Nomadic Tent Design – The mutant forms

Ardabil is an ancient city in northwestern Iran. In 1974 Peter Alford Andrews, who has now been nominated to receive the Burton medal for his work on the Eurasian tent, interviewed the only two Iranian Alachigh makers, They were brothers.

They told him that they were in fact the only two craftsmen who made this specific tent type, legendary because of its elegant curvature and flowing design, a tent that stands alone amongst all the trellis tents of the region, I mean that literally, as it stands alone without a trellis.

The two brothers claimed that the work had remained exclusively the speciality of their family since it was introduced eight generations earlier by Seyyd Bejan, they could name the makers in each of the eight generations.

Alachigh

What a lot of people do not know is about the way it all came about, did you wonder how come the UK has become crazy about yurts? To begin with we all owe the come back of nomadic tent types to a book, that not accidentally bears the same name, the fruit of Peter Alford Andrews’ work. In it he has covered all nomadic tent forms in the Middle East. He and his wife have traveled extensively and lived with the nomads themselves, documenting the tents to the inch, it is a master piece with exact drawing of the frame work, the felts, even the decorations on the door panels. 
Peter, who has become a good friend, never imagined that his work to document nomadic tents before they disappear will catch on like that, but that is exactly the point, for something to catch on it needs to have a story in it, he himself was inspired by a one liner from one of his lecturers who said, “no one has taken tent architecture seriously”.

Stories need to have a core in them, something that catches us, in the same way the American guy who coined the phrase “the Mediterranean diet” he never thought that it will become such a hit few decades later, nor did Thor Heyerdahl ever think that his original “back to nature” idea will become a movement, he even later laughed saying he was probably the first hippie.

Similarly Bill Coperthwaite, who had sadly passed some years ago, never imagined that his experimentations with yurts will ignite the a craze in the US. The point is that good design or good ideas always have some core in them, and all those above share a truth, which is a traditional entity, they are based on the lives of rural communities. Be it Italian peasants, Polynesians sea farers and navigators, and the great nomadic people of the Steppe. Their freedom, their rurality, their traditions are those that ignite this thing in us, the feeling of belonging to a wilder earth.

I have predicted two years ago that canvas tents in the UK will start disappearing and be switched over to cabins or wooden huts, and so does the trend seem to go. Meanwhile in Italy, people can not get enough of yurts, in fact after Covid importers can not even get them, my phone keeps on ringing all day.

Whilst Glamping has gone a little crazy, driven by bigger profits, moving little by little to prefabricated structures, or using some amazing design concepts that some small guy worked out in his shed and copying them into a plastic tent, in an industry where intellectual property has never been regulated all can happen.

The trend however is a move away from making yurts or nomadic tents by hand, away from the craft aspect. We would like to take things back to the original story, having sat with the women who invented the word glamping, or having worked with the first people in the industry, I feel also that the idea has been boycotted and executed in some very strange ways. What it aimed to achieve is to give people the feeling of mystery, the spirit of nomadism, and tribalism yet here in the UK. It was so successful the whole world copied it.

It was never a new concept, the mogul emperors invented Glamping generations before, they had cities of tents, that would put burning man festival to shame, court tents that reached the sky, two story decorated and bejewelled pavilions, cities that travelled.

We decided we would like to first take the concept back to its origins in Peter Andrews work, the idea was to not let those tent forms disappear, to be honest, the main Asian nomadic tent form – the yurt has been covered and done extensively, we would like to focus for a moment on some of the other tent forms in order to save their architectural concepts, more so because those are stories of mutant forms, a tribe or a people that had to redesign away from the rest. The Northern Afghan tribe alliance that translates into the 4 tribes in English, all had a double curvature yurt, some of them claim to be descendent of the Mongol army (the Hazzara) but why are they the only ones to use the double curvature? What was the idea behind its design, why the tall profile and the small wheels?

I have theorised before those are because it was in fact the first western yurt, when mongols moved west and encountered wetter climates, so the higher and smaller wheel could be open (each yurt has open fires in the past) and the form may have helped with smoke.

The same goes to the Alachigh, which like a yurt is a curved tent, but unlike it is only uses ribs without trellis, the genius of the yurt was that it allows for shorter pieces of wood and tied bundles that could be simply opened, in fact there used to be a form of tent that grouped all rafters together with a rope instead of a wheel meaning the roof could be erected like an umbrella almost, again it must have been designed around camels for weight. A lot of those tent design concepts have never seen a return, genius almost, yet now lost.

Afghan yurt concept

The rib tents of the Turkmen were reportedly adopted from older yurts, meaning a poorer couple would inherit the rafters and wheel of an old yurt, possibly when the trellis gave way, or older yurts had the roof only pitched on the ground to serve as an outside kitchen, at a few places those turned into their own design, and possibly this was the way the Alachigh of the Shasevan was born too. The Yomut or Turkmen of Iran, have taken one of those rib tents and made it with especially long rafters, so it turned into a yurt shape without a trellis, but high enough to stand with a wooden door. I would have liked to understand the design concept behind their thinking, and at times the easiest way is to make the structure itself, which we did a few years ago. That led to a break through in tent design but that is something for another time, plus advertising your design concepts for me usually means someone copies them before I get to realise them.

Kutuk tent

I pour over old accounts of travellers and avidly look for the mutant design forms, I think that in the last 10 years the industry have been in a design standstill, no new great concepts were actually introduced, the focus on creating prefabricated forms to keep up with demand has also wiped many of the crafts people who used to make structures for the Glamping industry, and little by little it too started to loose its appeal. The UK has always been the leader in this industry, yet now it lags behind, the passion is gone, and with it the joy of the great outdoors, almost as if people have given up on the country, own sustainability, on adventure.

In short Craft, tradition, great design mixed with natural materials will always work better, creating a story line that grabs the soul, where one can feel the gaze of the qirgiz nomads, a woman brining the hand of a guest to her heart saying you are home in my yurt.

We work with a small group of people who always led this industry, and yeah I feel like we all have gone a little astray because of the need to make a living, yet a new trend in tourism is waking up, like a wave, it wants true freedom. Once we were the only people living on the road, 10 years ago we travelled the UK in trucks seeing no one, yet no van lifers have been born everywhere, people are converting vans all across the country. Working as a non profit association in Europe (mainly Italy) also means I see a constant stream of people leaving the country, looking for rural areas and meaning, and so I know the battle for rurality is not lost, traditional ways of life will always win in the end, you can not bend nature away from itself, at the end it will go back to weather and man, shelter and rain. All this development craze and second homes will pass, it only works because people can not access nature in the UK.

Going back to nomadic tent design, I want to focus more on content, bringing sustainable tourism into being the most important aspect, almost the only way through which we can design rural areas back into community. Yet I want it to happen around the magical stories and some great design concepts.

nomadic tent

I would  like to leave you with an image of one of the greatest craft concepts in nomadic tents, one created by the Nogay.

tent was made like a yurt, except that it was woven, using two big rings around the walls which were fixed, going into a yurt wheel, it was made this way so it could be lifted on and off a small cart, and was only used by the newly wedded couple. This is a great metaphor also for the nomadic tent design and the state of the modern world, because now days the largest of all yurts made are wedding yurts, and the nogay wedding yurt was in fact so small it could be lifted on and off and made intact so it would not need to collapse, a great effort and nomadic tent design now gone. Again I would love to see it remade, in fact the idea behind all of this research is to focus again on making some great nomadic tent design, maybe use some modern materials where applicable but without losing the form and concepts. This amazing little tent can become the best Shepard hut even made.

Soon when time allows I would like to open up the possibility of working and teaching others, so we can together create some of those great tents of the past, we have some great business ideas, enough to allow for at least one or two new independent businesses. This we think would tie very well with the new emerging market of sustainble tourism, imagine moving camps as a safari on rewlibding projects in the highlands, yet done with nomadic tents instead of plastic, imagine arriving at the camp fire, and sitting inside a nomadic tent, the fire is lit, food is served, the magic flows through the wheel, and one can feel the hand of a qirgiz woman almost, going to her heart telling you, you are home inside my tent.

Nogay tent cart

Yin and Yang

‘Bombs’ Marziale said, ‘first they throw bombs and then close everything up’, it was his conspiracy theory.
The gate for his charming ramshackle row of houses was closed behind him, I think it was more of a reflex because the dogs used to come out, but I don’t think he realised that the only dog that posed any danger has been tied for two years now. With a few of his dogs killed by the hunters and a few others gone missing.
The paint on the gate was old, but the tricolours of the Italian flag could still be seen clearly.
He has been our neighbour for over 6 years. His Italian is a dialect special to him only. He made me laugh, i’ll stop every time on the way back home, and even though our conversation would always be the same, as if we are rehearsing, I’ve come to appreciate it.

The fields were all ploughed, and though we usually spoke of our strategy for sowing wheat, it was as if time itself stood still, things did not make sense anymore. The Holocene has come to an end.
Winter was approaching, but the last few years it came late, climate change was everywhere. By ‘bombs’ he meant to say that the pandemic was back, that it was man made, it was dropped on us all.

There is a craziness in rural Italy, one that is hard to make sense of, especially for us that have grown up in the western mindsets. Families are the rule, and there is an ancient law that rules the land, and it all comes together in my neighbour in a strange way. We were leaving, or at least I think we were, something snapped inside me, we were leading a revolution by ourselves, a revolution I did no longer believe in.
So standing there with him outside his gate, the fading tricolours and 10,000 years of sowing wheat, the climate change itself even, and our plans to bring back the heritage wheats of old into production, where all on standby, as if waiting for some heavenly decision, ‘bombs’ he said, ‘they drop bombs on us and than they make new rules’.
This plan that I have convinced him will see him back into farming, more as a way to convince him not to give up. Somehow all of it came together for me, it is this imposing mountain we live under, it makes everything dramatic, everything seems big. I was sitting in the car, talking to the last peasant farmer of Torricella Peligna, about sewing wheat.
The revolution was none other but an effort to save the Holocene from collapsing on itself.
Wheat is what made the weather stable for over ten thousand years, no one really knows about it, because it’s not a scientific fact. It is a pact some long lost ancestor of us made.

