Number one and number two

Michael
Michael Johansen
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I like to brag about my cabin. And why not? I designed it myself and largely built it myself, using materials either cut from the surrounding forest or recycled from old, torn-down houses. I think it looks beautiful, even in its unfinished state, and I've been displaying my pride online since last spring, periodically posting photos showing my progress.

I like to tell people about the cabin: how I planned it small to be sturdy and strong, how almost every piece of wood is different and has its own story to tell, and how the old recycled casement windows look out over a lovely, secluded lake and a vast, dark forest. I welcome curiousity and invite questions. And I get them.

"Where do you go to the toilet?"

It's what everyone asks. No one seems to want to know about anything else - not about the lumber I've used, or how I carried it to the site on my back and in my canoe, or why I built the cabin the way I did, or what plans I have to expand it in the future. Nope. There's one popular question: where do you do your doo-doo?

Naturally, I do give toilets a great deal of thought, especially when I happen to be sitting on one, or on something that serves as one. A toilet is very much in the plans. There will be a small, heated outhouse attached to the cabin wall under an extended section of the eaves. It should be a cosy place to sit, summer and winter.

However, I'm still not sure what I'll eventually be sitting on. The world of toilets is a varied one and I've got dozens of different waste-disposal systems to choose between.

Efficient system

I could, for instance, follow the example of municipalities everywhere and simply flush my grey water into the lake. It's an efficient system that works for thousands of toilets and for single ones, as well, but the drawbacks are obvious to anyone who has to pass close by a public sewage outfall. The system might empty a toilet bowl efficiently, but it can just end up outside your window.

I could, I suppose, build a version of the multimillion-dollar treatment plant that Happy Valley-Goose Bay is finally constructing so that it no longer spews its raw sludge into the Churchill River - that is, a septic bed that uses weeping tiles to evenly disseminate the effluent into surrounding soil. But it probably won't work for me. The ground around my cabin is shallow soil on bedrock, and is far too close to the lake.

Ultimately, I believe the best option (for both practical reasons and to maintain a clean, natural environment) is for me to construct or purchase some kind of dry composting toilet. The technology for these things has advanced so far and become so efficient, many demand no additives of any kind, require only the power that can be provided by a hand crank and produce an odourless substance that in no way resembles what it once was.

Perhaps we should wonder why such toilets are not installed and used in every home in the country, let alone in every cottage or remote cabin in the woods.

Regardless, at this stage of my construction project, the composting toilet is a toilet for the future - and I still haven't answered the popular question: how do I unload my unmentionables? Where do I dump my domestic distillations, or dispose of my number ones and twos?

Well, here it is: since I can't yet employ the modernest of technologies, I've stuck to the tried-and-true, the Labrador tradition that I learned in Nain when the whole town froze up, used in my own house for several months before the plumbing was hooked up and have now re-adopted for wilderness use (with the addition of a carefully situated privy pit): the good, old-fashioned, white plastic honey bucket.

Satisfied? Now, doesn't anyone want to know where that HBC stud came from? No? What? Er ... no, I don't keep the bucket outside this time of year. The air's a bit too chilly on the hindquarters right now.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: HBC

Geographic location: Happy Valley, Goose Bay, Labrador Churchill River Nain

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