Living off the grid in a yurt on abandoned Chicago land



"I don't believe in paying rent," says Kara W, sitting by the fire of the wood-burning stove in her Mongolian-style yurt, a portable domed tent traditionally used by nomadic people of central Asia. ("Kara W" is the 25-year-old's full chosen name.) "I like living outside and being connected to the earth, and still living in the city."

The yurt is cozy with hanging lanterns, a futon bed, a kitchen with a propane stove, and a pantry made from milk crates. The walls are decorated with a Free Trade Area of the Americas poster by the Beehive Design Collective and a painting of geese done by Kara's mother. Kara painted a mural on her door of things representing the letter W: a wolf in the woods in winter, a whale in the water, the W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia—plus the psychedelic mushrooms that inspired the painting. There is no electricity, no running water, no Wi-Fi. To get to her unorthodox pad, Kara dips through a hole in a fence and weaves in and out of tall grass covering a piece of abandoned land. Kara built the yurt with her own two hands, but technically she's squatting.


The kitchen

Kara chose the yurt's Mongolian design for its practicality and mobility. "The whole thing folds up and you can carry it on two camels," she says. "Or three trips in a van and all my friends carrying it is how it got [here]." The rafters, made from bamboo growing in her parents' yard, converge at the roof ring, a circular hole in the center of the dome that accommodates a smoke pipe and also lets in sunlight, which moves clockwise through the home over the course of the day. ("Traditionally, you're supposed to walk in a yurt clockwise," she says. "You in the yurt is like the sun in the world.") She cut down two trees and used their thin trunks as the center support posts. Kara explains their significance in traditional yurt design as "the world tree" holding up the heavens. The latticed walls are built to retract and collapse for easy transport. She constructed the covering with pillows of stuffed straw to provide insulation, though her eco-friendly intention has proven to be her one regret about the yurt: "I so wish I had made it out of pink insulation rather than straw," she says. "Mice love to live in straw."

Left to right: door painting by Kara W.; the roof ring
  • Andrea Bauer
  • Left to right: door painting by Kara W.; the roof ring

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