It’s just after dawn. I know this because Kak’s chickens are starting to rustle their feathers in the coop nearby, letting out quiet little clucks as the sun rises from behind me. I’m standing barefooted on the patio, gulping a bottle of water and looking at the sun illuminate the surroundings. I remember hearing a couple of coyotes howling before bed last night, but they’ve turned in and remain concealed in the wilderness.
It’s morning, and so I have to poop. Let’s be real. Poop is one of my favorite topics. It’s a great equalizer among humans, and due to my high fiber diet I enjoy regular, satisfying bowel movements. Why not talk about them? Before I get into the color and consistency (just kidding this is neither the time nor the place,) let me talk about how we ended up here—sleeping in a furnished shed off the grid in Mt. Carmel Junction, Utah.
Three miles down a dirt path there’s a stuffed Wiley Coyote propped on a homemade sign that reads “KAK’S” in branches. Untamed wilderness hugs both sides of the road, eager to encroach on the man made trail. Jackrabbits appear through tall grass and jump back and forth as you drive through, never close enough to accidentally hit. When I was able to calm my nervousness about my tires popping from the rocks beneath (never happened,) it was truly magical, those rabbits with their giant ears hopping around, as though life’s all about hopping around.
At the top of a hill there is a tiny house owned by Katherine, who prefers to be called Kak if you ever get a chance to meet her, and I really hope you do. What she’s done for herself in the Utah wilderness is absolutely inspiring.
Worried we wouldn’t be able to find a place to stay while visiting Zion National Park, a friend from work reminded me about AirBnB, a service where people essentially rent out their homes like hotel rooms. As an extremely shy person, I was a little nervous about meeting someone new, but I figured this was as good a time as any to get over it. We needed somewhere to stay, and I will high five myself until the day that I die for finding such a cool spot.
Twenty-something years ago Kak purchased a plot of public land in Utah. She was so taken with the surroundings that she was able to see herself living there between working on sailboats part of the year. On her precious plot she built a tiny house long before tiny houses were a thing, which makes her next level cool. The place has a very rustic feel, beige exterior walls decorated with petroglyphs featured on Ancient Aliens. Behind the house is the chicken coop. The ladies roam free during the day, retiring to their spacious hutch for protection from predators at night. They leave behind truly cage-free eggs that Kak kindly offers to her guests. On the last morning of our stay, Sean cooked himself the eggs over a flame “in” an outdoor kitchen behind our room.
A short walk from Kak’s home is the 8’x8′ shed she built for guests, a place she named “Casita Tara.” Using my best judgment, I think it means “little country house,” from the Spanish “casita” and Romanian “tara.” I could be completely off. Maybe Tara is a person, but I think “little country house” works just fine. Inside the shed is a comfy bed that takes up nearly the entire floor space. On the walls there are shelves filled with books from previous guests and various pieces of artwork. The shed is propped up from the desert sand and even has a nice porch to enjoy the view. At night the moon is so big and bright it swallows the sky, and the usual sounds of cicadas in suburban Illinois are exchanged for coyote howls and the bellowing “moos” of distant cows.
On this little piece of peaceful paradise, there is no electricity, no running water, and no cell phone service. As a lover of running water, I was a little nervous about this. Where would I poop? Upon our arrival, Kak showed us around. Behind the casita is a solar shower. Essentially this is a bucket on a pulley device that you hoist into the air and spray onto yourself as you clean your naked body, all out in the open. Neither Sean nor myself ended up showering, but both of us were impressed with the creativity. To pee, all you have to do is drop your trousers and let loose, something I’ve grown comfortable with over time due to our long hikes. The only difference here is that the ground is so dry your piss just bounces right back up and leaves little driblets all over your ankles. No big deal, though. That’s why you bring baby wipes on a camping trip. Also, urine is sterile. So, really…no big deal.
Onto the premise of pooping. Once again, all out in the open, there’s a bucket with a toilet seat on top of it. Inside the bucket are wood shavings. Next to the bucket is another bucket filled with a roll of toilet paper, more wood shavings, and a cup. Underneath the lid are instructions for how to use the throne. They are basically as follows:
Step 1: Lift lid and set bare ass on toilet seat.
Step 2: Poop.
Step 3: Wipe, but don’t use too much toilet paper.
Step 4: Cover your poop with wood shavings.
Step 5: Close lid. Think long and hard about how you just pooped in a bucket, and how it wasn’t bad at all.
The wood shavings mixed with the poop apparently become a great fertilizer, as outlined in a book Sean found on the shelf of the casita called “Holy Shit.” It was all about how much more we could be doing with poop to be more sustainable human beings. To think we flush such a valuable resource is a shame when you learn more about it.
Kak is all about sustainable living. A lot of her things are recycled. She has industrial-sized drums spread across her land to collect rainwater, which is the only water she uses. Unfortunately, this is illegal in a lot of places, including where I live, which is curious to me considering it’s doing something positive for the environment. I guess it’s not so curious when you consider that the United States throws away over half of the food it produces, and it’s usually illegal to dumpster dive or give away food that’s destined for the trash anyway.
I pooped in the bucket twice. I would poop in a bucket again if the situation arose. I would pee on the dry earth and welcome the warm sprinkle around my ankles. I would lie in bed in a hot shed with floor to ceiling windows and read a book next to my boyfriend. I would play Go Fish on a patio in between staring at the wilderness around me. I would drive down a rock road and excitedly point out every single jackrabbit that jumped across the path. I would do it all again and I would do it longer and I would ask more questions about how Kak got to this place in her life. I think we could all use some time at Casita Tara.
Living like this for a couple of days reminded me of something I already knew. It’s not about your car, your internet connection, or the square footage of your living quarters. It’s cool to poop in buckets, to use that poop to fertilize the food you eat, to rely on the rain to give you the water you need to survive. It’s smart to save your energy for your garden and your animals rather than expending it on the uselessness of acquiring things to make your peers jealous. It’s magical to wake up in the morning and not be able to pull your phone out to browse the often mind-numbing content we all post on Facebook, to instead walk out the door to your makeshift bedroom and be surrounded by real beauty.
So, in times of desperation I think of Kak’s. How simple it was. How she made it work and how she lives a life of purpose without worrying about the judgment of others. I remind myself that it’s okay not to have a smart phone, that maybe it’s good that it crashes every time I try to open an app. I tell myself that it’s not a big deal that I can’t afford some of the things other people have. It’s merely stuff, and I’m doing just fine without it.
I tell myself these things and I believe them because they’re true.