Bread baking, card games, square dancing, seed starting, good conversations, outhouses and the northern lights. These are the things making up my days and nights.
On Monday night Meredith came inside after using the outhouse and said the Northern Lights were out. Tom had come over to fix our heater, which was emitting more diesel smell than heat, but when we heard the news we immediately jumped up and went outside to see the long stretch of green playing across the sky. The auroras moved as if in a dance, two ends pulsing together, twisting and untwisting above our heads. A simple scientific understanding of the phenomenon is that energy released from the sun eight minutes ago reacts with the ions in the earth’s atmosphere to create the lights, but as I stood below them I was filled with a sense of wonder rather than a need for explanation.
“This is why people have outhouses here,” Tom said as we watched the sky. What else could compel people outside on a cold winter night? But were you to stay inside, you would miss the quiet movement of the lights. They remind me of the glowworm caves I saw in New Zealand—a light only visible in darkness—and I am thankful all over again for the setting sun. I stay out for a long time, moving my eyes with the green, then white, then faint pink of the aurora borealis.
There is another reason people have outhouses here: indoor plumbing in winter temperatures that can reach forty below zero is often more problematic than convenient, and when the pipes freeze you better have a back-up plan. The amount of people here that depend on running water is so small that there is a public fill-up station called the Water Wagon, and each time we go to refill our 5-gallon buckets we see trucks pull up with 100-gallon holding tanks in their bed; Calypso Farm has a 1000-gallon holding tank in their basement, which is attached to a hand pump in their kitchen sink.
Within a few days I became used to our haul and bucket system, though we had no way of bathing. Susan told us of a few places in town that have public showers, but the Laundromat showers cost $4.50, and the University and the Rec Center charge an $8 fee for using all of the equipment and amenities. Since we didn’t want to pay this much money, Colby and Meredith bought a solar shower and Colby hooked it up outside so the water could warm in the sun. On days that are too cold to shower outside or when we haven’t left enough time for the water to heat up, we put the kettle on and wash our hair in a bowl. It’s amazing how little water it takes to clean oneself. Hauling water causes me to become aware of its use and importance, and with the effort of it all comes the understanding of how carelessly it is wasted in so many instances. Now when I go into town and use a public toilet, a sink faucet with instant hot water seems a luxury to wash my hands under.
Despite this, I don’t feel I am living a rustic life. I am close to a city, I own a car, my house is heated with diesel oil. I have slowed down a bit, though, and because of that I savor the warmth of the sun on a cold morning, appreciate the ease of wifi in cafes and at the farm(we don’t have internet access at the house), laugh during the dance parties we have when we run out of oil and need to warm ourselves up, and sit with wonder under the sky when I head to the outhouse at night.