Mongolia, Indiana

As winter takes hold, our life shrinks to two snug rooms.

Wool felt-covered yurts (gers) perch in the snowy grasslands of Balgar, in China’s Inner Mongolia.

In the darkest of winter, the farmhouse, not big to begin with, condenses to something akin to a yurt. We downsize from life in the four main rooms of the bungalow to two – one, really, considering the six-foot wide passage between the living/sleeping room and big pine-floored kitchen and bath. If the house is not circular, felt-covered, and portable like true Asian yurts, it is certainly our center and homeland, as the word "yurt" implies in modern Turkish.

Since we both work from home (Charlie restoring furniture, and I, directly above his basement shop, reconstructing text), the two rooms we eat and sleep in during the winter months, and negotiate with frequent friendly contact, become our world, heated by a central wood-burning stove that keeps the space perfectly habitable as it cooks and warms meals. As in any good yurt, the door opens south.

Far from being hemmed in, we have 80 acres to walk, and rare is the day one or both of us don't make the rounds, beginning or ending at the barn to feed and water the cows and draft horses. But once back inside we feel a kinship with the culture of tribes and wanderers who choose not to invest wealth in a dwelling you can't take in at one appreciative glance.

Our neighbor Beverly and I e-mail back and forth across the intervening stretch of hayfield that we whimsically refer to as the tundra. The white, wind-swept expanse makes me think twice about crossing for a visit when I'm not mentally geared up for a walkabout anyway. Instead, I often simply gaze at her lights across the "steppes," connecting via a keyboard from my own special yurt space.

Contrary to tradition, my desk and laptop are positioned by the windows receiving the sunset; the western perimeter of a yurt is typically the male's domain. But Charlie hasn't complained, and Omaha, his bed at my feet, balances my yin with a canine yang.

In fact we all get along remarkably well in our yurtdom. And truth to tell, there are only a few stretches in a typical winter here in Indiana when we don't regularly get to town, whether to luxuriate for an evening in the more spacious homes of friends, shop in the almost jarring expanse of some superstore, or otherwise counterbalance our more constricted home life with some real elbowroom. We know, too, that with the mild weather of spring doors and windows will open, our floor space will more than double, and visitors can dine without holding plates in their laps. Omaha will pad around the house revisiting corners of interest (ah, the shoe closet!) and we'll spend more time without a roof of any kind over our heads.

In the meantime, we'll keep the yurt fires burning.

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