Monday, October 18, 2010

Dispatches from Raking the Crapper

"There's water in there?"
"It's okay, you can go."
"I think I'll just go number one."
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- A few months ago a friend of mine that lives at O.U.R. Ecovillage in British Columbia went with her three-year-old daughter to the city. After a while her daughter had to "go number two" and my friend took her into a restaurant bathroom. At the Ecovillage, as at D-Acres, drinking glasses hold drinking water and toilets do not. The little girl was perplexed by the water in the restaurant toilet because she did not understand where her poop would go: understandably, few of us do. She ultimately compromised and was willing to pee, just to test the waters.
Some guests of mine here at D-Acres were similarly perplexed by the Clivus Multrum composting toilet. We request that guests refrain from peeing in this toilet as much as possible. It disrupts the composting process and can make the humanure putrid smelling and soupier than anyone wants to deal with. Aside from memories from the farms of aunts and uncles long ago, they were experienced exclusively with the municipal sewage system and the flushing toilets that creep up like more mouths to feed at the ends of pipes in each home. A similar dialogue ensued beween my guests and me as the one between my friend and her three-year-old daughter:
"Try not to pee in the toilets because..."
"Well then where do we pee?"
"The land is yours."
"I'm not sure I can do that..." One replied.
A flushing toilet or the land that is the toilet of every living creature can be a source of discomfort and confusion or of comfort and pleasure. Age is not so much a matter as experience. Everyone is forced to see their true reflection, not in a mirror, but in the glop that was yesterday's dinner; and no Narcissus will emerge from that vision. There is instead, humbleness to be found in assuming responsibility for one's fecal matter. Gradually, approximately at the rate the poo piles, a recognition of oneself, a life history from meal to meal and those meals' return to the earth is ingested, digested, and nourishes an understanding that the self does not begin or end in the body, but interfaces continously with the world and can nourish it as much as it nourishes us.
What I have found is that phenomena that are unfamiliar seem unhygenic and threatening. The impulse is as valuable as it can be pervasive. For most of my life, the toilet bowl was my only relationship to a daily product of my body. My idea of feces was pervaded with that threat of the unfamiliar. My friend's little daughter was not naive to be fearful of defecating into a vortex of potable water. She has the wisdom intact to be threatened not by unfamiliarity from inexperience, but with something she could never become familiar with - the endless network of pipes and mechanisms that daily carry parts of us away to some remote accountability.
The litte lever mechanism connected to a chain in the back of a porcelain bowl that I have struggled with in exasperated efforts to keep toilets flushing is symptomatic of a struggle much deeper within myself and in all who share this experience. The struggle is the story of the work for money to afford a porcelain bowl, a septic system, taxes for municipal sewage... It is the rupture with reality that occurs with when we flush. Like the distrustful hilarity that ensues at a magician's sleight of hand, it is hard to trust that that poop went to a better place for us or anyone else, that it was not some sort of trick.
Soil makes all. Poop makes soil...not just cow poop and horse poop, but human poop as well. And when I rake the fecal mountain in the "digester" chamber in the basement here, it is clear that we make a lot of soil. The world we encounter - friends, neighbors, food, wine, laughter - are all articulations of poop. Enjoyment of life throughout a lifetime is also an articulation of poop so long as it is allowed to nourish the earth where it began its journey. So, don't shit where you eat. This is true. But, don't shit too far from where you eat.

- Robby Mellinger: Intern

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Stardust to Garden-Dust

As the tasks of the day are completed and nighttime settles around D Acres Farm & Educational Homestead, I usually find myself with a satiated stomach, dirt-stained calluses, and not-quite-clean jeans, climbing my way to the silo loft I call home. Sometimes I pause to feel the wind or to hear the peepers, the birds, or the sleepy snores of piglets as the season dictates. Often I take a glance at the stars, or note the clouds that hide them.

The other night, though, was no casual glance at the Big Dipper, no perfunctory nod to Cassiopeia. No, not quite.

Instead, I lucked upon a proper tour of the night sky. Which is to say I saw ring nebulas and other galaxies, double stars and the moons of Jupiter, southbound geese and maidens chained to rocks. Okay, that last duo took some advanced skills at connect the dots…nevertheless, the whole affair was impressive and fascinating. Talk about long distance vision.

It made me think of a quote by farmer and activist Wendell Berry that goes as follows:
“Here as well as any place I can look out my window and see the world. There are lights that arrive here from deep in the universe. A man can be provincial only by being blind and deaf to his province.”

Berry has eloquence on his side, for sure. But in my simple walk through the North Orchard, past the pond, under the rose, and up-up-up to the windows of the silo…the stardust in the sky and the garden-dust in my pockets don’t seem so disparate.

There is, of course, the science of elements and minerals and galactic dust, the right ratios of which allow us to be as we are, alive, in this galaxy on this Earth that houses us. And there is, too, a philosopher’s wonder, the juxtaposition of life’s small details unfolding under stars so very many light years away.

I suppose I lean more to the latter simply because the awe of metaphysics comes more naturally to me than the equations of physics.

But whether you consider yourself a scientist or a romantic, or are stuck somewhere in between, there are still innumerable dusty stars, and countless grains of dusty soil. We each have to make our own sense of that, I suppose. It strikes me as a reminder of our human humility and smallness, but also of the vastness of Life. There is grandeur in a night sky that seems to diminish the details of our worries, and a patience in galactic timescales that suggests our hurriedness inconsequential.

Mere musings, yes. There still remains the challenge of relating farming to stellar mythologies. Yet as the constellations visible in the sky transform while the seasons come and go, so, too, changes the dirt, or the leaves, or the snow, or the mud I must brush off myself while glancing up past the rose, and ascending to the silo. While Orion wields his sword across the sky by night, I wield my garden fork, or rake, or shovel, or pruners by day. And together, these acts tell a story intimately tied to place. This place.

as published in North Country News