Yurts • 2 January 2008

My brother is obsessed with Quonset huts. But he despises yurts.

Since we were kids, the Quonset has beguiled him. (If you’re following the pendulum, he just moved from Paris to Marfa, probably in search of more Quonsets, which do not often appear in Montmarte.) Back in our childhood, a Quonset was basically the most interesting thing on the rural Montana architectural landscape. Driving past one was the middle-of-nowhere equivalent to spying a VW Thing on the LA freeway. It’s a hassle-free, snowdrift-proof residence! It’s an echo chamber! It’s a grain silo cut in half! It’s a giant speedbump! It requires no special skills to erect!

Equal and opposite to the aesthetic delights of the Quonset is the aesthetic mistake of the yurt. After an unfortunate booking at the unfortunately named "Treebones" resort—made in the hopes that yurts would be something like Quonsets—he realized that yurts are not ok. Terrible feng shui in a yurt, especially with the circle-in-a-square relationship that comes from putting a bed inside. Gimmicks, yurts. Hippie novelty. Mindless design. Bad form.

So when I realized I’d be doing my new year’s yoga in a yurt, I had a doubt. Why amid the most incredibly beautiful land adorned only with gorgeous and lovingly appointed buildings would anyone plant this alien and inefficient structure? What misguided UFO aesthetic was infiltrating this immaculately cultivated zone? And how could I possibly negotiate bliss within it?

Actually, it was ok and better than ok, the yurt yoga. First, there was the Arthurian symmetry of practicing in a circle. Funny to see a few of us westerners feel strange pointing our feet at others (folk taboos also—just like lattes and ringtones and pubic hair fashion—travel across cultures in the days of globalization). But after we got comfortable with that, the little bolus of energy we created was perfectly shaped.

Second, our particular yurt had something called an “incinerator toilet” which burned its own contents rather than draining them off. So every time someone visited the loo, the yurt would be infiltrated with the scent of burning samskaras. Which was actually very nice, once I stopped worrying we were burning the yurt.

Third and best, though, was the window at the top of the structure. It was circular and convex. There facing the center of the yurt and practicing in the round, each time we would pull in to urdhva mukha and gaze to the tip of the nose, each crossed eye would pick up an image of that window. You see double with your eyes crossed, of course; and the double-vision of the circle window created for each of us a pair of giant, ephemeral, visionary spectacles looking right into the cosmos. Gazing inward to the tip of the nose; but at the same time picking up that beguiling image created by our own flawed but amazing senses.

So anyway. Yurt yoga is allright for these reasons.

I am back from ashtanga retreat with many new threads before me. And a sense that the year ahead will make a coherent and beautiful weave of them. Sealed off 2007 in the cold cold waters of Matilija Creek and 108 collective Aums; and initiated 2008 with a dawn-light jacuzzi soak and ashtanga.  But this is all for now.  

Happy new yurt.