One of his dogs set on the ledge of the second floor window, even the dogs here do not follow normal rules, the row of 4 houses were a progression from liveable, to quite broken, to beyond repair, with the last being the house were the dog lives on a window ledge, that dog used to have a brother, one was white and the other was black, the black one used to live on the roof of his house, but he disappeared one day. Then after the roof was somewhat fixed, the remaining puppy, I took to call Yang, because they looked like Yin and Yang, the white has a black head and the black had a white.
The remaining puppy used to sit on the upstairs window, as if he was mourning his brother.
Things were different under the mountain, and it made some dogs behave differently, Yang found a compromise, he only ventured as far as the second floor, his brother went all the way to heaven and disappeared. One needs to find a balance with how far it allowed the mountain to drive him into other planes of existence, the dogs knew it.
It was the time of the second wave and sure no one dropped bombs to infect us all, or so we we think, but it is also true that things stopped making sense.

Yang at the window ledge

It was a picture frame, his dog. Framed by choice over sensibility, the mountain pulls us into higher planes. Sometimes it seems crazy, the old laws of conduct in small Italian villages, so difficult to the outsider at times, that they almost broke me. I felt like I am being asked to make a ruling, here in this strange land of the past, medieval villages are suspended in mid air, dogs are pulled into window ledges, and wheat stands in question, the stability of the Holocene.

I drove back home, I have given all my wheat to local farmers to plant, I give them one seed and they give me two in return, that’s the core of the project. I could not really focus on wheat anymore, In fact I never could. I was running late for work, we have endless yurt covers to make. I wonder how we got to that point, we used to be free, on the road, with no work and no hassle, how come nomads can not travel freely, because they make yurt covers for a thousand campsites.

It is a strange occupation being a yurt maker, and a yurt cover maker (which is the majority of our work) even more so, it’s such an art. We make all of our yurt covers from afar, and believe me it is maybe one of the hardest lines of work. To know how much to add, how much to trust the client’s measurements, where to cut more, where to add less. The fact I was running up and down the mountain, did not help, the measurements of three different covers were turning inside my head to a point that I could not see the math anymore, Pythagoras was taking over but who knows what he was calculating. There are pictures in my mind, snaps, stories and they tend to come out when I sew.
The problem is that it is hard to bring them out to make sense, not so much to me, but to others.

I know what was going on, I know it was not bombs, but I also know my neighbour is not crazy, even though the locals sometimes say he is, he is the last link of a chain of a people, a way of life – the sedentary. I am his neighbour, yet I never belonged anywhere, and though I find it hard to deal with the issues of central Italy, I have found a belonging here. I am though more of a nomad and he, the last peasant farmer. The mountain frames everything in this dramatic sense, a romanticisation of daily lives.
If we did not buy our land with the last houses of the commune, he would have sold already. So I live in the contradiction, it’s the end of time, not because the world is ending, because it is not, what is ending is our pact with the creator.

Currently here, under the mountain where dogs live in their own abandoned houses, perched on window sills, me and my neighbour are facing this question together, can we save the climate?.
What is hard to explain, is that the climate we are used to is an agreement.
It is an agreement made by nomads at the end of the younger dryas (the last ice age) when in order to stop the sky from rotating, which they failed, they chose to live in one place. What they succeeded in, is making the chain of ice ages stop. They did it with wheat, they did it by stopping their roaming.

It is only in the contradictions, on the edge of abandon, or when everything seems to fall apart, something magical opens, like a door. In it you can see the making of ages. Italy of the mountains is ruled by something older, something that seems so foreign to the outsider, it is community.
What makes it hard to see, is that we have a sense of community that we gained from instagram, novels of a paradise lost, of other ways of life.
So it is hard for us to see it, because now, at the end of the Holocene, when all the agreements are falling down, we do not understand that the last guardians of a ten thousand year agreement, are small Italian farmers.

Nomads, it has been said always plunder the sedentary. We, in our own personal journey, have come to place after place like that, the rule of 5 (which also means something else to us) meant that we were used to pack our things and move within 5 minutes, if we deemed a place to be unhealthy. That still drives me crazy, the idea of living in a park-up, in a lay-by for 6 years. The Huns see houses as tombs, and I can not fault the judgement, houses are tombs for nomads.
I sit on a pile of yurt covers, there are only a few people who knows this art, the cover makers, most of which have been taught by us. We have our own language, seam allowances, and shrinkage. Sometime at the end of long day of chasing the illusive line between reality and craziness, trying to find the right place to end the canvas above the yurt door, not sure if to trust the client, or the figures they have sent us, it boils down to intuition, at the end of the day sometimes we have a small victory, a new way to pattern the roof pieces or
another way to stitch the cap. Sometimes we design another tent, but most of all it is impeccability of the trade, throwing yourself into the unknown of
someone else’s frame. Learning a to know from experience what can go wrong, and assume the worst, I laugh how my clients get amazed when I tell them how they took a measurement and why its wrong. To give them their dues, they work hard to measure their frames for us, and we send them back and back again to them to make sure they haven’t got anything wrong.

How did we get here, can nomads make the law for the countryside?, I remember when we lived in tents, and everything seemed sane, even if new age community is a monstrosity, with no real roots in existence, but we were the only people living in tents. The rest of the population lived in houses, we were poor, and once every few years we would sell our tent cover, or poles, it was our way to pay for a new home. which was again a tent, it was like a snake shedding its skin, and in order to afford the new one, he had to sell the old to someone else, this is how it all started.

How did we end up with a thousand campsites, and people in massive estates calling us to make them new yurt covers. Now they ask us how to run the countryside, but we alongside them have ruined it. We turned it into a chain of holiday homes and campsites, we sold them our community and they use it to repackage their massive estates, so we can never buy, or even rent in the countryside, and none of us is really happy, even though for a time they pretend it’s so much better solution to farming, its called diversification, I can call it diversify your attention from what’s really going on.

So you see, it is hard to strike a balance between the real and the made up, the lines are diffused, only a few yurt cover-makers know that art, only they understand. We live in a lie, because as long as we make yurts for sedentary people we can not travel, it is their way to keep us in place, they sell our art, and the country side with it to an endless stream of people who would never live in it. Together we have repackaged the land and made it less accessible to all.

We have no time to make up our mind, to lead the sedentary into another epoch, because there is always the next yurt cover to make, I am lucky because I have trained others to make covers with me, and it gave me some time to focus on something else. We dreamed together, but the pressure of making a cover after cover, yurt after yurt, broke their dreams. They feel like we will never find freedom, all that we have found is an endless pile of patterning, we got holed in small homes and workshops. Once the only campsites were where we lived, around the fire.

We all knew how to make our tents. Sure, none of us were very good at it because we only did it every few years. Now we sold our freedom, and we make the best tents in the world, I know things about pattern making that few do, Its an art, when you get good at it you can do it in mid air, its a space a few can hold, the patterns float, and you must hold them all inside you, balancing all the factors, holding all the measurements, the canvas shrink, the stitching. We sold our way of life and the community, and as long as we keep doing so, to people who re-market it as an experiential tourism, nor we or them can ever find it again.
The people who I’ve trained blame me, and maybe they are right. I feel like something is looming over us all. It is decision time. Underneath all this industry of selling the landscape as a package, there is a small family of tent makers, and most of us are related.

In central Italy the mountain rules all, I know that modern society is incapable of true community, it does not even know what it should look like. We have become accustomed to making belief, we convince each other community still exists. I have lived in the marginal, in the borderlands of society all my life, I have seen enough alternative communities to know nothing is different. Maybe I am the only one that will say it, but there is no such thing as sustainable tourism either. We sell abandoned lands as a dream, as a resource, when we aren’t willing to live sustainably in them.
I have been up since 5 in the morning, and I am on the verge of giving up on my (now) one man revolution, I know something else. It is just hard to speak about it, my “crazy” neighbour seems the only sane person around, ‘bombs’ of coronavirus, are the mark of the end of an epoch. Most of us are so distracted by Covid-19, that we do not see that the countryside itself is sick, the apple trees, the olives. This last year has seen a whole olive field next to our place in Italy, develop a new sickness. We are all so homocentric that we miss out, currently (it seems to me at least) all of the non local varieties of fruit trees are dying. Sure they always had less tolerance to sickness, but they managed, you do not expect them all to die within one year. After all the olive grove next to our houses have been there for 30 years.

I say I am a nomad, but there have been no true nomads for over ten thousand years. Nomadism as we know it is an offshoot of the neolithic revolution, the people of the steppe domesticated horses, and it gave them a trading power. They lived in yurts, and now I feel like their last descendant, I know things that only exist in contradictions. We have ran out of a design plan, our rent is due. I led a one man’s revolution, I have to make up my mind, but my mind does not function like other people’s.

In the long long ago, all mammals have been infected by a virus, not unlike we are now. ‘Bombs’ he said it, and it makes me laugh.
Some think he is crazy, but there is a sanity in how he sees things, in his dialect, it is a language of his own, made from being the last frontier man for so many years, farming the last farm of the village. The real edge of abandonment makes one sane in ways others can not comprehend, it is where nature writes Man.

All of our minds have been infected by a virus, and this is how we think. Activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein or ARC as it is known, plays a critical role in synaptic plasticity in our brains. With an important function in our memory. It has been suggested that it acts in a very similar way to a virus, self assembling into virion-like capsids that encapsulate RNA as it does.
It is thus theorised to be repurposed from a viral event somewhere in earlier evolution in order to mediate intercellular communication in neurones.
What?!! you may ask.

