Yurt, Part Two

Journey to the country house

Heinrich Plum/Flickr
Heinrich Plum/Flickr


My three- and six-year old daughters had already been skiing for more than an hour by the time we set off for the yurt. Now that there’s a few feet of snow in the hills behind town, we have to park up by the road and ski or walk the mile or so to our yurt. That’s our 24-foot diameter round house sitting on nine acres that tip down to the west, with a view of two mountain ranges and a swath of sea.

We live in town, and I joke that this is our “country house,” which I can’t help but say in what I imagine is a sort of aristocratic lilt. The funny accent is a way of dealing with my discomfort about how ostentatious it seems to have a second home, even one where the toilet is a bucket and the floor is dirty plywood. In this small fishing town about 200 miles south of Anchorage, where most people drive dirty Subarus and wear jeans and rubber boots year-round, wealth is often masked.

It was our second sleepover at the yurt. The first time, we’d brought in a lot of bulky gear—a camp table, camping mattresses, a two-burner kerosene stove, dishes, and utensils—by sled and in the back of a friend’s snowmachine. But there was still a lot of supplies to haul as well as three-and-a-half gallons of water.

We had friends with us this time: Pat and his six-year-old daughter, who were coming just for an afternoon visit and wouldn’t spend the night. The dads, in boots, took off with the older girls, who were on skis. My husband, Bob, pulled a black, high-sided sled that contained a large plastic tote full of food for the overnight and some important amendments to our kitchen setup: a cast-iron skillet that weighed about 10 pounds, a cutting board, a five-gallon bucket that would serve as the kitchen sink.

I hooked the polk—a sturdy sled with stiff poles—to the waist belt of my backpack and grabbed my three-year-old’s hand. She wore her hand-me-down cross-country skis and carried a backpack full of stuffed animals. It was slow going. The weather was a balmy 40 degrees, the sun shining like it was trying to be spring. So about 100 yards into our trip, we had to stop to take off our jackets and jam them into the top of my pack.

While it had been raining nonstop in town over the previous week, a fresh foot of snow accumulated in the hills and, under the sun, the world glinted. Pretty soon Bob showed up, backtracking to us, wondering why we were taking so long. He took my daughter’s hand and I skied ahead down the first steep hill, which was packed down with snowmachine tracks.

I had thought I would woosh down, but the polk dragged like an anchor. Even so, by the time I got to the bottom of the hill, my husband and daughter were far behind, and I’d nearly caught up to Pat and the older girls. Pat was pulling our black sled up a second hill despite his sore back, and the girls were trading off my six-year-old’s backpack, which must have weighed about 15 pounds with all of the unicorn figurines inside.

The rest of the ski was lovely and hard. Hatless and gloveless, I was sweating by the time I reached the part of the trail where the view of Cook Inlet opens down Twitter Creek valley. The snowy volcanic peaks on the far side of the water rose sharp against blue sky.

About three-quarters of an hour after setting out, I rounded the clump of spruce trees that hug the north side of our yurt, expecting to find two six-year-olds complaining about the long ski and whining with hunger and fatigue. Instead they were launching themselves off the deck into the snow below and squealing.

Pat and I lifted the hard plastic totes from the sleds onto the deck—which will one day have some simple board benches—to sit on, and I found a few beers. With the light coming back, and the sun rising higher in the sky each day, I felt drenched in warmth. We stared down the spruce-cluttered valley, where you can see no other houses. “This is nice,” Pat said. We both knew it was an understatement. About 15 minutes later, my husband arrived with the three-year-old, who was triumphant. “Did you ski the whole way?” I gasped in mock incredulity. She nodded. “It gave me muscles!” She joined the older girls in their catapult operations while we adults sipped beer and felt rich.

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Miranda Weiss is a science and nature writer. The author of Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska, she also wrote the Northern Lights blog for our website.


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