We’ve had a long cold snap recently—nothing severe, just daytime highs in the low to mid-20s, but enough to make going to the outhouse a strictly B.Y.O.D. event—Bring Your Own Duff.

Our main outhouse is a composter, which means that “deposits” are covered with a scoop or two of duff: squirrel midden, old leaves, rakings from the forest floor and other organic material. We mine this stuff from the larger squirrel towns around the property and store it in buckets or bags until needed. To work properly, it needs a certain level of moisture, which it has. Unfortunately, in cold snaps, that moisture can freeze the whole container into an icy, rock-hard mass.

We keep an old long-shaft screw driver on a nail on the outhouse wall, which we use as an ice pick when necessary. We move the duff with a sturdy metal bin scoop that can chisel hardened duff pretty well. But when, as now, the freeze goes on for too long, both tools lose effectiveness. We’ve taken to bringing the duff bucket inside to thaw near the fire. Anyone who needs to use the outhouse must remember to grab the bucket before heading out, unless they want to make two trips to cover all the bases—as it were.

Most people would feel that this is far too inconvenient, if, indeed, they considered using an outhouse in the first place. But for us, it’s just another quirk of living here. Oddly, we had assumed that the outhouse would become very uncomfortable in the cold months, but we’ve never found that to be so. Yes, it’s bracing! But, it’s also quiet, fairly comfortable, and a great place to sit and gather one’s thoughts, even when the thermometer is dropping swiftly.

We just need to remember to bring our own duff.

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4 Responses to B.Y.O.D.

  1. Nance says:

    I don’t have “the pleasure” now of using an outhouse but the one thing I dreaded on COLD mornings was a cold seat. Perhaps your composter isn’t outside? Or doesn’t the seat get cold? Thanks for the post and the memories.

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Nance, Our seat gets cold, which isn’t a real problem, unless it gets frosty! That’s not pleasant. I dreaded the idea of a cold seat, but I’ve found in practice it’s not so bad. It’s always nicer, though, if someone else “enters the breach” first.

    Our first seat was one of those cushioned vinyl ones. That was very comfy in all seasons, and the vinyl warmed up instantly, but it cracked early on, and became less comfortable.

    I’m not quite ready to expound in detail on our outhouse yet, but I’ve come to regard a lot of the particulars of its use as an expression of love. Particularly, volunteering to be the first to try the seat on a cold, frosty morning can be a quiet (and, okay, weird) way to say, “I love you.”

  3. Nance says:

    oh okay! you get up first and “break the ice” so to speak. I visited with a gentleman yesterday (a stranger) and how we got on the subject, I don’t know! but this stranger’s friend had a mink seat cover in the outhouse. Will you try that? : )

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    And the puns just keep on coming!

    A mink toilet seat–no way. When I was a kid, friends had a sauna with a rabbit fur throw on the dressing room bench. It felt like heaven when one sat on it dry, but the slightest bit of moisture made it strange and uncomfortable. Give me a non-porous surface that can be cleaned quickly, easily, and thoroughly any time it’s needed. That makes a bit of frost now and then seems worth it by far.

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