The Truth, Mainly - 08/13/1990

Indoor Plumbing in Paradise
by Leon Satterfield

We got a flush toilet out here in Paradise Regained last week and it was a religious experience.

I know that for most of us most of the time, a flush toilet is nothing to write home about. But when youre building a lovely house on a lovely lot in the Colorado Rockies and youve been four summers without a flush toilet, it becomes a Major Milestone.

Before last week, wed been using a composting toilet made in Sweden. And a nice little number it has been too. Ill spare you the gory details, but through the magic of Scandinavian practicality and some local bacteria with awfully strong stomachs, the end product is something you can theoretically spread on your vegetable garden.

Its exactly the sensible kind of thing youd expect from Sweden, but in Colorado it makes small children cry and gives most adults the fantods.

You cant flush it.

And as they say in Garrison Keillors Lake Wobegone, when you get right down to it, theres nothing more important than plumbing. Go without it a week and youll see what they mean.

I wish I werent so excited about our flush toilet.

I wish I could honestly say that the composting toilet was good enough for me, or even that Id prefer a two-hole privy with a Monkey Ward catalogue.

Because why do we flee the city for the woods if not to live simply and in harmony with Nature? Why do we find our Paradise Regained way to hell and gone off the blacktop, far from traffic lights and city sewage systems, unless were trying to get away from Civilization?

Clearly it was the unspoiled wilderness that attracted us to this place. And now were trying to tame it.

Weve even given names to the trout in the stream. Henry David and Ralph Waldo are the only two left now. Emily Ann went downstream to visit relatives and never came back. And we ate Billy Bob.

And this summer we got electricity and a telephone and a well with a submersible pump that makes water come right out of a tap when we turn the little handle. We no longer bathe in stream water warmed in a black bag by the sun. Now we have an electric hot water heater and a space-age molded fiberglass one-piece seamless leakproof shower-tub enclosure unit.

And I wish I could honestly say that, like Huck Finn, I want to light out for the territory because I find all that civilization too cramped and smothery.

But I dont. I like it.

I can hear the logicians snickering as they point out that were going to a lot of trouble to make what were retreating to just like what were retreating from.

But theres a nesting instinct that goes beyond logic and tells us that while a cave is cozy in a rainstorm, build a fire and gather something soft to sit on and its even cozier. A desert island is wonderfully attractive in theory, but it takes the Swiss Family Robinson to make it a home.

I resonate when Huck says Its lovely to live on a raft, but Im not really convinced until he and Jim set up a shelter on it to sleep and cook in as they float down the Mississippi.

And now I think Im starting to work out a rationalization for what were doing. It goes like this: its not just the wild or just the tame that attracts me. Alone, the tame is boring. Alone, the wild is uncomfortable and maybe brutalizing.

But where the tame and the wild coexist cheek by jowl—as they do here at Paradise Regained since we got our flush toilet—they enhance one another and become a whole that is greater than the sum of the two parts.

So Im going to unplug the word processor and jump into that icy stream with Henry David and Ralph Waldo. Then Ill jump out again and run naked and dripping through the pine trees, yipping like a deranged coyote.

After that, Ill tame myself down with a long hot shower in our fiberglass personal hygiene unit, then have a graham cracker and a nice cup of cocoa heated to just the right temperature in our nifty little microwave.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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