Sunday, July 14, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Yurt Living's Not For Everyone, But Wyoming Dwellers Love It


KELLY, Wyo. - Ann Kreilkamp lives life differently than most. Her home is a dome-shaped tent with walls made of canvas; it has no telephone, running water, kitchen or bathroom.

Kreilkamp is a yurt-dweller, and proud of it.

"The first time I went in a yurt, I went "ahhh" - it's just the way I've always wanted to live," said Kreilkamp, 53, who has lived in a yurt since 1984. "It's so simple, so close to the earth. You just have a skin of canvas between you and the birds flying, and you can really hear their wings beating. . . . We are getting in touch with an aspect of life that most people have forgotten."

The yurt comes from Mongolia, where nomads use such tents. But residents of a 10-yurt community in northwest Wyoming hold jobs: a nurse, photographer, bookkeeper.

In Teton County, where the average assessed home value is $225,000 and the average rental price is $800 to $1,200 per month, the yurts provide affordable, if unconventional, housing about 15 miles north of Jackson. Yurts go for $4,000 to $12,000, depending on age and condition.

Inside Kreilkamp's yurt is a cast-iron stove where she burns wood for heat. The ceiling has a circular plexiglass window suitable for star-gazing; moonlight glows through the translucent beige canvas walls. One winter, a moose lived near Kreilkamp's yurt and often kept her awake with its snoring.

Some yurts are built on platforms, but the original yurts - circa 1980 - are built on the ground. The wooden doors are about 4 feet tall.

"It's 10 feet in radius - 314 square feet - pi-R-squared," jokes Brad Brask, a new yurt owner. Or for those who don't think in circles, that is the area of about seven king-sized beds.

"Roundness has its own psychology," Kreilkamp said. "The circle is the first shape that a child draws, it is the simplest form."

Brask once worked to pay bills back in Minnesota. Now he works as a skycap at the Jackson Airport and keeps his costs down by living in a yurt. That way, he can pursue what he wants - such as a vacation in Peru, where he plans to backpack and learn Spanish.

Kreilkamp and her husband, Jeff Joel, 48, believe yurt life brings them back to earth after dealing with their jobs in Jackson.

Kreilkamp edits the magazine "Crone Chronicles: a Journal of Conscious Aging." Joel is a part-time computer consultant and bookkeeper. He has a doctorate in mathematics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology; she has her doctorate in philosophy from Boston University.

Those are their day jobs. But listed on the flip side of Joel's business card are his "right brain" professions - "holistic practitioner, massage and body work, movement education."

"But I don't want it to sound like people who live in yurts are completely woo-woo," Kreilkamp said. "It (yurt life) is holding a whole different value system in this valley that is being overrun by blatant, pretentious materialism."

Brask knows that world of high rents and questionable accommodations. In the past five years, he has lived in a campground, on a friend's couch, in a basement and in a deteriorating garage with four other people. Although his yurt is spare - a cast-off door serves as a table - at least it's home. "This is my place, for the first time ever . . . I shut the door and it's me, that's it. This is my place," he said.

Mack McFarland, 29, and his wife, Kathy, have a more furnished yurt. They have a normal size entryway, thanks to a wooden storage-room addition. A cat curls up on their couch, gray carpet lines their floor, and a horseshoe is tacked up on their wall over a light fixture.

"I think you'll find that everyone has a different reason for living here," said McFarland, who has lived in his yurt for six years and works with the U.S. Park Service. "We can look out the dome and see the stars at night. Above and beyond that, it's the overall lifestyle. It's to live on the land and not to make a huge impact."

The yurt community is separated from the rest of Kelly by a couple of dirt roads and a rickety wooden bridge over a small creek. A makeshift stop sign is wedged into the crevices of the bridge.

Across the bridge is the community bath house, where residents shower, shave and use the restroom. It's also the community kitchen and laundry.

Yurt-dwellers pay about $165 each month as rent for space on the land and to pay the cost of running the bathhouse. Their lease will extend two or three more years.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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