Temporary Structures

After 7 years of good seasonal habitation, our Mongolian ger is taking a much needed rest. These hand crafted mobile homes are designed to be packed up and moved frequently, allowing occasional refreshing and reshaping with each new setup. On a migration in 2011, I had the opportunity to live and tend a ger through a fall drive in northern Mongolia. We packed the two 16′ diameter yurts up in about half an hour in the morning, packed onto yaks for a day of migration, then back up again in the evening with the help of about eight people per structure, in about 45 minutes- including fire in the wood stoves and dinner cooking. For a ger to spend 7 years in one spot is quite a feat.

Migration would be a challenge here in The Puget Lowlands, but the ger still offers great accommodation for seasonal help on the farm, students of wilderness living, and people in search of alternative living. Because of the wet weather our region experiences throughout much of the year, we constructed an additional roof to shelter the canvas structure, preventing dampness and rot setting in. As we began deconstructing the ger this fall, we found settled signs of insects like spiders and beetles habituating between the layers of canvas and felt batting, which insulates the structure. This only happened because the yurt was left standing for so long. Normally, seasonal refreshing of the structure will prevent invasive roommates.

As climate change continues its evolution in our region, snow has become a much more present companion of winter months, and the load on some of our temporary structures has become too much. In February 2019, EEC Forest Stewardship received 18″ of snow in a week, followed by a month of below freezing temperatures, which ensured the blanket of white cold stayed with us into March. During the “snowpocalyps”, our 5 year old greenhouse, which had endured 60mph gusts of wind and many inches of snow in previous years (including a first collapse which fractured many of the structural supports), finally crumpled to the ground for the last time. In the picture below, you can see the collapsed structure, with the cabin roof in background, pitched properly to shed the heavy snow load.

The Elements dictate all future building at EEC, and with good planning, roofs will stand the test of heavier snow to come. Temporary structures are a way to test design and then improve upon them in future builds. The farm acquired a new greenhouse frame, recycling a neighbor’s metal carport frame, which will be the bones of a new greenhouse coming in summer, 2020. Our old design was simple PVC hoops braced with wood beams. The arches sagged over time, preventing snow from sliding off the sides properly. Our new frame is a pitched roof with higher walls. We’ll be adding additional beams of support to the roof, ensuring snow sheds quickly, preventing another collapse.

Resurrection of older temporary structures is ongoing at Leafhopper Farm, especially a row of old sheds we converted into livestock housing and a solid grain room. It had been an aviary for chickens and peacocks, along with a hay shed and run in for cows and horses. With a little creative building, using mostly scrap wood, the sheds were structurally reinforced and converted into additional stalls for sheep and goats. The old coop remained to house our laying flock, and the hay shed continued to shelter our winter fodder for the animals. The chickens also enjoy using the fallen hay for additional nesting space, especially during the colder winter months.

Sheds like these are temporary, though extremely durable and well used. They are shabby and rickety, but cheap and more than enough dry shelter for the animals. Our future plan is to build a real barn, one building, with stalls, grain room, and an attached living space for a farm caretaker to reside in. Below is a rough proposal for the building. This drawing also indicates our current grey water system, which the future building would tie into. We’ll keep designing and drawing for now, thankful that the current structures will continue to serve until a solid plan is thought out.

Yet another temporary structure on the property to point out is also pictured above; our 20,000 gallon pillow tank (large blue square in top center of pic) is another thought out movable space. Though only a tank, it’s current placement is to support a young orchard, which, once well established with full canopy, will not need so much watering. We can then choose to move the tank to another part of the land, offering support to future nut groves and young plantings on other parts of our ten acres. One of those future groves is slowly establishing on our “back 40”. This savanna field has played host to another temporairy structure on the landscape- a wall tent.

This seasonal structure is the habitat of a current resident. Allowing someone to independently live off the grid at EEC Forest Stewardship did not happen overnight. It takes a very capable person to thrive in this rustic accommodation, and the person who does has been experimenting in wilderness living for a few years now. Light foot living is key to a thriving environment, especially when resources are limited. In our comfortable modern homes, we often forget how much energy it takes to maintain such luxurious standards, and the rest of the world wants these accommodations, at the peril of our environmental survival.

While packing away the Mongolian ger, taking care to protect the natural fibers from hungry rodents, we marvel at the simplicity of the structure, and how quickly it collapses into neat piles. Each part of the structure can be carried by an individual, or piled into the back of a pickup in one go. The entire building is about 700lbs of material. Imagine how light our impact could be if we thought more openly about temporary construction. This is not a call to manufactured housing, but the tending of more mindful methods of creating space.

In closing, a special shout out to the farm house here at EEC Forest Stewardship. Our 1973 Port-royal double wide is also a temporary structure. There’s a title for this home, and it’s up on blocks, no foundation. The structure will ultimately end up in a land fill because of hazardous construction, but it’s lasted 50 years, which is certainly impressive. May it continue, with our good stewardship, to provide safe, dry, warm shelter. May we all have such luxury, whatever the construction.

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