Sunday, January 5, 2014

Remembering excretions past

When Mum and Dad chopped down an ancient pine and put our shed in its place, a pile of red earth came into being. I used to squat at the top of this hillock, pants around my ankles, and wee, watching a thin rivulet rush down the slope, one metre or two, before melting into the clay. It was a good place to wee, close to the shed that we slept in, but away from its entrance, so reasonably private. By crouching at the apex, I could be the river-maker every time I weed.

Under the nearest pine along the windbreak, Mum kept our handwashing basin. A branch had snapped off the pine at my head height, leaving a stick poking out from the trunk on which we could hang our hand-towel. The pine's roots pushed up orange stones, seamed with quartz and patches of purple, and grown over, like everything else that stayed still long enough, with bubbling grey-green lichen. Sometimes, overnight, a skin of ice would grow across the handwashing basin and I could break off impressive shards of it, then take my frozen hands into my mother's sleeping bag and terrorise her warm armpits.

You could walk along the pine windbreak in two directions, feet scrunching softly on the pine-needle carpet: uphill, towards the cattle grid and the sheep-loading ramp, the grass here growing lushly through sheep poo, red-skinned toadstools flecked with white after rain, or down a little, and then up again, to where the pines petered out into an uncleared patch of gums, tall and grey-barked, a huge orange termites' nest, and a cropped to bare earth hilltop that felt like wilderness except that it can't have been, because the horses gathered along the fenceline there, nose to tail, nose to tail, when the wind was especially fierce.

Our actual loo was nowhere near the windbreak. You set off north from the entrance to the shed, downhill through the round-leafed bluey-grey Argyle apple-gums, under the trunk of a huge fallen eucalypt, to where Mum, or Dad, or Mum and Dad had dug a pit straight down, and put what they called the Thunderbox on top. You went here for poos, and to watch the cows nextdoor watching you back, and to worry about redback spiders nipping your bottom, which of course never happened. Aristotle would come with you to keep guard, or snap for grasshoppers, or sniff out rabbits, or generally smell what was what.

I think all this is why I've always found actual toilets, the white ones with the flushing water, deeply disappointing. I infinitely prefer weeing outdoors to in. At the moment, I'm weeing straight into the watering can, then topping up with water, and offering my libation to some thirsty looking plant. I've been experimenting with composting my poo, which takes a lot of some kind of carbon-rich material to offset the nitrogen. There's a joinery nearby where I can get sawdust now and then, so no problem there, but however liberal my handfuls of sawdust atop poo, I'm yet to find a fly-proof system in the Summer months. And experimentation, when neighbours are so near, isn't really viable - so, al fresco pooing in hiatus until the weather cools. 


  1. It reminds me of a memoir I read (Susan Duncan I think). She was piddling outside to save water. Having just finished chemo, she was appalled the following morning to discover that she had killed the grass. It didn't surprise me.
    And yes, flies are a pest. Where are dung beetles when you need them.

  2. Urine can be lethal stuff for a plant to drink neat - even without whatever poor Susan Duncan had in her chemo treatment.

    Since putting up this post, I've discovered that an elderly chook who lives here, Agatha, has (cover your eyes) flystrike. THE HORROR. I've been holding her rear half in a dettol solution for an hour, trying to get the disgusting things off her. Poor old girl. Hoping we can save her. She seems chirpy.

    And yes, dung beetles! What great little fellows! Doing their bit for carbon sequestration.