We have ALWAYS been thinking like a virus!!!, in fact thinking is a viral function, and that is what I am trying to say, what we deem crazy, is that some of us do not encapsulate in the same manner, our thoughts are not regular, and mine never seem to have been. We are humans, now scared of a new virus, always scared of the virus, yet it is the virus itself that taught us to be scared. We above all other animals, we are not the smartest, we just got more virused. That is why community is hard for us, we make separation inside our heads, the capsids we wrap around our thoughts and memories.
Yet that was then (million of years ago) and now is now, and now is the time for someone to make a decision, the trees are dying, and the Holocene is at an end, not because of climate change, but because we stopped honouring our agreement with the creator, when nomads come to farm.

Living in the marginal makes you see things that others do not, and it teaches you to not put stock in thoughts, or agreements, those work very well for people in the city, they live in a system, for me houses are tombs, and thoughts are a take over from another ancient pandemic, one that has changed mammals into new evolutionary strategy. So we think, and we think a lot, we remember also, but it is just the function of a virus from long ago, and even though it gave us brilliance, we still need to make our choices for ourselves, the trade off for that so called brilliance is community, what made us “better” than the animals, is not that we are, is that we think is separation, we can break the biome, we can encapsulate the idea of the individual, and they can not, they have been infected like us, but never got as sick.
My problem is that I need to decide for others.

Writing for me is a way to bridge all of that, where I live there are no rules. Simply because no one wants to live there. I was pushed all of my life to this place, the borderland, even as a kid. So now my mind works in a different way, and it takes a lot to balance it all, I have to wake up at 4am to think clearly. The hard truth about the virus that made us able to think, is that it gave us one mind only, and made us all share it. None of us think alone. I took me years to accept that fact. I was taught by others, the simple first steps into telepathy, and it almost ruined me. What was hard was not being able to hear other people’s thoughts, it was understanding that none of mine were ever my own.

So I guess since then the only place that makes sense is the marginal, the abandoned lands without design, where nature and Man hit on each other as waves. It is a contradiction – where nomads come to farm, to hold the last days of an epoch at bay, and because I do not like to decide for others, I find myself sitting on a mountain of yurt covers, that we make for a string of campsites, places that have “diversified”, or in other words, stopped farming. We are nomads and we never cared about farming. I mean we are all nomads, we only farm because there are too many of us to live freely, we killed too many animals. That is the story of the last epoch, that is why we spent ice age after ice age in isolation. The world was devastated in ways we could no longer fathom. Now we freak out because one degree celsius of change, at the end of the last ice age, our ancestors stood a much more nomadic earth. Their stories of the flood, and comets, of endless winters of starvation is what drove them to a new agreement, but even then it was not all of them who decided, it was a small group of people who came together to hold the sky from rotating. They tried to stop the heavenly mill from grinding the ages, and they failed, but they did manage something else, they managed to appease the creator, and they gave us the Holocene, they were as wild as we are tame, we fear a change of 2 degrees, which comes to show how stable our climate is.

I have to make up my mind, but I no longer trust the mind, I say this, if we are to make a new decision if we are called to turn the heavenly mill around again, our rent is due, and we can no longer find a house to live in, because houses are tombs, yet nomads are just horse breeders without an idea, that do not even grow their own food.

Nomads have been a threat to the climate, because the climate is an agreement they made, I write because I feel you too must have a say. In order to find sanity.
I always ran away, my mind maybe does not work like yours, I need a lot of quiet to hear my own thoughts, so much so, I usually do not trust mine, only at 4 am while the world is asleep. I know the thoughts are mine.

I have learned to trust something else, which is more akin to feelings.
I see truths in contradictions, where dogs sit on window ledges, where the crazy are actually the sane ones. Yang lives on the window of a broken house, mourning because Yin has gone to heaven.

The Best Pesto, the Italian Za’atar and the secret for making guys fall in love.

Za'atar
The Italian Za’atar

Three years ago I have planted some Za’atar (Origanum syriacum) in the land we have in Italy, this is a native plant in Israel and the surrounding countries it is also the main ingredient in the Za’atar spice, made with sesame seeds and ground sumac. However, as we have been talking about our latest inspiration with food and rural development strategies this time I would like to go on a little journey into Italian food.

We All love pesto, originally a paste from Genova made with Pecorino cheese and pine nuts, Basil, garlic and olive oil. However like many things on our table, we make pesto from whatever herb grows plenty, so Thyme, Oregano, and even Rosemary. Instead of pine nuts, we use whatever nut is in the cupboard. Walnut is a good choice although it can add a little bitterness, Brazil is also a great choice, but as those don’t grow locally I prefer walnut after all the trees are just a little walk away, and so are almonds (although in this case, they came from the bag in cupboard which is quite local to the kitchen).

So back to our thread, in tonight’s cooking blog entry I would like to explore a very simple and potent mix, and what we think now is actually, the best Pesto.

We started with a load of Za’atar herb, at this time of year it has a strong new growth, usually I like to transplant a lot of the herbs by using cuttings, but at times one of the bushes does so well, and using it in teas doesn’t do it enough justice, because the amount exceeds what we can consume fresh. Although come summer we make pesto every third day, if you prefer Basil all you need to do is plant a few plants and keep picking the top leaves only, each leaf will sprout into two new ones so your plant will never go into seed and turn into a mighty bush, at least until winter comes.

Best Pesto

Here is the recipe –

100g of fresh picked Za’atar herb, (you can use Oregano if you can’t get any because you live in northern Europe, although it is like 20% of the strength).

100g of organic Almonds (this makes for a sweet counteraction to the intensity of the Za’atar)

100g of Pecorino cheese (I prefer Sardinian mature pecorino to the Abruzzen ones, although at times you can find a really good homemade one locally).

Olive oil – We use the local veriaties of Intosso and la Gentile most as they are strong and flavourful and those are the trees we have locally.

3 cloves of garlic (you may want to use less if you don’t like it to strong) I prefer the local red garlic of Sulmona, as we grow it in the garden.

pesto ingredients
Pecorino Sardo

To make the pesto put all the ingredients, but starting with the nuts and herb only, in a strong blender, we have an omniblend V. Having now owned it for 5 years we use it daily, it’s good enough to make flour out of grain so the nuts aren’t a problem for it. Once it is all mixed till its a paste you add olive oil, garlic, and the cheese, at this point if your blender isn’t strong its motor has just burned out!, which is a shame as we can not make balck chickpea Humous or even Falafel (also known as blender killer).

This is a short way to making a great dinner because it takes all of 5m, and if you are a pasta lover you can simply cook a great pasta and serve with pesto only.

For the pasta part we use Ancient grain pasta. This time we used senatori cappeli. It’s not as ancient a grain as the Solina or Saragolla we love, but it is considered one of the highest quality “grano duro” for pasta. You can maybe be lucky and taste it at a good Italian restaurant in London, but here in Abruzzo we actually see it as the lesser grain, because it was crossed to produce its characteristics. Where the Solina is an older grain, and the Saragolla traces its origins to one of the earliest the Khureshan wheat (it’s Egyptian) and was supposedly brought over to the area by Bulgarians, hence its name meaning yellow grain, but it made for a better picture than hand made pasta.

For sauce we threw a simple red sauce, Italians maintain that one shouldn’t bother with fresh tomatoes, and they simply use Passata, we only buy organic ones, and although I do prefer fresh tomatoes, to do it justice one has to peel the skins off, and as this is all done already in the bottle and the seeds are sieved its a no brainer for a quick meal. If you start from fresh this could be a great way to say your tomato seeds, I just peel, blend and sieve in that case, or if you prefer having bits you can just peel and cook.

I prefer leeks to onions, and for the best pasta sauce I use an old Jewish Italian method that adds the onion (leeks in this case) only after the sauce, it is sweeter that way. I love using rosemary and I use a lot in pasta sauce, but that is also because I need to keep using as much as the bushes give us. You can add some green like broccoli heads (cima di rapa) or similar. Cook it until it runs thick, I don’t like to overcook it, but the rosemary is my guide in this case and I cook until the dryish herb becomes soft and one with the sauce.

Ancient grain pasta served with Jewish Italian sauce and best pesto

Before we leave this meal there is another part that completes a good recipe. Or rather its a way of cooking, so if growing your own food and inventing dishes out of your favorite herbs and cereals isn’t enough, there is a secret ingredient that is the most important in my opinion, and that is conscious cooking. Although the name may be a little confusing, as it makes it sounds like some new age thing that goes well with yoga, it isn’t. But I call it that because its under that name that I was taught it, the idea is that everything is connected, and cooking is an alchemical act, conscious cooking is a lot about feeling, or the alchemy of only putting in the food what is meant to go there.

When I teach it to others I get asked if I mean cooking with love, I don’t. Conscious cooking is the act of being aware when cooking, It is done by trying to feel or sense all the feelings you actually feel at that moment so they don’t slip by and end in the dinner and get eaten by everyone, because most of the feelings we go through should not really be served to others, the same goes to thinking. In my opinion, it is best to simply not think at all when cooking. But if you already are thinking (we seem to not be able to stop) try and stay in touch with it, and don’t start “running it” into the dinner. There is a more advanced part, its about feeling all the feelings in the space even those which aren’t yours and saving the food from them too, but this may be too farfetched for most so lets keep sweet.

Now, I agree that once you master the basics and you can hold it, and if you have a flow of love you can add it to the mix, but I would prefer someone who is angry yet holding their feelings to cook my dinner most days. This is the basic law, it is hard to explain what feeling your feelings in full actually means, but whilst cooking this is the method I follow. Sometimes when I feel like I have a free hand and I can be creative I use consciousness as an ingredient itself, in that way you can actually choose what effect your dinner will produce in others, and I don’t just mean taste here. I had a great friend who I taught this method to, she used it on a guy she liked. She was so good she only needed to make him a cup of coffee and he fell totally in love with her, it’s not that she wasn’t the falling In love sort of material, she was. Its the magic she put in while making coffee, so you get the idea, and we should leave it at that.

So here is the best Pesto Recpie, the best pasta in London (but only one of the better ones in Abruzzo), and the secret to making guys fall in love with you through coffee.

