I’ve been holding off taking pictures of the interior of the place because there were a few details I wanted to take care of first; to make the place more of a home with an aesthetic than a shack in the woods nobody loves or cares for anymore.
Big photo dump. I apologize in advance for your bandwidth if on mobile:
This is what it looks like some mornings when I arrive at the coffee shop. Plugged in to this single outlet are my laptop, phone, my ‘big light’ power brick, and the battery for my cordless shop vac.
Interestingly enough the shop vac battery charges fully in roughly the same time as it takes to discharge it in operation: 20-25 minutes.
For as many windows and skylights as this cabin has, the sleeping loft puts the small living space beside the front door under a permanent umbra. It’s not that it makes this part of the cabin uninviting but rather illuminates (pun intended) what could become a serious problem once the shortest days of winter are here. Olympia sits at 47 degrees north in latitude so our weather is only half as crazy as it is in Alaska, the land of the midnight sun. Light becomes as important as warmth in certain seasons.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a thing. The lack of daylight in general and our modern human predisposition to expose ourselves to less daylight than our bodies evolved to expect creates a depressive psychological effect in some people not to mention the various imbalances resulting in a lack of vitamin D, which requires direct exposure of skin to sunlight to metabolize in the body. Some people purchase light boxes for therapy. Others make subtle changes like using full-spectrum light bulbs or basking more frequently in the glow of a warm fire. The wood stove is warming but built tight as a drum, without even so much as a window. I’m going to need a source of light as well if I’m to maintain my cheery disposition all winter, in the season my German sister in law refers to as Die Eishöhle, or the ice cave.
Right now of the five circuits I’m going to need to build three of them are for lighting. The other two will power the 12v pump in the water system and eventually an interior pure-sine power inverter to charge computers, phones, and occasionally my juicer. Luckily in the age of LED I’m able to positively flood the cabin with light without drawing bupkis from the (prospective) battery.
The three lighting circuits will consist of:
- Four or five paper lanterns stretched across the cooking/dining area, with bright warm white LED bulbs wired in. This circuit will run through a wall switch (I’m leaning toward old-school brass marine switches) and feature a dimmer knob.
- One bright hanging fixture in the living area, casting a bright light up and down but shading all eyes from bright direct light. This circuit will run through a wall switch (I’m leaning toward old-school brass marine switches) and feature a dimmer knob.
- One gooseneck switched reading lamp at the head of the bed in the sleeping loft. This circuit will run straight to the distribution panel and not through the switch/dimmer box.
Once I’ve got these in and get a sense of how my battery life holds up to regular use I might add an outdoor light outside the front door and another over the back deck.
The current lineup of the ‘big light’ and an array of oil lamps, candles, kerosene lanterns, and a couple of battery-powered string lights are about all I have for lighting right now. Even in sum they’re not entirely suitable for all but the most intimate types of entertaining, let alone entertaining or anything other than spot-work the ‘big light’ can cover.
Q: What do you do with your pooo? How do you handle your number twooos? Whence do you scoot when your bowels are looose? What do you do with your pooo?
A: Right now we’re using the tried-and-true repurposed containment method, which is to say the latrine here consists of a big white pickle bucket nestled under a purpose-built toilet cabinet. Primitive as that may sound, there’s a bigger picture in mind.
My first project on arrival was to replace the rickety old roof over the latrine’s location along the rear of the cabin. The old one was a couple of lathes with some clear plastic and the ‘chickenwire treatment’ on it (the ‘mossification’ method of choice here). It hung so low it was unavoidable when standing after a visit, which defeated the whole ‘keep dry’ mission of the structure. The dripline it generated was also too close to the latrine structure itself, putting knees at risk and splashing dirt up on the latrine itself.
The reason I’m keeping the latrine system is because years and years ago I read the good words of Joseph Jenkins in The Humanure Handbook. The truth is despite the best efforts of our digestive system the stuff that comes out of our bums is full of highly valuable nutrients. Of course it’s also full of stuff that makes humans sick so we have to be careful how we unlock those nutrients for reuse.
Jenkins recommends the addition of rotted sawdust to the raw humanure to add an easily-digestible form of cellulose to the mix to recreate in your bin the same conditions one finds in a healthy compost or animal manure pile: a thermophilic reaction that raises the temperatures inside the pile to a level so consistently high that over time almost all of those parasites and intestinal bugs get killed.
Jenkins recommends an annual cycle. Last year’s section in the humanure bin (a two-stall affair) ages, mellows, and digests itself into a fine crumbly brown nutrient that’s perfect fertilizer for indirect nutrient generators like orchard trees or berry bushes. I’d plant berries here by the house but the deer would make short work of them. My eventual nutrient product I’ll likely just add to ferns around the house to make them even more prehistorically enormous than they already are.
