Shit: Two Tales

Shit: Two Tales

April 5th, 2010

by Creek Hanauer

As the Pile Turns

Words from daily commune life:  Goats… Shit… Protein (or lack thereof)… Zu-Zus… Bugler… Brewers Yeast… Powdered Milk… Power Wagon… “the trail”… Marigolds… American Pie… God’s Hand… Harold and Sylvia…

Let’s take shit…

black bears communal pooper

Human Waste disposal was one of the energy areas at the Ranch.  Black Bear Ranch was founded on the premise that everything was turning to shit so we’d better get our shit together.

We all came to love Redwood’s methane digester.  A world class hole done the old fashion way… by hand.  It was a lovely hole.  Not quite to China; not quite ever used.

The first years of the current human occupation, people spread out, with notable exceptions, usually with some distance between dwellings.  Thus necessitating a number of small shitter sites.  Quality varied to reflect the personality of the “digger”.

Came the second winter and pressure from the Red Brigade eventually had the whole population of the Ranch living in the two rooms of the MainHouse.  How many?  Sixty adults?  Thirty kids?  The Main room and Music room of the MainHouse, there used to be a wall there, became our home.  Two rooms, bedding rolled up against the walls every day.   Even Gail and Michael move in after the birth of Senta; “Martín!  Don’t sit on the baby!”  Mark remained the one hold out.  Anarchists were everywhere.

Shit… We had to do it somewhere.  It had to be close and deal in volume.  We had to do something with it after we had captured and contained it.  And if we were anything, we were world class compost pile proselytizers.  It didn’t take a Ph.D. in sociology to make the next connection.

One thing we had an abundance of was empty five gallon honey cans.  We cut the tops off, fabricated a wooden seat, erected a small A-frame and cover with everyone’s favorite, 6 mil plastic. We put it up on the small knoll behind the house.

I remember heading up to the shitter the night of Danny’s beer tasting, a break-out party late that winter on one of the first evenings that we could be outside.  I believe that it was because I tasted too much beer that night that I needed to make my way honey cans with some urgency.  Setting out I was the riddle of the Sphinx in reverse, walking on two, then three, then finally going quadruped.  Other things happened that night…

One of the few undisputed ideas that winter was a five gallon piss can (also a honey can) on the back porch near the shower. With that kind of population concentration it didn’t take long for the honey cans in the A frame to fill.  One night filled the piss can.

In the tradition of the Chinese peasant collective, we decide to create a “night soil” pile at the bottom of the MainHouse Garden, by the driveway, across from the barn.

Ingredients contained, it was time to mix in the straw and allow to cook.  The pile consisted of layers of honey can contents layered on beds of straw, with a daily application of piss can.  That was my duty, I was the tallest with the longest arms and as the pile grew it was just practical.  At the time I joked that I should tattoo PCM on my arm… Piss Can Man. We always had at least one or two barn piles of goat shit working as well.

We had some regulars in the compost pile creation and turning work.    Others were seen much less regularly at the business end of a pitch fork.  On this sunny late winter morning Meredith and I had guest turners in the persons of Peter and Richard… “night soil” then being a culturally chic item for the radical résumé.

Let me emphasize at this time, how important it was to know where to stand when forking the pile to its new resting place.  The reason should be obvious.  With the pile over six feet tall, things could get toxically malodorous.

Turning a pile of that size was a shitload of work.  The job of turning the pile took about two hours. You didn’t just pick around the outside, you had to wade in and get to the center.  This was a bit more than our guests had bargained for.  Image versus content, ever a nasty conundrum for the culture.  About half way through the pile turning Peter and Richard were fairly swooning.

The next two things happened simultaneously; Judy and Elsa came out of the house with mugs of restorative green tea for their fallen gallants and a Forest Service truck came driving down the road and pulled up and parked in front of the barn, in those days that was usually a cause for concern.  Meredith and I stopped working, then breathed a sigh of relief as we recognized Freddy Coleman, one of the few locals who wasn’t afraid to be openly curious about those crazy hippies while being friendly and informative, too. Malcolm walked out of the MainHouse to jaw with our talkative trove of local wisdom.  I suspect we entertained him greatly.

He got out of his truck and said a few words to Malcolm then caught the scent of the active “night soil” pile.   There’s Peter and Richard being ministered to, Freddy suddenly reeling at the “odor de la pile.”  Meredith and I took in the whole scene, knowing that “this was entertainment”.  Freddy meanwhile, suddenly looks around, grabs his nose in one hand and inquires brusquely, “Whataya got in there? Dead bodies?  That’s  awful!”  Since it was against the law for shit to be detained in anything but a sewage system that no one has to know where it goes, we were suddenly on guard.

Nervously Meredith and I looked at each other not sure what to say but I think we both hoped to say nothing.  Malcolm, as usual rising to the occasion, quickly reassured Freddy that that was exactly what was in there.  Freddy laughed (he had a quick laugh); we all laughed; with no little relief.

That pile was to ultimately serve as plant food for the “Lower Garden” where we grew the “marigolds.”

When you look at the rose, you see the compost pile.

When Ya Gotta Go, Ya Gotta Go

The Domes was a collection of mostly plywood and plexi-glass structures that were across Black Bear Creek by way of a felled fir tree (un-railed until the day two year old Shasta walked down the road and across the tree-bridge alone.  Michael arrived the next day and chicken wired it) below the confluence of Black Bear and Callahan Creeks, near the old Black Bear Mine foundry.

Myeba, Milagra and I shared Myeba’s dome earlier in “the winter of the MainHouse.”  The dome leaked.  We had dry islands of floor space in a general sea of soggy everything.  The bed was dry.  (At least until the night that a massive icicle fell from one of the overhanging firs and shattered the shatter-proof plexi-glass skylight.)

Abdul, I think, had dug the shitter down creek and up the hillside from the dwellings.  Two wooden rails over an open pit, with a roof.  One of the better shitters of my extensive experience.  Kinda gnarly little path up to the structure, but a rather peaceful view.

The “Winter of the MainHouse” was a beautiful, snowed-in-since Thanksgiving kinda year.

One morning I woke about dawn with the urgent need to take an immediate dump.  I leaped out of bed to the nearest island of less soggy floor and grabbed my blanket lined Levis jacket and pulled on my Wescos and laces flapping, trudged, bleary-eye, not even close to being awake, up the snow covered trail to the shitter.

Even through the haze of unwilling awareness I knew that this was spectacular morning.  Snow muted all sounds, so there was a distant quality to the muted babbling of the creek below me and the tree boughs hung heavy with the weight of the night’s deposit of fresh snow.

So there I sat, chin in hands, too quiet even for thoughts, staring at the creek and the shake-sided gypsy wagons tucked into the big firs on the other side… when without warning or sound one of the big trees began to fall.

Question:  Can a tree falling in the woods make a no sound if there is someone there to hear?  A variation of the classic Zen koan.

Here’s an answer:

With majestic grace the tree began its fall to a snow covered forest floor.   I watched with wonder as the fir, about two feet in diameter and seventy five feet tall, just missed the gypsy wagons, settled on the earth and did no more to disturb the silent prayer of that morning than stir the kiss of winter’s breath on my cheek.  A cloud of snow rose equally silent and settled like the passage of a ghost.  Nothing but a jagged stump marked tree’s former place.  That, too, was soon obscured by the light snow that continued to fall.  Nothing but my accidental presence was there to record it.  No record but my sense of vision to attest to it.  And that faint whisper winter’s kiss on my cheek.