtle and insect and…you get the idea. Everywhere I looked, there was something I’d never seen before — or had never noticed in the tamer, often groomed parks and trails near the city and suburban homes of my previous life.

It seems I'm always discovering something new -- food, medicine, or just loveliness to be enjoyed. I engage as many of my senses as I can in my explorations.

I’ve taken thousands of photos witnessing my explorations and posted a tiny percentage of them to social media sites, as well as to citizen-scientist apps to identify and classify what I captured. My fascination reaches beyond mere curiosity, though because…

i learn about foraging and wild-crafting

I’ve long dabbled in natural approaches to health and healing, including foraged foods and herbal remedies, but the wild abundance I find all around me here has completely blown that wide open. I’m inhabiting a living university, where many of the weeds growing with crazy abandon here can be steamed or jellied or stewed or fried as food — or extracted and used as medicine. I find myself delving into the making of tinctures, elixirs, oxymels, teas — extractions of all kinds — doing my best to learn from them and understand their benefits (and dangers) along the way.

Wild violets in various stages of processing for syrups, honeys, teas, medicines, and more.

Most of my experimenting, though, is more culinary in nature. I prepare dishes and beverages using wild greens, such as dock, broad-leafed plantain, dandelion, thistle, and red dead-nettle. I flavor salts and honey and make syrups and jellies with wildflowers. I’m learning to enjoy a wider range of flavors than most American diets incorporate and am realizing just how bland (and loaded with sugar, which masks so many flavors) our cooking generally is. And my kitchen experiments are making me bolder with more mainstream spices and herbs as my palate expands.

I've found I love not only the scent of the wild roses growing all over my land but also their taste in teas, elixirs (extractions with honey), jellies, and baked goods.

i play with new ways of preparing familiar foods

Years ago, I made kombucha, but — along with beer brewing — it fell by the wayside when my life became impossibly busy, and I had less time for food-crafting pursuits.

I’ve not only started making kombucha again (and making some pretty silly newbie kombucha mistakes), but I’ve also branched out into making fermented foods. Most folks are familiar with sauerkraut and kvass, but you can ferment almost anything that’ll hold up to sitting on the countertop in brine or salt and vinegar for a few days. My latest foray into fermenting was a lovely radish, onion, lemon peel, and garlic mixture that’s somehow simultaneously sweet, hot, and earthy. I didn’t have a recipe to follow; just trying stuff.

Radishes, garlic, onion, and lemon peel fermenting in a brine with thyme leaves.
Radishes, onions, garlic, and lemon peel fermenting in a brine with thyme leaves. 

And as I’ve become more and more committed to eating fewer processed foods, I’ve gotten braver about baking. (I am a horrible baker. Always have been.) I’m trying sourdough starters and baking with iron cookware. I’m baking bread, cookies, clafoutis, pies, and old recipes like apple brown betty.

The key word here is I’m playing. For me, it is play. It’s creative — fraught with goopy failure and rewarded with delicious success. And so much fun!

i test stuff i think i want (or need) to use in my yurt life

I’ve been playing with everything from portable solar panels to RV washing machines to water filters to scythes…and more. The point of this whole adventure, for me, is to learn to live more lightly on the land, so I’m stretching myself to learn the right balance of manual labor and technology-enhanced labor. Do I really need a gas-guzzling lawn mower, or can I get by with a scythe? (Sometimes.) Do I need a chainsaw if I have a perfectly good bow saw? (Yes.) If I do need mechanized or motorized assistance with my chores, which tools will best fit the needs I have while minimizing their impact on the environment?

Part of the balancing act is reducing my dependence on fossil fuels as much as possible. And, as with most folks seeking to live off-grid, I’m also hoping to increase my overall energy-independence with solar power. As this past year has taught us, the systems we have in place sometimes fail, and we are left without fuel for our vehicles, power for our homes, and sometimes even safe drinking water. While I don’t consider myself a “prepper,” I do think off-grid solutions offer not only a more sustainable way of living but also a peace of mind in emergencies.

Some of my current approaches to doing chores will have to be tweaked. The washer will eventually be replaced, and the scythe will be supplemented with a powered mower. The small solar battery/generator is perfect for the yurt, but I'll need a more robust system for the kitchen/bath building.

I’m defining the limits to which I feel I can reasonably go to live a more sustainable life without killing myself in the process. Some of my choices have resulted not only in an increase of time-consuming manual labor but also a level of physical exertion I’ve never had to deal with at any time in my life. (And, y’all, I’m no spring chicken, as they used to say!) But my experiments are teaching me and helping me focus and plan and keep that 30+ pounds off that I lost during COVID isolation. 😉 All good things.

i learn and learn and learn and learn and learn

There’s so much to learn! I’m learn about permaculture and forest farming. About growing and foraging. About biology and geology. About building sustainable systems and about reducing my footprint.

Some of that learning is Google or book research. Some of it’s digital courses or webinars.

An awful lot of it is just trying things. And failing. And trying again — or trying something different, depending on the nature and extent of the failure.

I still shrink a little from putting my more laughable attempts out there for public scrutiny — at least until well after the fact, when I can look back and chuckle: “Remember that one time when I tried to build a woodshed out of toothpicks, rubber cement, and old tin cans? Yeah…good times.”

But as my resilience toughens, so does my sense of humility. And if I learn nothing else from all of this, that lesson alone was worth the price of admission.

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