Cooking over the mystic cookfire, the ancients watched flames, their form of entertainment. At nighttime, in a wilderness like Kachemak Bay State Park, the stillness combined with the piercing calls and hoots and splashes of its creatures creates a sort of kinship, a wild awakening. This is bear and blueberry country, salmon and owl country.
Renting a yurt from Alaska State Yurt Rentals seemed like the perfect way to spend time in Kachemak Bay State Park. Just across the bay, six yurts are available. Built by Nomad Shelter, they are ideally placed near trailheads or coves for ease of recreation. What excited me most was the location of the yurts: “Across the bay,” the words spoken by boat-less folk in Homer as if describing some elusive Shangri La.
Living in Homer, the mountains are always there across the bay, enticing and beckoning. I always feel a little lighter when looking at them, some expanse opening up inside, my interior becoming as vast and free as them, an awareness and forgetting all at once. It seems to me that somehow they have secrets to impart, intimate knowledge of nature’s ways.
Wanting to spend time in this elusive coastal state park in August 2017, my honey and I booked a yurt, packed some sleeping bags, and carried our 5-gallon jug of water and some firewood down to the harbor. Ashore Water Taxi steered out across the bay toward Sadie Cove, dropped some hikers off at the Quarry and Kayak Beach yurts for access to the Grace Ridge Trail, then headed into Tutka Bay to drop us off at our yurt, chosen for its location right on the water.
The boat dropped us on the beach and turned back around toward Homer, and then we were alone, encamped ashore, rainforest at our back. Dripping wet and green, the giant leaves of the old spruce trees towering above reinforce the illusion of solitude. Here is where imagination can take over. The forest feels alive, teeming with life. Huge fiddlehead fern fronds carpet the forest floor, hiding the mycelial mushroom web underfoot, and sweetly tuneful birdsong permeates through the thick forest canopy. Happily, there’s no cell service.
We parked our paddleboards in the rocky cove, and got to work getting a fire going in the yurt. It’s soggy out there. A yurt, the perfect “leave-no-trace” dwelling, can sleep up to six people, and every yurt across the bay comes prepared with a fire stove and Coleman propane grills. Once the wood stove was warm and cackling, we turned to the water thrumming in and out of the yurt’s private little cove.
I pushed off into Tutka Bay, drawn to the liquid immensity underneath me. The scent of algal blooms, kelp and sea rot became the sweetest intoxicants to inhale. In the bay, I could breathe in and out with the environment, feeling the intimacy and connection with the salty water. Otters and seals in the water tracked my movements; I could feel their awareness on me.
Marine mammals play and hunt here, salmon spawn, and giant underwater kelp forests grow, their big bulbs surfacing on the water as otters sleep coiled in their fronds. A thriving ecosystem in an otherwise developed world, a power emanates from it that you can feel. I felt glimmers of the reason that propelled me towards Kachemak Bay State Park in the first place, driven by some inner force, some inner knowing that in placing your body in a wild environment, some alchemy of spirit can happen.
We paddled back into the campsite and started a fire for dinner. The blackness of forest beyond the small ring of campfire, beyond the small illusion of cover in the yurt, felt wild. Wondering if a dark mythic silhouette was lumbering nearby in the forest, I felt intensely alive.
The only sounds that night were owls hooting, salmon jumping in splashes, and the ever present lullaby of the tide beating against the shore, rocking me into a sedated comfort. We slept. Deep, timeless, narcotic sleep. I awoke only to the owl’s calls, deafening and piercing, resonating in my body like a drum.
Living in a small structure, having nothing but the bare necessities — shelter, food, water, space — allows you to open the curtain behind the veneer of civilization to reveal a natural world so complex it blows your mind: the goose tongue grass that feeds the bears fertilizes the humus and michiorzhial fungi web of the forest floor that in turn grows the spruce trees and blueberry bushes that shelter and feed the bears again. The cycle repeats everywhere.
This indivisibility with nature slowly falls over your body. In the ever-present awareness of sentient creatures around you, you feel yourself to be woven into the web of life — human, not superior.
Out there it’s bear country, salmon country, eagle country. Living gently in the yurt, we are the guests here, and that humility is paradoxically liberating —the more connected, the more rooted into the ecological web, the more free to be our animal selves; an arboreal homecoming.
Book a yurt online at https://www.alaskanyurtrentals.com or visit their Facebook page @AlaskaYurtRentals.