Photo gallery: Yurt-stravaganza

After three consecutive, hard-working days, the Osgood Pond Semester crew banded together for the two final platforms and yurts — capped off with a pizza-and-cake birthday celebration for Brady Butler.

By Sunday night, we were sun-tanned (or burned), blistered and, most of all, ecstatic to have brought the yurt site to life.


It’s May and I’m sitting across from Joe Orefice in Freer, trying to follow along as he sketches out a yurt platform.

“You’ll need some L-angle brackets,” he says, tapping the pencil against the paper. I nod like I know what an L-angle bracket is and add it to the growing list of supplies.

Loons sang on Osgood Pond.

Loons sang on Osgood Pond.

 6x6x12 Pressure treated (PT)

 Decking Screws

 Nails

 Plywood

 Insulation

Building is a new language to me. There are words like flush and joist, codes and acronyms—lingo that makes my head confused and slightly ache. I appreciate Joe’s help and the time he’s volunteered for this project. I appreciate that he’ll teach Andrew J and I how to build a platform. Not only that, but the wood we’ll be using for the deck was milled by Joe and his spring class. Timber harvesting…an amazing art, that too was foreign to me until this project.

Purchase orders

It’s the first of June and I’m pulling into Curtis Lumber in Ray Brook. Clutching the final list of supplies, I talk to a kind woman behind the counter. She punches the order into the computer and walks me around the store.

Letting go of stresses.

Letting go of stresses.

“What kind of toilet seat do you want?”

I stare at a rack—scanning prices and colors.

“Um, that one.” I point to a beige, mid-range seat that looks comfortable enough for an outhouse. She slides it off the rack. A few days later, the supplies come and are put into storage. I appreciate the woman at the store. I appreciate the workers who delivered the supplies and our facilities crew for storing them. I appreciate all the things that happen behind the scenes that sometimes go unrecognized.

Building and fire codes

Enter June 12: The day Andy and I are about to start digging. A fire inspector from Albany is on campus. He asks me about the yurts.

Blueberries and raspberries.

Blueberries and raspberries.

“Have you filled out a building permit?”

“No.” I explain yurts are classified as tents and temporary structures. After fielding an array of questions, he gives me his card and says he’ll be in touch. As I step back into the sunlight, I’m left with an uneasy feeling and we leave the shovels in the car.

I appreciate concern. I appreciate resilience.

Nerves and fear of the unknown

July: I get in the habit of wondering, “What next?” First it was a battle for an idea, then a battle for budget, now it’s permits and fire codes. I’m nervous and fearful as I watch the days slip away. August is around the corner. Are we on schedule? No. Do we still have time? Yes. There are many things I thrive with under the pressure of a nearing deadline—research papers for one.

A home on Easy Street.

A home on Easy Street.


Andrew J and I moved out of the house we were renting July 1, with the expectation we’d be moving into a yurt. I appreciate Hal Beck—our good friend whose let us occupy his 8′ x 16′ cabin on Easy Street. I appreciate how communities come together when someone is in need.


It’s raining. It’s August 11th. It’s crunch time. Joe meets Andy and I at the facilities building at 11. I’m not in a great mood. I haven’t been feeling well the last two weeks. Maybe it’s stress, maybe it’s a chronic illness or maybe I just need to get my hands in the soil.

And that’s exactly what I do.

By the end of the day, we have the 6x6x12 posts sunk securely into the ground and a few joist across the frame. I have scratches and my hands are dirty. It feels amazing. I appreciate partnership. I appreciate Joe and Andrew J stepping up when I needed to step back. I appreciate the extra help we got from our past co-worker and Paul Smith’s alumni, Reid Mourse.

Phil Johnstone.

Phil Johnstone.


I appreciate the tutelage, advice and extra man power from Andrew J’s father, Phil Johnstone. A retired DEC man, he teaches me the basics of silvi-culture and how to care for our wood lot.


I can make cordage out of milkweed. I can treat poison ivy with Jewel weed. I can make a birch basket and collect quarts of berries to eat and dry. I can do a cart wheel, round off and split.

There are many things I can do and that I’m good at. Some, I even excel. And, there are things I’m not good at and come no where close to excelling.

We can do so much with the simplest of things.

We can do so much with the simplest of things.

This project opened another door to introspection and exposed my strengths and weaknesses in a different light. It’s important to admit, we can’t do it all and no one is an expert of everything. That’s why it’s important to live in community and foster partnerships.

I appreciate my strengths. I appreciate my weaknesses. I appreciate the fabric that makes us unique characters. And how one person’s strengths compliment anothers weakness.


I read their emails and it jumps out at me and bites: Excitement.

Andrew C shares a design for a manual powered washing machine.

Kade and Hyla will be back in the area for canoe preseason and ask if they can camp on site.

Brady is bringing his mandolin.

Valerie writes, “This is the most excited I’ve ever been to come back to school.”



I appreciate their excitement. And I feel the same. I think back to high school, college, grad school, and teaching… yep, this is the most excited I’ve ever been to go back.

And, here we go…

The yurts are coming!


“The yurts are coming! The yurts are coming!”

Excited giggles escape from my lips as I run from my office to the parking lot with a cell phone in hand.

Texts and calls are lighting up the screen and it doesn’t take long to find the trailer with a yurt painted on the side. 07

Yves, a tall Swedish man transplanted to Canada, steps around the truck and shakes my hand with a big smile.

He speaks with a warm accent and explains he’s very excited to be delivering three Mongolian yurts to Paul Smith’s College on this beautiful day.

The trailer opens.

“Ah, smell Mongolia!” He takes a deep breath. A blend of wood and wool emerge and instantly, I’m in love. These fumes are simple and recognizable to the senses, unlike so many of the chemicals and preservatives in our lives today. The yurts are unloaded and put into storage.

Red, blue and yellow are the hand painted colors they come in. Yves is excited and with the help of many on hand, sets the blue yurt up on the blacktop. Within an hour, a pile of wool, camel hide, horse hair cordage and timber poles have been transformed into a circular home.

“Now, when entering a yurt, make sure to step across the threshold with your right foot,” Yves explains.

We file in, one after the other, right feet first and stand in wonderment our eyes transfixed on the skylight. White clouds pass and silence descends. In a peaceful trance, I position myself under the sky light and look up. Sun beams fall on my face and I close my eyes.

I see it…

Eight students walking into a yurt right foot first with a back pack of gear and fostering a community based on tradition and indigenous knowledge.

I feel it…

A connection to my ancestors and a growing conviction that circles trump squares.

More yurt raising photos and advice here.