Canvas Troubleshooting

 

If you have canvas tents or are thinking of getting some, you need to know something about canvas care as well as looking after tents in general. Some site owners avoid tents because of the maintenance – one should remember that they are tents after all and you can’t just put them up and not think about them when the Weather Gods are playing or let them sit unheated through the winter. If you want something with lower maintenance, best go for something more solid like a hut but personally, I think the romance, beauty and simplicity of nomadic tents, such as tipis and yurts, is well worth the effort.

tipi drip strip

Looking up in a tipi

So canvas…first I would advise you NOT go for cheap canvas however tempting it seems. A lot of the imported Mongolian yurts are made from a heavy canvas which is made for the dry climate of Mongolia but doesn’t adapt well to damp European climates and the canvas will quickly leak. Our main work is making yurt covers, and have re-covered many a Mongolian yurt barely in its infancy.

spirits intent

Sewing yurt covers

The usual canvas used in the UK is 12oz FWR (flame, water and rot-proofed) poly/cotton, Before 2007 it was cotton that was more popular, but the rot-proofing agent used in the proofing was banned, so a new one was used which was actually water-soluble! It meant that there was a batch of bad canvas around that time and we heard horror stories of canvas rotting after a year. Although a new rot-proofing agent was developed, the industry had moved into poly/cotton as it is more rot-resistant and stronger, with 50% polyester content it’s really a game changer.

It’s hard to say how long canvas lasts as it depends on many factors, so we don’t offer any guarantee on its life, but if looked after, one can expect 5-7 years for a tent left up all year. One consideration in pitching your tents is the choice of location. If pitched under trees, the canvas gets dirty from falling leaves and the run-off from tree sap and this can contribute to it perishing. Trees to be extra careful of are pine and willow. Also, obviously, if pitched in the shade the canvas doesn’t dry out so quickly and generally in the UK, the damp is more damaging than UV (although this summer has challenged that trend!) In hotter climates, such as Southern Europe the UV exposure continent, damages the cotton element of the canvas so it is worth thinking about alternatives to poly/cotton (see below about acrylic canvas).

Our Yurt and tipi garden in Israel

Next …general maintenance… we recommend reproofing the canvas once a year which can greatly increase its longevity. Before reproofing one should clean the canvas with a soft brush and warm water, no soap, no scrubbing, no pressure washing, but as long as you reproof the canvas well it should be OK. Remember that any cleaning will remove some of the proofing. (Obviously, white canvas shows the dirt and mould more than other colours, so many of our customers, when replacing yurt covers are choosing to replace white covers with darker colours, such as sand).

Reproofing is usually done with a paint-on solution when the tent goes up for the season – various products are available, but mostly only contain waterproofing and rotproofing agents. Recently the FWR proofing solution used by the manufacturers themselves has become available. (We can supply this at manufacturers cost). We have heard stories of tent covers being sent to professional cleaners, who have little experience of canvas and come back unproofed and sometimes perished although there are now companies who can clean and reproof for you.

Another consideration in canvas care is if the tents are left standing through the winter, they should be heated at least every few days, usually with a wood-burning stove (or open fire in a tipi) and, if the tents are not being used, they should be taken down when the canvas is bone dry and packed somewhere dry and rodent free. The summer before last we had a mice invasion on our site in Italy and we were surprised to discover that the mice chose to eat through the proofed canvas of the yurts rather than the wool blankets and mattresses inside. No accounting for taste. (Troubleshooting rodents and creepy-crawlies is for another chapter).

More yurt covers

There is a common perception that cottons are more ‘natural’ than synthetic fabrics, but people forget that they are proofed with chemicals. Our customers are choosing to go for acrylic fabrics as an alternative to poly/cotton as, although much more expensive, it is a better investment longterm, it greatly outlasts the poly/cotton as it doesn’t rot and it’s also stronger. The acrylic proofing isn’t in a coating but in the thread itself, thus doesn’t need reproofing the same way. It is a woven fabric so looks almost identical to the poly/cotton, yet feels nicer to touch and stays clean and new looking for much longer.

Acrylic canvas wedding pavillion

We are Spirits Intent, expert makers of nomadic tents and specialists in the canvas side of things, call on us if you need any advice on canvas or need new covers for your structures.

A Yurt Living Adventure by Sara Wheeler (Guest Blogger)

The things that people ask me at first is ‘ Why do you live in a yurt?’ Closely followed by…. ‘What’s it like?’

Well, first let me introduce myself.

I am a 40 year old woman who is Mum to 2 boys ages 8 and 6. My husband is called Mike.

We used to live in a nice house in Bristol, UK and realised that we were missing the children’s childhoods and working too hard to pay for it all.

One day, Mike suggested that we sell the house and travel round the world. I thought he was joking at first. Within a few months we sold the house, took the children out of school and set off with a one-way ticket on the trip of a lifetime.

On 2 October 2015 we flew to Indonesia and made our way around South East Asia, employing a strategy called ‘World schooling’ where children lead their education, sparked by curiosity of the world around them. We climbed mountains in the Himalayas and snorkelled with sharks in Belize. We scaled the Grand Canyon and camped on a beach amongst wild kangaroos in Australia.

Our trip was immense, hard work and awesome in every sense of the word. Increasingly though, our thoughts turned to when- and if, we should return home. We missed our family and friends and being part of a community. Most of all we DIDN’T want to fall back into the trap of working to pay bills again. Old friends of ours had a smallholding in Wales with a few acres to spare. For years they had suggested we come and live on their mountain. We skyped them from our beach hut and apparently they were serious. We’d split utility bills and the field was ours, if we wanted it.

We looked at converting one of their barns, craning in a container… but we had always loved camping and yurt holidays. Having spent over a year living in the same room and out of 2 backpacks, a yurt would feel palatial.

Mike set about researching yurts and we joined some Facebook groups to talk to people and get an idea of what we’d need to live fairly comfortably. With friends in the festival trade, installing infrastructure into our field was no problem so we focussed on what we needed from the yurt:

  • A traditional design
  • as big as possible to fit on the existing platform.
  • To future proof it, we’d need to get a high wall and roof so we could install a mezzanine for the children to sleep on for a bit of privacy.

Oh, and we wanted an ‘indoor’ toilet.

We ordered our 22’ Turkmen Yurt from Spirits Intent and that was our decision made. Updates on their Facebook page were exciting as we could see our new home being built from the other side of the world.

Mike was clever enough to bag himself a job when we were in Guatemala, so we had a deadline for the yurt build. We had to be moved in so he could start work on the 4 December 2017. After a whirlwind of reunions with our friends and family, we took ourselves to mid Wales on the 24 November as the weather forecast was… ok…We had been chasing the sun for 14 months and I think we had forgotten how harsh British weather could be. Anyway, this was Wales and we needed somewhere to live so we had to get on with it.

Nitsan from Spirits Intent arrived at our friends’ house, hungry and serious. He had been building our yurt with some volunteers and had come to stay the night before- sleeping in his van, to brace us for the hard work that was to come on Build Day. I felt sick with nerves as I heard the wind and rain battering at the house windows. I think the weather forecast for an‘ok’ day might have been optimistic. The whole family pitched in. We tried to ignore the hailstorm and Nitsan showed the youngest how to do a sun dance. Oddly, it seemed to work a bit even just to lighten the mood as we got battered by chunks of ice being hurled at us from the sky.

The trellis was up, the doors and rafters tentatively slid into place. We stopped to warm up with soup and I realise I had lost sensation in most of my body due to the numbing cold. We piled on the layers and the children decided to stay indoors after the rest of it (I couldn’t blame them)

We knew we’d start to lose daylight at about 3pm. So we hurriedly put up the felt insulation and lifted the canvas on with the last ounce of strength we had in us. Tying the fabric to the lattice was painfully slow as I had to cling to the edge of raised platform whilst my hands were frozen by the cold. Nitsan’s rallies of positivity were soothing, as our energy fell to its lowest ebb.

Then, all of a sudden, despite every sort of weather that the Welsh mountainside could throw at us, we had a yurt.

We were soaking wet and exhausted but we had a home all of our own. We waved Nitsan an emotional goodbye, as our team disbanded- the hard work cementing a bond between us. 

For the next couple of weeks we worked at sanding the floors, putting in the filtered water, installing a gas boiler, hooking up electric, building a kitchen, digging drainage ditches and laying pathways… lastly we brought in our furniture.

So, what’s life like in the yurt?

The day we moved in our furniture a blizzard came and covered everything in 6 inches of snow. We slept and woke up to a world that was like Narnia.

It looked beautiful but the reality was hard work. The first night the canvas dripped in multiple places as the seams had not had a chance to bed in…. the children were frozen from playing but it was hard to keep them dry and warm. We had no toilet, running water or drainage and icy drops of water falling on our faces when we were in bed.

After the blizzard though, normal Winter feels easy! We have learnt our lessons, dried out, and are enjoying nature as we fall asleep to flicker of the fire, the sound of the river and Barn Owls calling along the valley. 

We have found a rhythm and have learnt that with this life, you can take nothing for granted. We wake and start the fire. We have learnt to shower in the evenings when the yurt is warmest and appreciate that hot running water fresh from a mountain spring is a beautiful kind of sorcery. We keep the woodpile well stocked and keep muddy boots by the door. We have very warm duvets and wear lots of layers. We use ratchet straps to tie down the yurt as 80mph winds are quite common here. We empty the composting toilet every week and we have found that the Ultrasonic pest deterrents really work. Yes, we have found droppings amongst our dinner plates and had whole bags of clothes eaten by mice! Never again.

The horses in the field next door come and bray to tell us when the weather is bad and we all enjoy being connected to our surroundings.

There isn’t a day that we don’t open the yurt door and have our breaths taken away at the sight of the mountains around us. Yes, it would be nice to have conveniences like ‘heating’ but the amount we’d have to sacrifice for that just isn’t a price we want to pay.

At the moment, anyway.

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Thankyou Sara.