There are no openings in the structure along the East wall (outside of which the latrine sits) so intrusive odors are never a problem. I’m going to rebuild the base underneath the latrine structure itself so it’ll hold together over winter. Right now there are a lot of old rotten pallets along the East wall acting as a sort of base for some of the fixtures out there. There’s plenty of lumber in the shed (and mains power for sawing/predrilling) to rebuild it properly. A paint job is in the works too, to make it a little easier to clean.
Q: How do you handle your household waste like trash, food scraps, and wash water?
A; This is where the ‘reduce’ part of ‘reduce-reuse-recycle’ comes into play. Sometimes packaging is unavoidable but buying bulk and cooking with fresh ingredients (remember, there is no refrigerator here at the moment) reduces so, so much of the sheer volume of unburnable, unrecyclable waste I generate. Paper packaging gets chucked in the wood stove and periodically burned on a cold morning. Non-recyclable packaging goes into a kitchen bin liner hanging in a mouse-inaccessible spot in a reusable (and washable) shopping bag. At the end of the week when I head into town to work I carry the trash with and add it to the first garbage can I can find. Recyclables go with me to Seattle and get added to the appropriate streams at my Mom’s condo building.
Food waste is where the forest floor shines. The sheer biological activity of this land –the countless thousands of banana slugs, snails, and crows let alone billions of hungry bacteria, yeasts, and molds– almost instantly reduces organic waste to a healthy combination of slug poo and fuzzy green bits on the forest floor. I eat most of what I purchase and the forest eats the rest. It’s uncanny. I asked my landlord Alban what he does and this has been his answer for 20+ years.
I live in the midst of a massive, powerful, vibrant ecosystem. This represents the sum of Alban’s aim for this place as I understand it: the husbanding and preservation of all this resurgent natural power. I get it. Wilco.
The only current built-in amenity at the cabin is a Magic Chef RV stove/oven (with the oven inoperable). Some online investigation has shown me that this specific model of stove/oven often has problems with oven lighting but I haven’t been able to devote the time and resources I need to sussing out the solution. Come winter I’ll wish I had an oven for all manner of warming foods, but come winter I’ll be able to use the wood stove & Aunt Itsy’s skillet (really a dutch oven) in combination to handle a lot of these tasks. Getting the oven operational isn’t near the top of my list. I’ve even considered the wisdom of switching to a cooktop only situation to claw back some shelf space in the kitchen.
I bought a radiant propane shop heater to provide spot heat on the coldest mornings and was the proud recipient of a rechargeable handheld DeWalt shop vacuum for my birthday this year so we’re able to add significant points to the comfort and cleanliness gauges.
The radiant heater has been useful in drying out the floors after my initial bout of hot soap scrubbing, and will be an especially welcome addition for newcomers who might not be used to the chill of a Northwest morning.
The little shop vac allowed me to vacuum surfaces that had never been vacuumed before: floors yes but also walls, joints, concealed surfaces, and all those little nooks & crannies full of two decades-worth of dead spiders and the hair of long-departed tenants. Dust mites, surreptitious mouse turds, sand, and cobwebs all sucked up and neatly containerized. It might be psychosomatic but the house just felt cleaner after a week of daily vacuuming projects.
One major additional benefit of the rechargeable shop vac (and the reason I never let it run all the way down if I can avoid it) is its perfect utility as a collector of ginormous spiders of the sort that wander in from the forest if I leave the place open to the breeze. Having dealt with forest spiders in Virginia during grad school my general rule of thumb is if the spread of its legs is bigger than a quarter it has to go. Too many mornings with spider bites…to many times awakened to feel some bold arachnid scurrying across my face. There’s a chance being sucked out of your web and hurled at high velocity down a tunnel into a hard plastic container will kill the spider but absent this solution there’s a 100% chance the spider dies via a rolled up New York Times magazine or something. The use of vacuum technology as a way to avoid having to get close to them and/or killing them makes me feel a little better…a little less eek-y.
But how do you recharge the battery? you might ask. Every day I come into town to conduct my affairs, usually involving a stop at a favorite coffee shop for an hour or two to get my connected work done (e.g., emails sent, online shopping done, research projects, professional tasks). On arrival while I’m plugging in my laptop I also plug in the cable of whichever recharger(s) I brought with me that day. Sometimes it’s the vacuum. Sometimes it’s the drill. Sometimes it’s the 18650 battery charger that reliably powers so many of my household items (e.g., high-intensity LED flashlights, holiday light strings, a wireless clip fan &c). All but the 18650 batteries charge in less than an hour and two hours of charging those, even if it doesn’t show me the green ‘charged’ lamp before I leave, is going to be sufficient to get me through the night at least.