Friday, April 11, 2008

Outhouse Stories

Carver, over at, had a post about the drought over in the Southeast, and her efforts at conserving water. I asked her a question about how she collects the water she runs in her shower before it gets warm, and then our comments began to revolve around potty humor - specifically my recounting various outhouse stories that I've heard in the course of my career.

I am a cultural anthropologist whose work is based in Alaska, most specifically, in the Bering Strait region. Some of the areas I've been to are very remote, without running water. My colleague, Loren, is an archaeologist who also does work in fairly remote areas. Here are the stories:

When my science and community crew worked on King Island, a very remote place, our logistics crew put in some porta potties, but apparently it was the kind that you have to use with a certain chemical - that quickly converts the waste into solid blocks which then are biodegradable. But they were also vacuum-powered, too, and the joke told by the crew was that they were afraid they'd get flushed away, too!

When I was a grad student in Fairbanks, a lot of students in my cohort lived in cabins outside of town. Many of these cabins had electricity but no running water, so they used outhouses that were placed a little ways away from the house. I remember walking in below-zero weather to an outhouse during a dinner party. The joke there was that it was better to have a styrofoam toilet seat because it didn't freeze and it didn't feel cold when you sat on it! I remember a funny story when grad student told - her outhouse was fancy because it had two holes cut into the bench to sit on. She said that she had to switch the seat from one hole to another because the waste had frozen into a tower so tall that it was almost up to the level of the hole! Imagine that - a frozen tower of waste in an outhouse!

A lot of people in my community have cabins on King Island land on the southwest Seward Peninsula. it's about 40+ miles from Nome, with no running water or electricity. Several have been gas-powered generators so that they can watch movies on their VCR or DVD players there. My uncle even rigged up a tank to catch rainwater which then runs to a spigot inside the cabin.

Anyway, about 18 months ago, there was a strong fall storm that caused a storm surge (bigger and bigger waves) to come ashore. It carried away my cousin's outhouse!! They had to go by 4-wheeler about a mile inland to fetch the outhouse - the building itself was still intact. Imagine that! Someone might ask, "hey how was your day?" "Well, I had to tow my outhouse today!"

Which reminds me of my colleague's story. Loren has an archaeology field school occasionally on the Salmon River in Idaho. A couple of years ago, they had to tow their outhouses to town and get them serviced, but the road from their camp to town involved a long, steep uphill climb. They got to the top of the hill and realized that one of them fell off the trailer, so he sent his students back down the road to find it. Luckily, it was one that hadn't been used, because it had rolled some on its side!

The "hazards" of fieldwork!

So, today looks like it will be a good day! They say it will be sunny and 72 degrees out there. I got another good night's sleep, too. Yesterday, I didn't sleep well the night before - my partner and I decided to break up (differences in how we approach things like parenting, planning for future events, being proactive or reactive, plus bigger issues like my cancer and issues he's got to work on at his end) - and then I think I started to get overloaded on Xeloda as I felt slightly nauseous all day (I'd gone back up to 3 in the am and 2 in the pm, where last week, it was 2 and 2). A good night's sleep and sunshine really help, though. Have a great day!


Dee said...

Before you get the wrong idea, Scott didn't break up with me because of my cancer. We seemed to be negotiating fairly well the side effects of treatment.

But since I have cancer, my own energy is diverted to dealing with my health. I have to be selfish for my own and my son's sake. I don't have enough energy to help him with what he has to deal with or to work harder at my own insecurities. Something has to give, after all.

So, please don't fault Scott for the break-up. It was a mutual decision.

Carver said...

Hi Dee,

I'm so glad you got a good night's sleep. I still chuckle thinking about your outhouse stories.

I hope that the break up will be good. Sometimes it's necessary when people have to focus their energy differently and as hard as they can be, I think it can at times be very positive to make a break. You are very thoughtful to make it clear that it was a mutual decision.

Take care, Carver

Dee said...

Scott and I talked yesterday. In the end, neither one of us wants to really end the relationship. So, we are officially "taking a break" not "breaking up". We plan to get back in touch in a couple of months and then see if the major issues have settled down and/or are under control. This lets us take care of the big stuff each of us needs to take care of. Then, we'll see what happens.

Doing better today - it was fairly warm, at least in the high 70s - and today looks like it will be nice, too, although cooler. I'm getting my work done, too. Who can stay sad when the sun is shining?