For more on this family adventure…see Wheelers on the Bus: Facebook page

And their lovely  Blog

Blog | Spirits Intent

Nomadic Tent Design – The mutant forms

Ardabil is an ancient city in northwestern Iran. In 1974 Peter Alford Andrews, who has now been nominated to receive the Burton medal for his work on the Eurasian tent, interviewed the only two Iranian Alachigh makers, They were brothers.

They told him that they were in fact the only two craftsmen who made this specific tent type, legendary because of its elegant curvature and flowing design, a tent that stands alone amongst all the trellis tents of the region, I mean that literally, as it stands alone without a trellis.

The two brothers claimed that the work had remained exclusively the speciality of their family since it was introduced eight generations earlier by Seyyd Bejan, they could name the makers in each of the eight generations.

Alachigh

What a lot of people do not know is about the way it all came about, did you wonder how come the UK has become crazy about yurts? To begin with we all owe the come back of nomadic tent types to a book, that not accidentally bears the same name, the fruit of Peter Alford Andrews’ work. In it he has covered all nomadic tent forms in the Middle East. He and his wife have traveled extensively and lived with the nomads themselves, documenting the tents to the inch, it is a master piece with exact drawing of the frame work, the felts, even the decorations on the door panels. 
Peter, who has become a good friend, never imagined that his work to document nomadic tents before they disappear will catch on like that, but that is exactly the point, for something to catch on it needs to have a story in it, he himself was inspired by a one liner from one of his lecturers who said, “no one has taken tent architecture seriously”.

Stories need to have a core in them, something that catches us, in the same way the American guy who coined the phrase “the Mediterranean diet” he never thought that it will become such a hit few decades later, nor did Thor Heyerdahl ever think that his original “back to nature” idea will become a movement, he even later laughed saying he was probably the first hippie.

Similarly Bill Coperthwaite, who had sadly passed some years ago, never imagined that his experimentations with yurts will ignite the a craze in the US. The point is that good design or good ideas always have some core in them, and all those above share a truth, which is a traditional entity, they are based on the lives of rural communities. Be it Italian peasants, Polynesians sea farers and navigators, and the great nomadic people of the Steppe. Their freedom, their rurality, their traditions are those that ignite this thing in us, the feeling of belonging to a wilder earth.

I have predicted two years ago that canvas tents in the UK will start disappearing and be switched over to cabins or wooden huts, and so does the trend seem to go. Meanwhile in Italy, people can not get enough of yurts, in fact after Covid importers can not even get them, my phone keeps on ringing all day.

Whilst Glamping has gone a little crazy, driven by bigger profits, moving little by little to prefabricated structures, or using some amazing design concepts that some small guy worked out in his shed and copying them into a plastic tent, in an industry where intellectual property has never been regulated all can happen.

The trend however is a move away from making yurts or nomadic tents by hand, away from the craft aspect. We would like to take things back to the original story, having sat with the women who invented the word glamping, or having worked with the first people in the industry, I feel also that the idea has been boycotted and executed in some very strange ways. What it aimed to achieve is to give people the feeling of mystery, the spirit of nomadism, and tribalism yet here in the UK. It was so successful the whole world copied it.

It was never a new concept, the mogul emperors invented Glamping generations before, they had cities of tents, that would put burning man festival to shame, court tents that reached the sky, two story decorated and bejewelled pavilions, cities that travelled.

We decided we would like to first take the concept back to its origins in Peter Andrews work, the idea was to not let those tent forms disappear, to be honest, the main Asian nomadic tent form – the yurt has been covered and done extensively, we would like to focus for a moment on some of the other tent forms in order to save their architectural concepts, more so because those are stories of mutant forms, a tribe or a people that had to redesign away from the rest. The Northern Afghan tribe alliance that translates into the 4 tribes in English, all had a double curvature yurt, some of them claim to be descendent of the Mongol army (the Hazzara) but why are they the only ones to use the double curvature? What was the idea behind its design, why the tall profile and the small wheels?

I have theorised before those are because it was in fact the first western yurt, when mongols moved west and encountered wetter climates, so the higher and smaller wheel could be open (each yurt has open fires in the past) and the form may have helped with smoke.

The same goes to the Alachigh, which like a yurt is a curved tent, but unlike it is only uses ribs without trellis, the genius of the yurt was that it allows for shorter pieces of wood and tied bundles that could be simply opened, in fact there used to be a form of tent that grouped all rafters together with a rope instead of a wheel meaning the roof could be erected like an umbrella almost, again it must have been designed around camels for weight. A lot of those tent design concepts have never seen a return, genius almost, yet now lost.

Afghan yurt concept

The rib tents of the Turkmen were reportedly adopted from older yurts, meaning a poorer couple would inherit the rafters and wheel of an old yurt, possibly when the trellis gave way, or older yurts had the roof only pitched on the ground to serve as an outside kitchen, at a few places those turned into their own design, and possibly this was the way the Alachigh of the Shasevan was born too. The Yomut or Turkmen of Iran, have taken one of those rib tents and made it with especially long rafters, so it turned into a yurt shape without a trellis, but high enough to stand with a wooden door. I would have liked to understand the design concept behind their thinking, and at times the easiest way is to make the structure itself, which we did a few years ago. That led to a break through in tent design but that is something for another time, plus advertising your design concepts for me usually means someone copies them before I get to realise them.

Kutuk tent

I pour over old accounts of travellers and avidly look for the mutant design forms, I think that in the last 10 years the industry have been in a design standstill, no new great concepts were actually introduced, the focus on creating prefabricated forms to keep up with demand has also wiped many of the crafts people who used to make structures for the Glamping industry, and little by little it too started to loose its appeal. The UK has always been the leader in this industry, yet now it lags behind, the passion is gone, and with it the joy of the great outdoors, almost as if people have given up on the country, own sustainability, on adventure.

In short Craft, tradition, great design mixed with natural materials will always work better, creating a story line that grabs the soul, where one can feel the gaze of the qirgiz nomads, a woman brining the hand of a guest to her heart saying you are home in my yurt.

We work with a small group of people who always led this industry, and yeah I feel like we all have gone a little astray because of the need to make a living, yet a new trend in tourism is waking up, like a wave, it wants true freedom. Once we were the only people living on the road, 10 years ago we travelled the UK in trucks seeing no one, yet no van lifers have been born everywhere, people are converting vans all across the country. Working as a non profit association in Europe (mainly Italy) also means I see a constant stream of people leaving the country, looking for rural areas and meaning, and so I know the battle for rurality is not lost, traditional ways of life will always win in the end, you can not bend nature away from itself, at the end it will go back to weather and man, shelter and rain. All this development craze and second homes will pass, it only works because people can not access nature in the UK.

Going back to nomadic tent design, I want to focus more on content, bringing sustainable tourism into being the most important aspect, almost the only way through which we can design rural areas back into community. Yet I want it to happen around the magical stories and some great design concepts.

nomadic tent

I would  like to leave you with an image of one of the greatest craft concepts in nomadic tents, one created by the Nogay.

tent was made like a yurt, except that it was woven, using two big rings around the walls which were fixed, going into a yurt wheel, it was made this way so it could be lifted on and off a small cart, and was only used by the newly wedded couple. This is a great metaphor also for the nomadic tent design and the state of the modern world, because now days the largest of all yurts made are wedding yurts, and the nogay wedding yurt was in fact so small it could be lifted on and off and made intact so it would not need to collapse, a great effort and nomadic tent design now gone. Again I would love to see it remade, in fact the idea behind all of this research is to focus again on making some great nomadic tent design, maybe use some modern materials where applicable but without losing the form and concepts. This amazing little tent can become the best Shepard hut even made.

Soon when time allows I would like to open up the possibility of working and teaching others, so we can together create some of those great tents of the past, we have some great business ideas, enough to allow for at least one or two new independent businesses. This we think would tie very well with the new emerging market of sustainble tourism, imagine moving camps as a safari on rewlibding projects in the highlands, yet done with nomadic tents instead of plastic, imagine arriving at the camp fire, and sitting inside a nomadic tent, the fire is lit, food is served, the magic flows through the wheel, and one can feel the hand of a qirgiz woman almost, going to her heart telling you, you are home inside my tent.

Nogay tent cart

Yin and Yang

‘Bombs’ Marziale said, ‘first they throw bombs and then close everything up’, it was his conspiracy theory.
The gate for his charming ramshackle row of houses was closed behind him, I think it was more of a reflex because the dogs used to come out, but I don’t think he realised that the only dog that posed any danger has been tied for two years now. With a few of his dogs killed by the hunters and a few others gone missing.
The paint on the gate was old, but the tricolours of the Italian flag could still be seen clearly.
He has been our neighbour for over 6 years. His Italian is a dialect special to him only. He made me laugh, i’ll stop every time on the way back home, and even though our conversation would always be the same, as if we are rehearsing, I’ve come to appreciate it.

The fields were all ploughed, and though we usually spoke of our strategy for sowing wheat, it was as if time itself stood still, things did not make sense anymore. The Holocene has come to an end.
Winter was approaching, but the last few years it came late, climate change was everywhere. By ‘bombs’ he meant to say that the pandemic was back, that it was man made, it was dropped on us all.

There is a craziness in rural Italy, one that is hard to make sense of, especially for us that have grown up in the western mindsets. Families are the rule, and there is an ancient law that rules the land, and it all comes together in my neighbour in a strange way. We were leaving, or at least I think we were, something snapped inside me, we were leading a revolution by ourselves, a revolution I did no longer believe in.
So standing there with him outside his gate, the fading tricolours and 10,000 years of sowing wheat, the climate change itself even, and our plans to bring back the heritage wheats of old into production, where all on standby, as if waiting for some heavenly decision, ‘bombs’ he said, ‘they drop bombs on us and than they make new rules’.
This plan that I have convinced him will see him back into farming, more as a way to convince him not to give up. Somehow all of it came together for me, it is this imposing mountain we live under, it makes everything dramatic, everything seems big. I was sitting in the car, talking to the last peasant farmer of Torricella Peligna, about sewing wheat.
The revolution was none other but an effort to save the Holocene from collapsing on itself.
Wheat is what made the weather stable for over ten thousand years, no one really knows about it, because it’s not a scientific fact. It is a pact some long lost ancestor of us made.

