leave old job....leave old home...enter new home...engage new life...maintain what matters

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


“So,” Lynn innocently asked me.  “What are you most afraid of?”
Our House the Land Built presentation finally over, we’d opened it up for a few questions.  What could go wrong?  Linda and I were among friends after all (a family picnic in Heather’s house since its still pouring buckets outside).  Problem is, friends ask questions never asked at our two previous, more public, presentations on our journey to build our new ‘values-engaging’ home.     And these friends had just seen me naked.   Normally so protective, I finally dared expose what really, really matters to me.  A glimpse of my tap-rooted values.  My soul-dreams.  So tender.  So precious.   It was one thing to stand before a sheet-draped wall in Heather’s living room clicking through PowerPoints of our bleeding-edge home plans (off-grid-solar-rainwater-harvest-masonry-heater-composting-toilet).  Quite another to reveal why any of this really matters to me---why I’d leave my high-paying job and Minneapolis home---other than billboard-taglines like ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’.
“Ho my!” I gulped as I considered my answer to Lynn.  How much more skin did I want to bare?   Then I recalled the Annie Dillard quote on Linda’s final slide:
Cliff-jumping time.  “I’m afraid people will think I’m totally weird,” I confessed.  “Especially my new community.  Elba.  Altura.  St. Charles.  Plainview.  All the hard-working farmers.  My neighbors on Calico Hill Road.   Our entire home was designed upon only two-values and the first of these is ‘welcoming’.   Our new home should be anything but a hermit’s hideaway.   How welcoming is a home occupied by weirdo’s?  I mean, look at our toilet.”
That darned composting toilet.  Nothing in this House the Land Built presentation (or the previous two) garnered more attention (and more horrified gasps).  Sure, everyone’s aware of its theoretical greenness.  But where’s my comforting porcelain ‘plunk’?  My familiar all-is-done ‘floosh’?    And when they saw pictures of our composting toilet, heard how it worked, their suspicions rose like outhouse odors.  
“A 5 gallon bucket?”
“You haul it where when its full?”
“And who actually hauls it?”
I mean couldn’t we have made our friend’s ‘business’ a little less transparent?    How much do they really want to know about their pooh?  Don’t  get me wrong. Our friends were very polite as we explained our personal experiences with commercial composting toilets (which at least look a little more tidy and toilet like): nose-wrinkling escapes, fan-induced breezes on the behind.
“You’ll need to post instructions for use,” suggested a wide-eyed Joe.
“Really?” Linda shrugged.  “There’s only one rule:  cover your stuff.”  A scoop (or two) of herb-scented sawdust from the urn.  Into the bucket, that is.  For the compost heap, a pitchfork (or two) of covering straw does the job. 
That job is masking offensive odor.  “I was skeptical,” said Linda.  “So we installed a sawdust toilet in our shed’s hayloft.”    Nothing.  No odor whatsoever, save the sawdust itself.  “Cottonwood is a little sour smelling.  We won’t use that again.” 
I faced a tense test  when Heather’s hubby Kevin arrived late.  “Look at that quote,” Heather pointed to the slide on the sheet-draped wall. 

And oh, when the surprise on Kevin’s face turned to an understanding smile,  I felt welcomed.    As if rubbed with Charmin, the room’s mood continued to soften when I explained how we weren’t just dumping the buckets in any old compost bin.  “It’s a Humanure Hacienda!”  Three five foot bins.  A roofed middle bin for straw flanked by open bins of layered compost.   You could have heard the sigh a block away when they discovered you never had to turn ‘your stuff’.     “Joseph Jenkin’s research is all there in his Humanure Handbook.”  I'm not sure this convinced them.
 “But I made Mike dump the first bucket,” Linda exclaimed.  “And I backed far, far away.”
Very well, our friends finally knew what the what was, but why?  Why endure the buckets of our own bestial biology? 
“The connection,” Linda explained.   “In addition to welcoming, our new home needs to enable the Connection.”    That’s Connection with a capital ‘C’.  Our connection to the Land.  Our connection to our greater community.  Our connection to the divine.   While it might not be welcoming, it’s hard to get more connecting than our composting toilet.  There it is!  Before your very eyes.  The divine circle:  life, death, resurrection.  Life consuming life creating life.  Light from night from light.  Impossible, yet undeniable from the seat of the sawdust toilet.   Completely invisible atop the porcelain.  Does anyone know where porcelain pooh goes?
Flash!  From the front porch, this just in from my wicker writing chair:  an eagle.  A bald eagle, white head and tail, slowly soaring in high circles.  I can’t recall ever seeing an eagle from my Minneapolis home.  And it’s the 4th of July!  God has to hit me over the head sometimes before I wake up and pay attention.  The Connection!  The divine Connection!
My better self knows that my friend Missy was right.  “I don’t believe toilets create welcomeness (or non-welcomeness).  It is an object…relationship and connection breed welcomeness.” 
 So please.  Come.  You are all welcome to the House the Land Built.   We won’t break ground until the end of July.  We won’t move in until December.  Still, there is the Land.  And there, in the hayloft of our barnwood-clad shed, the toilet the Land Built already awaits you.


  1. Hello Mike and Linda, We all loved your presentation. Most questions that evening were around the house and/or the composting toliet, I can assure you that it's not the only lasting impact. As I've chatted with people who attended the presentation, they have shared conversations that have happened between husbands and wives and family members. Your question about "What do you value in life?" is the buzz they are talking about, not about where they will pee. Thank you for sharing your story and journey of creating this new home. I am excited to hear more and see it during the different stages of creation. :) Heather

  2. That compost will make some good strawberries!