The Decline of the Yurt

About five years ago we bought a Mongolian yurt  (real Mongolians would call it a ger but you’d have no idea what we were talking about).  It was a very cool guesthouse and people loved staying in it.  The inside was decorated with a (tasteful) mish-mash of eastern furnishings.  Pakistani lamps, asian rugs, furniture from China and Thai silk pillows all complemented the traditional painting on the interior woodwork .  It was our little exotic hideaway but like all treasures it started to tarnish over time.


Like these guys, our yurt was starting to wear

The Rain

The yurt was set up on a wooden deck.  I knew that putting a round tent on a square platform could lead to problems with water coming in under the walls.  In order to keep the water out we used a 8″ strip of rubber pond liner and liberal amounts of silicone to weatherproof the bottom edge of the walls.  The pond liner was glued to the deck and folded up the side wall all the way around the perimeter of the yurt.  This did a good job of keeping the water out….for a while.  Over time water started seeping under the waterproofing and puddling on the floor inside.  At first it wasn’t so bad, a carefully placed towel here and there did the trick.  The corners of the deck were the worst culprits.  The plywood warped and naturally it did so in a way that collected and diverted water into the yurt.  I tried drilling drain holes near the edge of the wall to give the water somewhere else to go.  It didn’t work.  Somehow the 1″ holes always filled up with crap and didn’t do their job.

Since the yurt was a guest house we didn’t go in there for long stretches of time and it was pretty common for us to discover big puddles from a storm several days prior.  We got good at arranging proactive towels and flipping the corners of the carpet away from known puddling spots.  While this was annoying it was tolerable.  I continued to try and remedy the situation.  I can’t tell you how many tubes of silicone and cans of spray foam I went through.   Eventually we even cut the plywood corners away leaving only a 2″ edge to the deck.  That helped….kind of.

The Mice

After we had set up the yurt, furnished and decorated it we all had a sleepover in it.  It was great fun to go off to this exotic lodging in our backyard and get away from it all.  When you opened the door and peered inside a peaceful, luxurious space invited you to come in,  sit down, relax.  Apparently this inviting environment had cross species appeal.  The first fall we started noticing some mouse droppings on the floor.  Not too bad, just a couple here and there.

Mike:  I had no idea what was in store for us.  I guess I never lived anywhere rural enough to experience the annual mouse diaspora.

Molly:  Oh yeah, as soon as it starts to get cold those mice invade!  I swear the entire mouse population in a three mile radius moved into our yurt.

Mike:  Not really what we had in mind when we built a ‘guesthouse’.

It was perfect for the mice.  A protected environment and we hardly ever came in to disturb them.  We didn’t really notice them at first (nor did we want to) but the evidence of mouse infestation became undeniable.  The first wakeup call was when we had some overnight guests and discovered that there were little holes in the middle of the sheets on one of the beds.  Dammit!  Why the middle?  OK, lesson learned, we need to take all the bedding and the decorative pillows off the beds in between visitors.  We stuck all the bedding in big plastic storage containers that got tucked into an amoire. (repurposed $90 entertainment center cabinet from Target, thank you very much)  The next guests reported some scuffling around at night.  Not so bad except that it was right over their heads.

Molly:  Yup those little buggers decided to nest in the insulation and chose a spot right over the bed.  The muslin ceiling kept them protected from view and they just snuggled right in.

Mike:  Man, what a drag that was.  Once I investigated, I found five or six nests in the ceiling.  I went around with a shop vac and sucked all the bedding out.  It was gross.

The spring was even worse.  It was birthing season.  Now we were starting to get stains on the ceiling where they were nesting.  I would open up a drawer and find a nest full of bedding, usually some chewed up part of the yurt, and smears of mouse afterbirth everywhere.  Even more shocking was opening the drawer and finding a mother mouse with her naked babies attached to her trying frantically to escape.   I would clear out the nests as fast as I found them but it felt useless.  We were simply outnumbered.

There was no way to completely mouse-proof the yurt.  Its walls are fabric and even though we glued the outer walls to the floor the mice could just chew through.  We started out with a live and let live policy but the mice were taking over and starting to cause serious damage.  There was also the issue of mice carrying hanta virus which can be deadly.  Begrudgingly we went on the offensive.  We tried the whole gamut of extermination options.

Poison– who knows if you are killing any and what if the dogs or cats eat poisoned mice?

Glue traps– better at catching bugs than mice and what do you do with the live mouse stuck to the trap once you get one?

Regular mouse traps–  This was our mainstay although after setting dozens of them they still make me squirrely arming it and trying to set it down without it going off.  We did learn a few tips along the way.  Don’t get the “extra sensitive” ones with the big yellow paddles unless you like catching mice by the tips of their noses (which usually doesn’t kill them).  The other lesson is wash your hands well or put on gloves before setting the traps.  Once we learned this our success rate doubled.

The mouse wars went on through the years.  We got better at tackling them in the fall which seemed to keep the whole problem manageable for the rest of the year.  The mice were were a pain but still far from a deal killer.  The yurt was still a very nice place.

The Sun

We live at 7000 feet above sea level.  One of the first things you notice when you arrive is that the air is thinner up here.  You might find yourself pausing to catch your breath on the stairs or that first margarita hits you like a freight train.  I learned the hard way that the thin air also means that you are exposed to more radiation.  The first year I was in NM I was selling glassware that I had made at the flea market.  Coming from the East Coast I didn’t even think of putting sunscreen on in April.  Big mistake.  By 1:00 I was completely sunburned.  I spent the next day inside in the dark as the skin on my face blistered and eventually all peeled off.   The sun here is fierce.

The yurt felt it too.  By the end of the first season the nylon webbing that wrapped around the outside became brittle and fell off.  I replaced it annually with rope.  The second season the muslin cover which we knew was supposed to be ‘sacraficial’ had given out.  We didn’t quite know what to do about that.  It was a lot of fabric to replace and where would you go to get a new cover?  Mongolia?  I tied some tarps over the south side where the worst of the damage was.  It was a crappy repair at best.  The tarps would get blown off by the wind in the spring and they would only last a year before they too succumbed to the sun.  Moisture was also getting trapped between the yurt and the layers of tarp that were accreting on it.

After a few years of that nonsense we decided to bite the bullet and make a new cover for the the whole yurt.  We had some (supposedly) heavy duty UV resistant tarps from a couple of carports that we had bought from Sam’s club.  The metal frames had become the structure for our “upper shed’.  Molly and I wrestled these giant tarps into submission with the help of the girls and her very sturdy 1950’s cast iron Pfaff sewing machine.    We were building  a 300 square foot tent and it took up the entire living room!  A one point I was pulling fabric out the front door as Molly sewed.  We got the new cover onto the yurt and even if it wasn’t as pretty as the muslin it was a far cry nicer than the shredded tarps and much more functional.

The new cover lasted another couple years.  As it too gave into the sun we considered what to do next.  It was painfully clear that a tent is not a permanent structure.  No matter what we covered the yurt with we would be back at this place in a couple years.   Everyone still loved the yurt but the upkeep was getting to be overwhelming.  At this point the floor was starting to rot from the trapped moisture, the whole mouse management program was getting to be a real drag and the expense and effort of yet another cover was daunting.   I wanted to come up with a more durable solution that would take care of things once and for all.  We decided to take the yurt down and pack up all the salvageable parts to keep them safe until we had a new plan.

Next time- The yurt is reborn!  Slowly.

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