One of his dogs set on the ledge of the second floor window, even the dogs here do not follow normal rules, the row of 4 houses were a progression from liveable, to quite broken, to beyond repair, with the last being the house were the dog lives on a window ledge, that dog used to have a brother, one was white and the other was black, the black one used to live on the roof of his house, but he disappeared one day. Then after the roof was somewhat fixed, the remaining puppy, I took to call Yang, because they looked like Yin and Yang, the white has a black head and the black had a white.
The remaining puppy used to sit on the upstairs window, as if he was mourning his brother.
Things were different under the mountain, and it made some dogs behave differently, Yang found a compromise, he only ventured as far as the second floor, his brother went all the way to heaven and disappeared. One needs to find a balance with how far it allowed the mountain to drive him into other planes of existence, the dogs knew it.
It was the time of the second wave and sure no one dropped bombs to infect us all, or so we we think, but it is also true that things stopped making sense.

Yang at the window ledge

It was a picture frame, his dog. Framed by choice over sensibility, the mountain pulls us into higher planes. Sometimes it seems crazy, the old laws of conduct in small Italian villages, so difficult to the outsider at times, that they almost broke me. I felt like I am being asked to make a ruling, here in this strange land of the past, medieval villages are suspended in mid air, dogs are pulled into window ledges, and wheat stands in question, the stability of the Holocene.

I drove back home, I have given all my wheat to local farmers to plant, I give them one seed and they give me two in return, that’s the core of the project. I could not really focus on wheat anymore, In fact I never could. I was running late for work, we have endless yurt covers to make. I wonder how we got to that point, we used to be free, on the road, with no work and no hassle, how come nomads can not travel freely, because they make yurt covers for a thousand campsites.

It is a strange occupation being a yurt maker, and a yurt cover maker (which is the majority of our work) even more so, it’s such an art. We make all of our yurt covers from afar, and believe me it is maybe one of the hardest lines of work. To know how much to add, how much to trust the client’s measurements, where to cut more, where to add less. The fact I was running up and down the mountain, did not help, the measurements of three different covers were turning inside my head to a point that I could not see the math anymore, Pythagoras was taking over but who knows what he was calculating. There are pictures in my mind, snaps, stories and they tend to come out when I sew.
The problem is that it is hard to bring them out to make sense, not so much to me, but to others.

I know what was going on, I know it was not bombs, but I also know my neighbour is not crazy, even though the locals sometimes say he is, he is the last link of a chain of a people, a way of life – the sedentary. I am his neighbour, yet I never belonged anywhere, and though I find it hard to deal with the issues of central Italy, I have found a belonging here. I am though more of a nomad and he, the last peasant farmer. The mountain frames everything in this dramatic sense, a romanticisation of daily lives.
If we did not buy our land with the last houses of the commune, he would have sold already. So I live in the contradiction, it’s the end of time, not because the world is ending, because it is not, what is ending is our pact with the creator.

Currently here, under the mountain where dogs live in their own abandoned houses, perched on window sills, me and my neighbour are facing this question together, can we save the climate?.
What is hard to explain, is that the climate we are used to is an agreement.
It is an agreement made by nomads at the end of the younger dryas (the last ice age) when in order to stop the sky from rotating, which they failed, they chose to live in one place. What they succeeded in, is making the chain of ice ages stop. They did it with wheat, they did it by stopping their roaming.

It is only in the contradictions, on the edge of abandon, or when everything seems to fall apart, something magical opens, like a door. In it you can see the making of ages. Italy of the mountains is ruled by something older, something that seems so foreign to the outsider, it is community.
What makes it hard to see, is that we have a sense of community that we gained from instagram, novels of a paradise lost, of other ways of life.
So it is hard for us to see it, because now, at the end of the Holocene, when all the agreements are falling down, we do not understand that the last guardians of a ten thousand year agreement, are small Italian farmers.

Nomads, it has been said always plunder the sedentary. We, in our own personal journey, have come to place after place like that, the rule of 5 (which also means something else to us) meant that we were used to pack our things and move within 5 minutes, if we deemed a place to be unhealthy. That still drives me crazy, the idea of living in a park-up, in a lay-by for 6 years. The Huns see houses as tombs, and I can not fault the judgement, houses are tombs for nomads.
I sit on a pile of yurt covers, there are only a few people who knows this art, the cover makers, most of which have been taught by us. We have our own language, seam allowances, and shrinkage. Sometime at the end of long day of chasing the illusive line between reality and craziness, trying to find the right place to end the canvas above the yurt door, not sure if to trust the client, or the figures they have sent us, it boils down to intuition, at the end of the day sometimes we have a small victory, a new way to pattern the roof pieces or
another way to stitch the cap. Sometimes we design another tent, but most of all it is impeccability of the trade, throwing yourself into the unknown of
someone else’s frame. Learning a to know from experience what can go wrong, and assume the worst, I laugh how my clients get amazed when I tell them how they took a measurement and why its wrong. To give them their dues, they work hard to measure their frames for us, and we send them back and back again to them to make sure they haven’t got anything wrong.

How did we get here, can nomads make the law for the countryside?, I remember when we lived in tents, and everything seemed sane, even if new age community is a monstrosity, with no real roots in existence, but we were the only people living in tents. The rest of the population lived in houses, we were poor, and once every few years we would sell our tent cover, or poles, it was our way to pay for a new home. which was again a tent, it was like a snake shedding its skin, and in order to afford the new one, he had to sell the old to someone else, this is how it all started.

How did we end up with a thousand campsites, and people in massive estates calling us to make them new yurt covers. Now they ask us how to run the countryside, but we alongside them have ruined it. We turned it into a chain of holiday homes and campsites, we sold them our community and they use it to repackage their massive estates, so we can never buy, or even rent in the countryside, and none of us is really happy, even though for a time they pretend it’s so much better solution to farming, its called diversification, I can call it diversify your attention from what’s really going on.

So you see, it is hard to strike a balance between the real and the made up, the lines are diffused, only a few yurt cover-makers know that art, only they understand. We live in a lie, because as long as we make yurts for sedentary people we can not travel, it is their way to keep us in place, they sell our art, and the country side with it to an endless stream of people who would never live in it. Together we have repackaged the land and made it less accessible to all.

We have no time to make up our mind, to lead the sedentary into another epoch, because there is always the next yurt cover to make, I am lucky because I have trained others to make covers with me, and it gave me some time to focus on something else. We dreamed together, but the pressure of making a cover after cover, yurt after yurt, broke their dreams. They feel like we will never find freedom, all that we have found is an endless pile of patterning, we got holed in small homes and workshops. Once the only campsites were where we lived, around the fire.

We all knew how to make our tents. Sure, none of us were very good at it because we only did it every few years. Now we sold our freedom, and we make the best tents in the world, I know things about pattern making that few do, Its an art, when you get good at it you can do it in mid air, its a space a few can hold, the patterns float, and you must hold them all inside you, balancing all the factors, holding all the measurements, the canvas shrink, the stitching. We sold our way of life and the community, and as long as we keep doing so, to people who re-market it as an experiential tourism, nor we or them can ever find it again.
The people who I’ve trained blame me, and maybe they are right. I feel like something is looming over us all. It is decision time. Underneath all this industry of selling the landscape as a package, there is a small family of tent makers, and most of us are related.

In central Italy the mountain rules all, I know that modern society is incapable of true community, it does not even know what it should look like. We have become accustomed to making belief, we convince each other community still exists. I have lived in the marginal, in the borderlands of society all my life, I have seen enough alternative communities to know nothing is different. Maybe I am the only one that will say it, but there is no such thing as sustainable tourism either. We sell abandoned lands as a dream, as a resource, when we aren’t willing to live sustainably in them.
I have been up since 5 in the morning, and I am on the verge of giving up on my (now) one man revolution, I know something else. It is just hard to speak about it, my “crazy” neighbour seems the only sane person around, ‘bombs’ of coronavirus, are the mark of the end of an epoch. Most of us are so distracted by Covid-19, that we do not see that the countryside itself is sick, the apple trees, the olives. This last year has seen a whole olive field next to our place in Italy, develop a new sickness. We are all so homocentric that we miss out, currently (it seems to me at least) all of the non local varieties of fruit trees are dying. Sure they always had less tolerance to sickness, but they managed, you do not expect them all to die within one year. After all the olive grove next to our houses have been there for 30 years.

I say I am a nomad, but there have been no true nomads for over ten thousand years. Nomadism as we know it is an offshoot of the neolithic revolution, the people of the steppe domesticated horses, and it gave them a trading power. They lived in yurts, and now I feel like their last descendant, I know things that only exist in contradictions. We have ran out of a design plan, our rent is due. I led a one man’s revolution, I have to make up my mind, but my mind does not function like other people’s.

In the long long ago, all mammals have been infected by a virus, not unlike we are now. ‘Bombs’ he said it, and it makes me laugh.
Some think he is crazy, but there is a sanity in how he sees things, in his dialect, it is a language of his own, made from being the last frontier man for so many years, farming the last farm of the village. The real edge of abandonment makes one sane in ways others can not comprehend, it is where nature writes Man.

All of our minds have been infected by a virus, and this is how we think. Activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein or ARC as it is known, plays a critical role in synaptic plasticity in our brains. With an important function in our memory. It has been suggested that it acts in a very similar way to a virus, self assembling into virion-like capsids that encapsulate RNA as it does.
It is thus theorised to be repurposed from a viral event somewhere in earlier evolution in order to mediate intercellular communication in neurones.
What?!! you may ask.

