I couldn’t contain my excitement when we moved the privy to the farm a couple of weeks ago. I sent my family a text message with a picture saying my dream is coming true, we are moving an outhouse to the farm. My mom wrote back saying she doesn’t know why she deserves all this crazy. You see, my mother wears six pounds of jewelry at all times, she never leaves the house without makeup, and her nails are always meticulously done. My father, on the other hand, owns rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, a dog and a few chinchillas, he collects house plants and pretty much everything else. My brother prefers sleeping in the desert, where he spends his time with his altered Jeep meant for off-road driving only and his dirt bike. On the same day we moved the outhouse he got a new ATV. He keeps her on an almost-heart-attack state constantly while her daughter is moving an outhouse, planning to run a vegetable farm with three little kids while at the same time building a house of mud.
I texted her back saying she is our mother; she should know where this crazy comes from. Of course, she blamed my dad without hesitation 😉
Such is my lovely family.
It all started from a Craigslist ad. My husband found a tiny house for sale, and we contacted the lady asking to come see it.
David ended up going to check it by himself a couple mornings later. He called me after his visit, and I could hear the excitement in his voice. My husband does not get excited easily so I figured this must be good.
He liked the tiny house very much and wanted to move it to the farm. Even though we have some experience with moving things by ourselves, we know this time we will have to call the professionals because it was too tall and heavy. It will take some time to find someone to move it for us.
“Meanwhile,” he said, “we can take the outhouse.”
“The outhouse!” I exclaimed, jumping with joy, “there is an outhouse?”
“Yes, and she is giving it to us for free!”
I’ve been talking my husband’s ears off about my outhouse obsession for months by then, and I am sure, most of all he was just happy there was a chance I will finally shut up and leave him alone.
On Saturday, we loaded up the kids and drove to Judy’s old homestead to pick up the outhouse.
And what do you know… We stepped back in time. Only 25 minutes from our home, practically inside the city limits, between beautiful pastures, we found this handmade, rustic, homestead. I kinda forgot about the outhouse; I had to hear the stories first.
Judy explained that the 92 acres the homestead is on, are owned by an older couple. This whole place is now pastures and forest, but back then, in the seventies, it used to be a hippie commune. Judy’s house and another we passed on our way are the only two left. The couple let Judy stay on the land as long as she wants with the condition that she keeps it rustic. Her house used to be very small, but with the help of friends and family she kept adding to it over the years. She raised three boys here, all grown now.
Once the pipe gets full with the first wash off the roof the water flows into a septic tank. A pump is set to draw the water from the tank into a pressurized water tank and then into a hot water heater. From there, both cold and hot water goes into the house. Judy and her sons had full plumbing with this system; shower, sinks, toilet and so on.
Some upkeep is required with this system. First, you want natural purification to happen in the tank, so you never scrub or bleach it. The film of organic matter that develops on the bottom is what’s working to keep the water clean. You also need to drain out the clean-out pipe before the next rain, and in the Winter you need to make sure to drain it before it freezes so the pipe won’t split. There was also a sediment filter installed between the pump and the pressure tank that is changed monthly. In the Spring, when there is a lot of pollen, Judy kept the clean out pipe open at the bottom until the roof was completely clean before starting to collect the water.
Considering how expensive it is to dig a well (in our area between $5000-$10000) I’d say this system is something we should really consider for our next house. Or maybe if we have problems perking our land.
About 20 feet from the front door of the house stands this amazing oven. Judy said they had so many pizza parties around it. It takes a minute and a half for a pizza to cook in this oven. I wish we could take it. It is now on my to-do list to build one of those at the farm.
Then, there was the tiny house which we did end up moving to the farm but this is a story for another time.
We let it go after apologizing for taking his home. We invited him to visit our farm as long as he stays out of the potty. Can you imagine a snake coming up the potty seat just as you are about to drop your pants?
Unloading took about two minutes. We placed a PVC pipe under the outhouse and slid it down the ramps of the trailer. We didn’t get to set it up yet. Once we do that and fix it up a bit, I’ll update with another post.
So what is happening with Judy’s homestead you are asking? Well, the older couple don’t have any heirs, and so they are giving the land to the county in a condition that the county doesn’t sell it but uses it for farming. So the county is going to make this place into a pine tree farm. Basically plant pine trees everywhere, forget about them for many years, and then come back and harvest the trees. It’s bittersweet I guess. On one hand I am happy that this place is not going to become one big cookie cutter neighborhood, but on the other it is sad that the pastures and the lovely rustic homes need to go.
It makes me happy to know that some of Judy’s homestead will keep on living with us.
And we met an amazing lady too. Judy has so much experience in simple living, she is an educator and own Mandala Classroom Resources, a company that sales Montessori educational materials for schools and homeschoolers.
