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. 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 it 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.
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. The outhouse lives in its own world, set apart from the living quarters.
They are seen as backward, 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. 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. When 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. The waste returns to the earth on its own, without any interference. It takes care of itself.