We have ALWAYS been thinking like a virus!!!, in fact thinking is a viral function, and that is what I am trying to say, what we deem crazy, is that some of us do not encapsulate in the same manner, our thoughts are not regular, and mine never seem to have been. We are humans, now scared of a new virus, always scared of the virus, yet it is the virus itself that taught us to be scared. We above all other animals, we are not the smartest, we just got more virused. That is why community is hard for us, we make separation inside our heads, the capsids we wrap around our thoughts and memories.
Yet that was then (million of years ago) and now is now, and now is the time for someone to make a decision, the trees are dying, and the Holocene is at an end, not because of climate change, but because we stopped honouring our agreement with the creator, when nomads come to farm.

Living in the marginal makes you see things that others do not, and it teaches you to not put stock in thoughts, or agreements, those work very well for people in the city, they live in a system, for me houses are tombs, and thoughts are a take over from another ancient pandemic, one that has changed mammals into new evolutionary strategy. So we think, and we think a lot, we remember also, but it is just the function of a virus from long ago, and even though it gave us brilliance, we still need to make our choices for ourselves, the trade off for that so called brilliance is community, what made us “better” than the animals, is not that we are, is that we think is separation, we can break the biome, we can encapsulate the idea of the individual, and they can not, they have been infected like us, but never got as sick.
My problem is that I need to decide for others.

Writing for me is a way to bridge all of that, where I live there are no rules. Simply because no one wants to live there. I was pushed all of my life to this place, the borderland, even as a kid. So now my mind works in a different way, and it takes a lot to balance it all, I have to wake up at 4am to think clearly. The hard truth about the virus that made us able to think, is that it gave us one mind only, and made us all share it. None of us think alone. I took me years to accept that fact. I was taught by others, the simple first steps into telepathy, and it almost ruined me. What was hard was not being able to hear other people’s thoughts, it was understanding that none of mine were ever my own.

So I guess since then the only place that makes sense is the marginal, the abandoned lands without design, where nature and Man hit on each other as waves. It is a contradiction – where nomads come to farm, to hold the last days of an epoch at bay, and because I do not like to decide for others, I find myself sitting on a mountain of yurt covers, that we make for a string of campsites, places that have “diversified”, or in other words, stopped farming. We are nomads and we never cared about farming. I mean we are all nomads, we only farm because there are too many of us to live freely, we killed too many animals. That is the story of the last epoch, that is why we spent ice age after ice age in isolation. The world was devastated in ways we could no longer fathom. Now we freak out because one degree celsius of change, at the end of the last ice age, our ancestors stood a much more nomadic earth. Their stories of the flood, and comets, of endless winters of starvation is what drove them to a new agreement, but even then it was not all of them who decided, it was a small group of people who came together to hold the sky from rotating. They tried to stop the heavenly mill from grinding the ages, and they failed, but they did manage something else, they managed to appease the creator, and they gave us the Holocene, they were as wild as we are tame, we fear a change of 2 degrees, which comes to show how stable our climate is.

I have to make up my mind, but I no longer trust the mind, I say this, if we are to make a new decision if we are called to turn the heavenly mill around again, our rent is due, and we can no longer find a house to live in, because houses are tombs, yet nomads are just horse breeders without an idea, that do not even grow their own food.

Nomads have been a threat to the climate, because the climate is an agreement they made, I write because I feel you too must have a say. In order to find sanity.
I always ran away, my mind maybe does not work like yours, I need a lot of quiet to hear my own thoughts, so much so, I usually do not trust mine, only at 4 am while the world is asleep. I know the thoughts are mine.

I have learned to trust something else, which is more akin to feelings.
I see truths in contradictions, where dogs sit on window ledges, where the crazy are actually the sane ones. Yang lives on the window of a broken house, mourning because Yin has gone to heaven.

The Best Pesto, the Italian Za’atar and the secret for making guys fall in love.

Za'atar
The Italian Za’atar

Three years ago I have planted some Za’atar (Origanum syriacum) in the land we have in Italy, this is a native plant in Israel and the surrounding countries it is also the main ingredient in the Za’atar spice, made with sesame seeds and ground sumac. However, as we have been talking about our latest inspiration with food and rural development strategies this time I would like to go on a little journey into Italian food.

We All love pesto, originally a paste from Genova made with Pecorino cheese and pine nuts, Basil, garlic and olive oil. However like many things on our table, we make pesto from whatever herb grows plenty, so Thyme, Oregano, and even Rosemary. Instead of pine nuts, we use whatever nut is in the cupboard. Walnut is a good choice although it can add a little bitterness, Brazil is also a great choice, but as those don’t grow locally I prefer walnut after all the trees are just a little walk away, and so are almonds (although in this case, they came from the bag in cupboard which is quite local to the kitchen).

So back to our thread, in tonight’s cooking blog entry I would like to explore a very simple and potent mix, and what we think now is actually, the best Pesto.

We started with a load of Za’atar herb, at this time of year it has a strong new growth, usually I like to transplant a lot of the herbs by using cuttings, but at times one of the bushes does so well, and using it in teas doesn’t do it enough justice, because the amount exceeds what we can consume fresh. Although come summer we make pesto every third day, if you prefer Basil all you need to do is plant a few plants and keep picking the top leaves only, each leaf will sprout into two new ones so your plant will never go into seed and turn into a mighty bush, at least until winter comes.

Best Pesto

Here is the recipe –

100g of fresh picked Za’atar herb, (you can use Oregano if you can’t get any because you live in northern Europe, although it is like 20% of the strength).

100g of organic Almonds (this makes for a sweet counteraction to the intensity of the Za’atar)

100g of Pecorino cheese (I prefer Sardinian mature pecorino to the Abruzzen ones, although at times you can find a really good homemade one locally).

Olive oil – We use the local veriaties of Intosso and la Gentile most as they are strong and flavourful and those are the trees we have locally.

3 cloves of garlic (you may want to use less if you don’t like it to strong) I prefer the local red garlic of Sulmona, as we grow it in the garden.

pesto ingredients
Pecorino Sardo

To make the pesto put all the ingredients, but starting with the nuts and herb only, in a strong blender, we have an omniblend V. Having now owned it for 5 years we use it daily, it’s good enough to make flour out of grain so the nuts aren’t a problem for it. Once it is all mixed till its a paste you add olive oil, garlic, and the cheese, at this point if your blender isn’t strong its motor has just burned out!, which is a shame as we can not make balck chickpea Humous or even Falafel (also known as blender killer).

This is a short way to making a great dinner because it takes all of 5m, and if you are a pasta lover you can simply cook a great pasta and serve with pesto only.

For the pasta part we use Ancient grain pasta. This time we used senatori cappeli. It’s not as ancient a grain as the Solina or Saragolla we love, but it is considered one of the highest quality “grano duro” for pasta. You can maybe be lucky and taste it at a good Italian restaurant in London, but here in Abruzzo we actually see it as the lesser grain, because it was crossed to produce its characteristics. Where the Solina is an older grain, and the Saragolla traces its origins to one of the earliest the Khureshan wheat (it’s Egyptian) and was supposedly brought over to the area by Bulgarians, hence its name meaning yellow grain, but it made for a better picture than hand made pasta.

For sauce we threw a simple red sauce, Italians maintain that one shouldn’t bother with fresh tomatoes, and they simply use Passata, we only buy organic ones, and although I do prefer fresh tomatoes, to do it justice one has to peel the skins off, and as this is all done already in the bottle and the seeds are sieved its a no brainer for a quick meal. If you start from fresh this could be a great way to say your tomato seeds, I just peel, blend and sieve in that case, or if you prefer having bits you can just peel and cook.

I prefer leeks to onions, and for the best pasta sauce I use an old Jewish Italian method that adds the onion (leeks in this case) only after the sauce, it is sweeter that way. I love using rosemary and I use a lot in pasta sauce, but that is also because I need to keep using as much as the bushes give us. You can add some green like broccoli heads (cima di rapa) or similar. Cook it until it runs thick, I don’t like to overcook it, but the rosemary is my guide in this case and I cook until the dryish herb becomes soft and one with the sauce.

Ancient grain pasta served with Jewish Italian sauce and best pesto

Before we leave this meal there is another part that completes a good recipe. Or rather its a way of cooking, so if growing your own food and inventing dishes out of your favorite herbs and cereals isn’t enough, there is a secret ingredient that is the most important in my opinion, and that is conscious cooking. Although the name may be a little confusing, as it makes it sounds like some new age thing that goes well with yoga, it isn’t. But I call it that because its under that name that I was taught it, the idea is that everything is connected, and cooking is an alchemical act, conscious cooking is a lot about feeling, or the alchemy of only putting in the food what is meant to go there.

When I teach it to others I get asked if I mean cooking with love, I don’t. Conscious cooking is the act of being aware when cooking, It is done by trying to feel or sense all the feelings you actually feel at that moment so they don’t slip by and end in the dinner and get eaten by everyone, because most of the feelings we go through should not really be served to others, the same goes to thinking. In my opinion, it is best to simply not think at all when cooking. But if you already are thinking (we seem to not be able to stop) try and stay in touch with it, and don’t start “running it” into the dinner. There is a more advanced part, its about feeling all the feelings in the space even those which aren’t yours and saving the food from them too, but this may be too farfetched for most so lets keep sweet.

Now, I agree that once you master the basics and you can hold it, and if you have a flow of love you can add it to the mix, but I would prefer someone who is angry yet holding their feelings to cook my dinner most days. This is the basic law, it is hard to explain what feeling your feelings in full actually means, but whilst cooking this is the method I follow. Sometimes when I feel like I have a free hand and I can be creative I use consciousness as an ingredient itself, in that way you can actually choose what effect your dinner will produce in others, and I don’t just mean taste here. I had a great friend who I taught this method to, she used it on a guy she liked. She was so good she only needed to make him a cup of coffee and he fell totally in love with her, it’s not that she wasn’t the falling In love sort of material, she was. Its the magic she put in while making coffee, so you get the idea, and we should leave it at that.

So here is the best Pesto Recpie, the best pasta in London (but only one of the better ones in Abruzzo), and the secret to making guys fall in love with you through coffee.

