OK, so there has been a little trouble this summer out here in Paradise Regained, the
prettiest cabin site in the American Rockies. We boogered up a $230 piece of kitchen
floor vinyl by slicing open the air bubble and poking in more adhesive with a putty knife
instead of injecting it with a hypodermic needle the way we know now you're supposed
to. The water from our well sometimes smells like rotten eggs. We can't find the
doorknobs for the bathroom door, and Ned, the one-eyed, headstrong beagle with the
mismatched jaws, just rolled in the stinkbait that some outdoor sportsman left by the
crystalline stream that runs through our place.
But those are minor annoyances. The "Hallelujah Chorus" is for the news that after four
summers of trying to improve on perfection, we're about to finish the job. Our place is
like Thoreau's cabin at Walden in at least one respect: We have not hurried our work but
rather taken our time and made the most of it. We might have had it all done the first
summer had we gone far enough in hock, but instead we've convinced ourselves of the
pleasures of doing it piecemeal.
The first flush of our new flush toilet last summer remains one of the half-dozen
epiphanies of my life, right up there with my discharge from the Army, the births of our
children and Richard Nixon's resignation. But the magic of that flush grew out of three
and a half summers of using a composting toilet that didn't flush.
And if we hadn't spent three and a half summers carrying water in 5-gallon jugs
from the neighbors down the road, we wouldn't still be clasping our hands and shrieking
in ecstasy every time water comes right out of a tap just because we turn the little handle.
Our most recent wonder is the way lights go on when we flip a little switch on the wall.
No more losing the flashlight in the dark or pumping up a Coleman lantern or tripping
over the spaghetti of extension cords to turn on a trouble light hanging from the rafters.
Last week it was wall cabinets we screwed into the kitchen studs. We break into the "Ode
to Joy" every time we open the doors because we can get things out even as we're
standing up rather than getting down on our hands and knees the way we did to dig the
salt and pepper out of the old wooden toolbox.
Coming up in the next couple of weeks is a kitchen sink with a drain that we will pour
water right down without getting our feet wet; and after that, a rug on the bedroom floor
that will let us walk around barefoot without getting plywood splinters.
And someday before we die, we have a desperate faith that we'll see the Second
Coming of the Bulldozer Man. Sounding like those two hopeful boobs in "Waiting for
Godot," we tell each other that when he gets here, he'll do something with those piles of
dirt and rock to restore the landscape to the divine order that was here before we began
our debauchery of it four years ago.
The Truth, Mainly
But the greatest pleasure of all from doing this place piecemeal is the store of tedious
sermons we're laying in for our children and the cache of heroic tales we're ratholing for
our grandchildren yet unborn.
How delicious it is even now to tell our kids about deferred gratification.
"Oh, yes, we've got a nice place here," we sermonize tediously over the telephone (after
we've talked a while about their temperature and humidity compared to ours), "but it was
a long by golly time coming and we scrimped and saved and worked hard and practiced
sound frugality so that you'll be able to enjoy it. It's like the Capitol Building in
Lincoln paid for as it was built And someday, because of our sacrifice, it'll all
Even over long-distance telephone we hear them rolling their eyes.
Just as, I imagine, our grandchildren will roll their eyes years hence while we go on
interminably about the hardships we suffered.
"See that tree down there?" I'll croak to the little kids wearing sailor suits and pulling toy
ducks in a circle around my rocker on our deck. "That was the first shower your
grandmother and I had out here. Hung a black bag full of water in that tree and let it run
all over our bodies. Nekkid as jaybirds we were, right out in the open too." Then I'll
"Leapin' lizards, Grandpa," they'll say, rolling their little eyes at each other, "tell us again
how you had to wee-wee in the bushes when you first got here. And then go on
interminably about how the composting toilet didn't flush and how you waited a
millennium for the Second Coming of the Bulldozer Man."
It'll be really glorious then. It's pretty glorious now except for that ugly cut in the $230
piece of kitchen vinyl and the smell of that stinkbait befouling the flowery fragrance of
this new and improved Eden.
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.