Judy shared with me a piece she wrote about her outhouse, and I would like to include it in this post. This story tells the events taking place when her boys gave her a wonderful mother’s day present: a new privy hole. So really, another outhouse move. It made me laugh and promise to let one of my girls use it first.
Privy to Enlightenment
By Judy Martell
There was certainly nothing unusual about our privy. It was a typical one-seater, with graying board siding, a tin roof, and strategic ventilation. It had a mixed designer plan: wall-to-wall carpeting, nature pictures on the walls, and the classic toilet paper roll on a nail. Reading material sat on the little makeshift table, and under the table’s cloth were hidden a room deodorizer and a can of bug spray, for emergencies. Although there was a hook for the door, mostly the door hung open; occupants gazed meditatively onto the meadow and listened to the noises of the house not so far away, or the woods behind. Meditations in the winter were considerably shorter than in other seasons.
Because the privy perched on the edge of the woods, we learned to make peace with the world of nature during our visits. The little house was home to mud-daubers in the summer, various insects seasonally traveling through, and the inevitable spider webs. A wren re-shaped a nest over the door every spring and then scolded every visitor who entered, until her babies departed. Our cat often came to keep us company, sitting in a sunny spot just inside the door, which tortured the wren. One early morning I even found a beautiful flying squirrel, newly dead, just inside the door–a mystery still.
I raised three boys with this style of toilet–and they were happy boys with normal bowels and wishes and dreams, growing up as all boys do. We knew we were not “normal”, if normal was living like the majority about us lived. But we also knew we were happy and healthy. Daily we appreciated that we had a treasure in this piece of Earth that we called home: fifty acres of fields, ponds and beautiful hardwood stands. We had a house tucked under giant oaks, and our house had no curtains or locks or security systems.
We had no neighbors within sight, but shared the space peacefully with many animals. We had pileated, downy and red-bellied woodpecker, red-tailed hawk, wood duck, great blue heron, summer tanager and great-horned owl. We had flying squirrel, bobcat, woodchuck, copperhead snake, chipmunk, white-tailed deer and red fox. We had a great orb of stars at night undimmed by city lights, and sunsets that were stunningly different every time. We grew up together free from worry about traffic or random violence or intruding on neighbors’ lawns.
Our price to pay for all of this was small: an amazingly low rent, an agreement to watch over the farm, and an understanding that we would not modernize the homestead.
While we lived quite happily in our chosen way, we also drove out our road and into the rest of the world every day. I put on office clothing and spent the day as an educator, among people who not only all lived in normal houses with flushing toilets, but who probably expected that everyone they met did too. My young teenager went off to public school, guarding his secret well for fear of being labeled and forever unpopular. We were private people for the most part, and rarely did the two worlds we lived in meet each other. Until one fateful day.
It was Mother’s Day, and my sons asked me what I would like most for the occasion. There was no question–I wanted a new privy hole. It was a beautiful spring day, and they agreed happily. My oldest son, who was 20, had the day off from work; he rolled up his sleeves and put himself in charge. My two younger ones joined in to dig.
Before mid-morning the hole was six feet deep and three feet wide–nearly perfect. I came out from the house several times to check on progress, and the neighbors came over to help. Soon there were people leaping in and out of the new hole, cracking jokes about trajectory and slope, perk rates vs. “incoming”, calculating the volume of the hole and its half-life expectancy. These were definitely young minds at work, so I stayed in the background and enjoyed the experience of my Mother’s Day gift with pride.
By noon the neighborhood–seven people in all–had entered into the final stages of the project. The pick-up truck was backed up to the old privy site, and the little house had been leaned up onto the bed of the truck, roof and all. The new hole was ready, and the team began the job of disassembling and moving the foundation of the old privy: the heavy concrete slab floor, the concrete seat stand, and the many assorted blocks and boards used to level the whole structure. The old hole, with some dirt discreetly shoveled on top, was still quite exposed and awaiting attention. The place was a mess, but we were happy and totally engaged.
It was at this critical moment that I heard a disturbing sound: cars in the driveway. Two family vans were pulling in, actually, and they seemed to be filled with uninvited people! Through the trees I recognized a woman from my workplace, and I rushed to head them all off before they rounded the corner on our disaster.
They came, they said, to fly their new model rockets in our lovely open fields and wide sky. They brought several little children and an uncle from New York City who was a photographer, and their dog, and a friend of my son. Would I show them the best place to set up?
Looking around, to them the place seemed deserted. There was blessed silence from the privy-crew around the corner. I quickly ushered them out the driveway toward the fields and out of sight of the house, and they happily set up their rocket launchers.
