The morning Aly returned to the “homestead” last summer, she came into the cabin and commented on outhouses. I wish I’d written it down! I think she said, “Outhouses are so much more civilized than indoor plumbing!”
I couldn’t agree more.
The outhouse issue has probably been the most radical shift in our point of view since moving to our “homestead.” We mention it now and then, but we really don’t praise it enough!
Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, the word “outhouse” evoked visions (and other sensory memories) of dark, disgusting pits, from which belched horrid smells and clouds of flies and biting insects. I remember going to one camp where I tried tying a T-shirt around my face to breathe long enough to accomplish my mission. Even with the invention of the Sanican, with its alarmingly mysterious blue chemicals, barely made the necessary any easier, not to say pleasant.
These experiences overrode any attempt by my parents’ generation to explain that outhouses weren’t always this horrible. Only a generation that depends on flushing its waste away with gallons of pristine drinking water could neglect the few outhouses left to the point that they become the olfactory equivalent of a haunted house.
Imagine our surprise, then, when we moved here, learned to use the outhouses properly (see Doing What’s Necessary: The Homestead “Facilities”) and quickly came to trust, rely on, and even love our outhouse.
The old-fashioned euphemism for the outhouse that applies best for us is “seat of ease.” Our comfy little shack, conveniently close to the cabin, but away from the crowd, as it were, is a comfortable place for secluded contemplation. Even in the coldest part of the winter, when business is best attended to in a less meditative mood, it’s pleasant.
Far more pleasant than trying to take care of business in an echo chamber in the heart of a house, with plumbing of strictly proscribed dimensions. Every time we leave our property, we feel as if we are at the mercy of modern convenience. We dread that our peaceful, private duties will be on display whenever we feel the need, until we can return to our comfortable, private little outhouse.
It’s rather futile to try to describe to a plumbing-dependent audience the sense of relief we feel when, especially after extended travel, we return home to the outhouse. I’m not punning here—to us, that humble, airy little shack is the true “harbor of home.”
I had thought that we were outside the norm on this, but perhaps not. My sister sent me this article from the Washington Post on “Poop Shame”. It seems a lot of other Americans might find an outhouse an improvement on “modern conveniences,” as we have done.
Of course, even the outhouse isn’t always perfect. Sometimes, they get knocked down!