Over the hill, in a little nook in the forest overlooking the lake, is a little house of half round log siding, painted red like my cabin, with a tar paper roof that has grown moss.
Inside, the methane creates garlands of frost, and when it’s cold I can feel the warmth rising from the hole. In alchemy the nigredo stage is where the substance simmers and putrefies. Once I saw a mouse on the window ledge. They come for the warmth. My mother always told me that in her day ‘shit’ was called ‘farmer’s gold’.
I feed it ashes from my wood stove, the residue of fire. In summer I use sawdust, dried grasses, and moss. This keeps the waste alkaline. In the corner is a lantern with a candle, a tin of toilet paper to keep out the mice, and a bundle of sage and matches. Photos of wolves and lions are tacked on the walls. This is the place of the Shadow, the aspect of our nature that we keep secret. Here, it has its own honourable house. In use, the door is left open to the weather, to the trees, the sky, the birds.
Sometimes it takes a conscious effort to get there, bundled up, trudging on snowshoes after a storm, in the darkness and the cold. I can’t always keep the trail open. The quality of snow changes day to day. Sometimes it is ice or slush, or it is hard enough to walk on. All of this is working on me, keeping me whole and strong. I prefer it this way. The outhouse lives in its own world, set apart from the living quarters, where it performs its powerful catharsis.
The general view of outhouses is not good. They are seen as backward, dirty, disgusting, unhealthy and inconvenient. With modern toilets the waste is flushed away with water into another world that no one ever thinks about. Not only does it use a lot of water, but it requires a pump to function, and in my community the electricity goes out often. Pipes burst and toilets backup. No one knows what to do with it. There is nothing worse than an overfull toilet. It shocks the senses. I never liked cleaning toilets.
Every spring, my outhouse fills with water, despite the trenches I have dug around it. The irony it that the municipality made my landlords move it over ten feet. In its original spot there had been no flooding. The worst thing is for the waste to get wet. When it is dry it tuns to turf and smells like a barn.
In the spring, the earth that has been covered so long in a layer of sleep is unveiled to show decomposition. The waste returns to the earth on its own, without any interference. It takes care of itself. It is a very humbling experience.