The first rocket to hit the sky must have gotten the attention of the group working on the privy-hole project, because before long one son, then a second, then a third, came out from the woods and joined the party. Then came the rest of the privy crew, one by one. The newcomers looked perplexed by this procession of folks from my place, but said nothing, and soon we had quite a party watching rockets disappear into the above.
But time stretched on, and I grew restless. There seemed to be an endless supply of rockets, but our project was unfinished, and there was no graceful way to extract ourselves. There was no privy-moving equivalent for “I’d love to stay, but I have a pie in the oven,” so we were all rooted there, with half of us considering the skies above and the other half the abandoned privy holes behind.
And then the inevitable happened. The littlest visitor tugged on her mother’s hand and said softly, “Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom.” Instantly my mind raced back to the scene at home: holes and mess and strange structures leaning on trucks all over the place, and nowhere a toilet to offer this child. There would have to be a lot of describing and explaining, and at the end of it there would still be no toilet to offer this child. So I said nothing.
A few more rockets pierced the sky and covered over my silence, but then,
“Mommy, I really have to go to the bathroom!”
Still I said nothing. My work crew was peering intently into the skies after rocket contrails, struggling to hold back their smiles and waiting to see what would happen. They had abandoned me, it seemed, to deal with this alone.
“Well, honey,” said the little girl’s mother, “I’m sure someone will take you to the house to use the bathroom.”
I felt the privy crew shuffle in place a little, peer harder into space, and no one said anything. Time expanded before me while I searched for possibilities in every direction–including just walking away forever–but nothing came to me. The rockets were silent by now, the little girl was starting to hop about, and faces seemed to all be turning toward me. My own face began a deep flush from the neck, and I felt my feet crush into the ground in my absolute incompetence. I was ready to melt away, but I said nothing.
“Hmrm. . .” My eldest son had cleared his throat. I found myself looking at him brightly, as if he had a toilet to produce for us right there that I had forgotten about. “Hmrm. . . That would be difficult,” he said, with authority. Difficult? I could just imagine their minds cranking: “What’s so difficult about a toilet, for crying out loud?” Now I was filled with curiosity: how would my son finish this? Would we all go home unscathed? Would he spill it all out right now and send us off changed forever? Fourteen people in a little cluster in the open fields under a bright blue sky on this fateful Mother’s day all froze in this moment, anxiously awaiting his next words, but for very different reasons.
“Yes,” he said, “it’s under repair at the moment.”
Of course–our toilet was under repair! The whole world shifted back into alignment with the other planets and the sun. People moved about a little, coughed, gathered up things, and within minutes the visitors had said their thank-yous and departed to find a working toilet elsewhere. The farm became a friendly place again, and we all knew who we were once more. It was over.
The privy crew wandered back to their work, and within an hour the job was done: the little privy house stood proudly atop a new mound, fresh dirt packed up around its base, and everything looked “normal.” The old hole had disappeared under tamped clay and a piece of plywood. In a month or so the plywood would be removed, a little more dirt would be packed on, and grass would grow over the old site just as it had five or six times before.
But my life would be forever changed. I had stood at the very edge of enlightenment of the most awkward and challenging kind, and I had not handled it well. The challenge was much bigger than having acquaintances learn about my style of toilet–it was about over-coming issues of class and pre-conceptions, and about knowing who we are in any context. It was about honesty and our responsibility to use such moments to break down the barriers to understanding one another.
What if, instead of panicking, I had said to the little girl in that moment of truth, “Oh, wow–guess what? We were in the middle of this huge project on our toilet when you drove up! We have an old-fashioned outdoor toilet, and every once in a while we have to take it apart and move it, and right now it’s in the middle of being moved. Would you like to see?” We could have all trooped over together and peered into the hole and the visitors might have been fascinated and offered to help. When it was done the little girl might have been the first to try out the new hole, and she would have remembered the experience for a long time. Instead, the whole group disbanded in various states of confusion and dismay, unenlightened, and we had gone back to our separate lifestyles , pretending we were the same.
Did I do better next time? I did not. Just a few weeks later a woman at work was relating to a few of us how cold her toilet seat was when her mother-in-law came to visit, because the mother-in-law always turned down the thermostat. I caught myself blurting out, “You haven’t felt a cold toilet seat until you’ve felt mine!”, which drew a puzzled look from the woman. “Why, what is it about yours?” she asked, a little guardedly. Many thoughts raced through my mind: “I don’t know this woman very well. . .This isn’t a good time to get into it. . . She’ll never understand. . . Not again. . .Just forget it. . .” when I heard myself say non-chalantly, “Well, I heat with wood in the winter. My bathroom stays pretty cold.”
One step at a time, I thought–enlightenment comes one step at a time.
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