Canvas Troubleshooting

 

If you have canvas tents or are thinking of getting some, you need to know something about canvas care as well as looking after tents in general. Some site owners avoid tents because of the maintenance – one should remember that they are tents after all and you can’t just put them up and not think about them when the Weather Gods are playing or let them sit unheated through the winter. If you want something with lower maintenance, best go for something more solid like a hut but personally, I think the romance, beauty and simplicity of nomadic tents, such as tipis and yurts, is well worth the effort.

tipi drip strip

Looking up in a tipi

So canvas…first I would advise you NOT go for cheap canvas however tempting it seems. A lot of the imported Mongolian yurts are made from a heavy canvas which is made for the dry climate of Mongolia but doesn’t adapt well to damp European climates and the canvas will quickly leak. Our main work is making yurt covers, and have re-covered many a Mongolian yurt barely in its infancy.

spirits intent

Sewing yurt covers

The usual canvas used in the UK is 12oz FWR (flame, water and rot-proofed) poly/cotton, Before 2007 it was cotton that was more popular, but the rot-proofing agent used in the proofing was banned, so a new one was used which was actually water-soluble! It meant that there was a batch of bad canvas around that time and we heard horror stories of canvas rotting after a year. Although a new rot-proofing agent was developed, the industry had moved into poly/cotton as it is more rot-resistant and stronger, with 50% polyester content it’s really a game changer.

It’s hard to say how long canvas lasts as it depends on many factors, so we don’t offer any guarantee on its life, but if looked after, one can expect 5-7 years for a tent left up all year. One consideration in pitching your tents is the choice of location. If pitched under trees, the canvas gets dirty from falling leaves and the run-off from tree sap and this can contribute to it perishing. Trees to be extra careful of are pine and willow. Also, obviously, if pitched in the shade the canvas doesn’t dry out so quickly and generally in the UK, the damp is more damaging than UV (although this summer has challenged that trend!) In hotter climates, such as Southern Europe the UV exposure continent, damages the cotton element of the canvas so it is worth thinking about alternatives to poly/cotton (see below about acrylic canvas).

Our Yurt and tipi garden in Israel

Next …general maintenance… we recommend reproofing the canvas once a year which can greatly increase its longevity. Before reproofing one should clean the canvas with a soft brush and warm water, no soap, no scrubbing, no pressure washing, but as long as you reproof the canvas well it should be OK. Remember that any cleaning will remove some of the proofing. (Obviously, white canvas shows the dirt and mould more than other colours, so many of our customers, when replacing yurt covers are choosing to replace white covers with darker colours, such as sand).

Reproofing is usually done with a paint-on solution when the tent goes up for the season – various products are available, but mostly only contain waterproofing and rotproofing agents. Recently the FWR proofing solution used by the manufacturers themselves has become available. (We can supply this at manufacturers cost). We have heard stories of tent covers being sent to professional cleaners, who have little experience of canvas and come back unproofed and sometimes perished although there are now companies who can clean and reproof for you.

Another consideration in canvas care is if the tents are left standing through the winter, they should be heated at least every few days, usually with a wood-burning stove (or open fire in a tipi) and, if the tents are not being used, they should be taken down when the canvas is bone dry and packed somewhere dry and rodent free. The summer before last we had a mice invasion on our site in Italy and we were surprised to discover that the mice chose to eat through the proofed canvas of the yurts rather than the wool blankets and mattresses inside. No accounting for taste. (Troubleshooting rodents and creepy-crawlies is for another chapter).

More yurt covers

There is a common perception that cottons are more ‘natural’ than synthetic fabrics, but people forget that they are proofed with chemicals. Our customers are choosing to go for acrylic fabrics as an alternative to poly/cotton as, although much more expensive, it is a better investment longterm, it greatly outlasts the poly/cotton as it doesn’t rot and it’s also stronger. The acrylic proofing isn’t in a coating but in the thread itself, thus doesn’t need reproofing the same way. It is a woven fabric so looks almost identical to the poly/cotton, yet feels nicer to touch and stays clean and new looking for much longer.

Acrylic canvas wedding pavillion

We are Spirits Intent, expert makers of nomadic tents and specialists in the canvas side of things, call on us if you need any advice on canvas or need new covers for your structures.

A Yurt Living Adventure by Sara Wheeler (Guest Blogger)

The things that people ask me at first is ‘ Why do you live in a yurt?’ Closely followed by…. ‘What’s it like?’

Well, first let me introduce myself.

I am a 40 year old woman who is Mum to 2 boys ages 8 and 6. My husband is called Mike.

We used to live in a nice house in Bristol, UK and realised that we were missing the children’s childhoods and working too hard to pay for it all.

One day, Mike suggested that we sell the house and travel round the world. I thought he was joking at first. Within a few months we sold the house, took the children out of school and set off with a one-way ticket on the trip of a lifetime.

On 2 October 2015 we flew to Indonesia and made our way around South East Asia, employing a strategy called ‘World schooling’ where children lead their education, sparked by curiosity of the world around them. We climbed mountains in the Himalayas and snorkelled with sharks in Belize. We scaled the Grand Canyon and camped on a beach amongst wild kangaroos in Australia.

Our trip was immense, hard work and awesome in every sense of the word. Increasingly though, our thoughts turned to when- and if, we should return home. We missed our family and friends and being part of a community. Most of all we DIDN’T want to fall back into the trap of working to pay bills again. Old friends of ours had a smallholding in Wales with a few acres to spare. For years they had suggested we come and live on their mountain. We skyped them from our beach hut and apparently they were serious. We’d split utility bills and the field was ours, if we wanted it.

We looked at converting one of their barns, craning in a container… but we had always loved camping and yurt holidays. Having spent over a year living in the same room and out of 2 backpacks, a yurt would feel palatial.

Mike set about researching yurts and we joined some Facebook groups to talk to people and get an idea of what we’d need to live fairly comfortably. With friends in the festival trade, installing infrastructure into our field was no problem so we focussed on what we needed from the yurt:

  • A traditional design
  • as big as possible to fit on the existing platform.
  • To future proof it, we’d need to get a high wall and roof so we could install a mezzanine for the children to sleep on for a bit of privacy.

Oh, and we wanted an ‘indoor’ toilet.

We ordered our 22’ Turkmen Yurt from Spirits Intent and that was our decision made. Updates on their Facebook page were exciting as we could see our new home being built from the other side of the world.

Mike was clever enough to bag himself a job when we were in Guatemala, so we had a deadline for the yurt build. We had to be moved in so he could start work on the 4 December 2017. After a whirlwind of reunions with our friends and family, we took ourselves to mid Wales on the 24 November as the weather forecast was… ok…We had been chasing the sun for 14 months and I think we had forgotten how harsh British weather could be. Anyway, this was Wales and we needed somewhere to live so we had to get on with it.

Nitsan from Spirits Intent arrived at our friends’ house, hungry and serious. He had been building our yurt with some volunteers and had come to stay the night before- sleeping in his van, to brace us for the hard work that was to come on Build Day. I felt sick with nerves as I heard the wind and rain battering at the house windows. I think the weather forecast for an‘ok’ day might have been optimistic. The whole family pitched in. We tried to ignore the hailstorm and Nitsan showed the youngest how to do a sun dance. Oddly, it seemed to work a bit even just to lighten the mood as we got battered by chunks of ice being hurled at us from the sky.

The trellis was up, the doors and rafters tentatively slid into place. We stopped to warm up with soup and I realise I had lost sensation in most of my body due to the numbing cold. We piled on the layers and the children decided to stay indoors after the rest of it (I couldn’t blame them)

We knew we’d start to lose daylight at about 3pm. So we hurriedly put up the felt insulation and lifted the canvas on with the last ounce of strength we had in us. Tying the fabric to the lattice was painfully slow as I had to cling to the edge of raised platform whilst my hands were frozen by the cold. Nitsan’s rallies of positivity were soothing, as our energy fell to its lowest ebb.

Then, all of a sudden, despite every sort of weather that the Welsh mountainside could throw at us, we had a yurt.

We were soaking wet and exhausted but we had a home all of our own. We waved Nitsan an emotional goodbye, as our team disbanded- the hard work cementing a bond between us. 

For the next couple of weeks we worked at sanding the floors, putting in the filtered water, installing a gas boiler, hooking up electric, building a kitchen, digging drainage ditches and laying pathways… lastly we brought in our furniture.

So, what’s life like in the yurt?

The day we moved in our furniture a blizzard came and covered everything in 6 inches of snow. We slept and woke up to a world that was like Narnia.

It looked beautiful but the reality was hard work. The first night the canvas dripped in multiple places as the seams had not had a chance to bed in…. the children were frozen from playing but it was hard to keep them dry and warm. We had no toilet, running water or drainage and icy drops of water falling on our faces when we were in bed.

After the blizzard though, normal Winter feels easy! We have learnt our lessons, dried out, and are enjoying nature as we fall asleep to flicker of the fire, the sound of the river and Barn Owls calling along the valley. 

We have found a rhythm and have learnt that with this life, you can take nothing for granted. We wake and start the fire. We have learnt to shower in the evenings when the yurt is warmest and appreciate that hot running water fresh from a mountain spring is a beautiful kind of sorcery. We keep the woodpile well stocked and keep muddy boots by the door. We have very warm duvets and wear lots of layers. We use ratchet straps to tie down the yurt as 80mph winds are quite common here. We empty the composting toilet every week and we have found that the Ultrasonic pest deterrents really work. Yes, we have found droppings amongst our dinner plates and had whole bags of clothes eaten by mice! Never again.

The horses in the field next door come and bray to tell us when the weather is bad and we all enjoy being connected to our surroundings.

There isn’t a day that we don’t open the yurt door and have our breaths taken away at the sight of the mountains around us. Yes, it would be nice to have conveniences like ‘heating’ but the amount we’d have to sacrifice for that just isn’t a price we want to pay.

At the moment, anyway.

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Thankyou Sara.

For more on this family adventure…see Wheelers on the Bus: Facebook page

And their lovely  Blog