Thursday, August 18, 2005

Low tech

We celebrated Nina's birthday on Sunday by having my mom, dad, brother and his family, grandma, aunt and uncle up for a picnic. It had been two years since any of them had seen the place and we were anxious to show them the progress on the new house. We even enlisted the muscles of my dad, brother, sister in law, and uncle in lifting one of the glue-lam beams that supports part of the second floor.

While I love having my family up for a visit, I always get the feeling that they don't fully understand why I'm doing this, why I'm working towards this homesteading lifestyle. My grandma and my mother certainly lived some of it, but are content in not having to do all of the hard work anymore. I think they admire me for doing it, and creating such a great environment for the kids to grow up in, but at the same time are a bit perplexed by some choices. Like the composting toilet.

"Why are you going with a composting toilet instead of a regular one?" my dad asked me. I paused, reaching for the right words. The composting toilet is such an integral symbol of our philosophy of living here; conserving valuable resources, making do with less, and participating more fully in the cycle of life. How do I distill all of that into an answer that won't take the rest of the afternoon? I didn't have a copy of The Humanure Handbook available to show him, although that may have been a bit too much information for a Sunday afternoon.

"It's low tech." I heard myself say. It's low tech. Exactly. You can't get any more low tech than a bucket of sawdust. It's simple and elegant, and it won't get plugged up and overflow at inopportune times. But yet, the process of composting is probably more complicated and technical than anything humans could come up with, so in a sense it's not low tech. But for our purposes, at an organism/ecosystem level, it's low tech.

I went on to explain how a septic system would cost thousands of dollars to install, would require intervention by professionals and inspectors, and even then would have no guarantee of working properly. Mound systems have a way of freezing up during winters with little snow, and functioning questionably the rest of the time. My aunt and uncle, who live on a lake, are aware of this. They will eventually need to replace their system, but will probably go with a holding tank instead of a mound. As a biologist I agreed that was the better option for them and for the lake, which suffers from nutrient overload. I should have preached the benefits of the composting idea, but perhaps that will wait for another day, not a family birthday celebration.

The economic argument probably made more sense than the low tech one. I don't know. My extended family probably still thinks I'm a bit strange. Oh well, at least we didn't go with my husband's idea of greeting them with a hatchet and telling them to go down to the chicken tractor and choose their dinner.


Anonymous said...

Great blog, Deb, thanks! I of course like the sawdust toilet idea and wouldn't frown on the concept of Russ greating guests at the door with a hatchet.


pablo said...

The bucket of sawdust idea is simple, but elegant?

Floridacracker said...

Keep us posted on this composting toilet, pros and cons. Most of us are too chicken to take that step.

madcapmum said...

Yes, please do keep us posted. I read somewhere that they're odorless, and I'm finding it really hard to believe that, but I'm still interested.

Deb said...

Hey Chris, thanks for stopping by! And for you readers out there, Chris is a friend of ours who has been helping out with the house, and a co-conspirator in our efforts to "green up" this county.

We're currently using cedar animal bedding as "sawdust" in our converted portable outhouse. It really does keep the odor to a minimum. Of course, we'll have to dig it all out some time and move it to a finishing compost pile or barrel, but considering what we used to do (think dipping out raw sewage by hand and burying it) it will be a much more pleasant task. Maybe that's why I'm not so squeamish about the composting toilet idea, it's a step up for us! :)