On Shit

Note: If you’re enjoying reading about my Camp Life, I would like to suggest you check out my friend Spence’s blog, Rediscover the Wild in Wilderness. He’s also living in a wall tent (see, I’m not the only crazy one!) though he’s doing it up in Thunder Bay!

ed. I actually originally wrote this post a couple of Saturdays ago. It’s fairly normal for me to wait a few days between the writing and publishing of a post, to allow me a few read-throughs and edits before I publish it, though waiting over two weeks is strange. The reason I waited so long is because, through this specific post I use the word shit a lot. I’m aware that this word has a very visceral sound to it, and it can create a very strong reaction against it. I tried using other words, but none of them really fit. I suppose the reason that I prefer the word shit is because our reaction to the word is similar to our reaction of what the word represents. And that’s exactly the issue that I’m attempting to discuss here. That being said, if you dislike the term, I certainly would not be disappointed if you skipped over this post.

Shit is Old English. The word that is. Shit itself is probably much older. The word is Germanic in origin. Most of our cuss words in English are Germanic in origin. I was wondering about that. Turns out, when the Normans invaded what would become known as England, the Anglo-Saxon peoples that were living there at the time became a subjugated people. Anglo-Saxons of course, were Germanic. Their language became the language of the streets, the language of the uneducated peoples. Not like the Norman language, which was the language of the upper class, ruling elite. Thus, modern day English became a mix of French and German, with the lower class words becoming our cuss words. Technically, by cussing, you are celebrating the language of an oppressed people.

I was thinking these thoughts on Saturday (ed. January 18th) as I was mucking out horse and cattle stalls at a nearby farm. One of the advantages of living on a farm, one of the many advantages of living on a farm, is that the farmers know other farmers, farmers who always have a job to do for somebody with a strong back and a set of work clothes. On Saturday, I worked on the farm of Garry Lean (pronounced Lane). He’s an organic farm inspector and a trainer of other organic farm inspectors. Interestingly, I also met him several years ago in Thunder Bay when he was leading an organic certification seminar.

Mucking stalls is hard work. It leaves you tired and sore, and is an incredible work out. But that’s why I love it. I love cleaning shit up.

I first cleaned shit with Roots to Harvest. This is an amazing program that I was so incredible thankful to work with for the summers of 2011 and 2012. I’m not going to go into many details here, but at its most basic (and, in all honesty, too basic) form, it’s a program that gets teenagers to garden and farm. Throughout the summer, these youth get to work at many farms in the Thunder Bay area, and almost without fail, one of the key jobs is cleaning up shit.

Horse shit.

Cow shit.

Sheep shit.

Duck shit.

Rabbit shit.

Chicken shit.

Its funny to see youth come to terms with this. Often times, when first beginning the summer, the idea of cleaning shit is anathema to them. Their reaction makes sense. We don’t really care for our shit nowadays. We have elaborate systems to deal with it, systems which magically take our own shit and send it elsewhere. On a farm, at least on a small-scale one, there is no elaborate system. On a small-scale farm, the usual system is a pitchfork, a wheelbarrow and the aforementioned strong back.

As the youth are digging out the shit though, something happens. Suddenly, it becomes fun. I’m not exactly sure why that is. The work is hard, the days are usually hot and oftentimes, especially with the powerful ammonia pockets that often form in compacted sawdust, the lungs and eyes are burning. Normally, this is not a situation that leads to fun. My best guess is that there’s something almost liberating about being able to play with shit. Its a chance to actually get paid to break one of society’s biggest taboos.

On a small-scale farm like Garry’s though, shit forms another purpose. Shit is amazing compost. There are so many chemical and biological processes going on in it, it adds beautiful health to any soil. Its may be the biggest reason to have animals around a farm. I’ve heard of herds of cattle being used in areas that are suffering from desertification simply because their shit brings valuable moisture and microbiological life to it. Shit is actually restoring land!

After I cleaned out all the stalls, I went home to my tent. I don’t think I’ve described my toilet facilities, but I use a sawdust toilet. Basically, I shit in a bucket and cover it with a layer of sawdust that masks the odour while also helping with the composting process. When the bucket is full, I bring it up to the compost pit in the barnyard and empty it out. In a couple of years, that shit becomes beautiful soil!

In 1907, F. H. King toured farms in China, Japan and Korea. He described his findings in the book, “Farmers of Forty Centuries.” Apparently, farmers there had farmed the same land for 4000 years, and the soil was still incredibly productive. To put this in perspective, the United States has lost one third of its topsoil since it was settled. To be fair, China is, lately, also doing really bad in the soil building process. What was one of China’s big secrets that F.H. King had discovered?

Apparently, the Chinese knew about how amazing shit was! In fact, it was considered a gift to take a shit when you visited somebody else’s house! You were giving them the gift of fertile soil. Brilliant!

Harry Stoddart, author of “Real Dirt: An Ex-Industrial Farmer’s Guide to Sustainable Eating” and, more importantly, one of my instructors, describes peak phosphorus. I’ll let you read the book to find out more, but essentially, his argument is that we, as humans, are running out of phosphorus to put on fields, phosphorus which must be mined and transported thousands of miles from mine to farm. Meanwhile, we are each shitting out phosphorus into our elaborate systems where it ends up being “disposed” of.

Gene Logsdon, author of “Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind,” argues for another huge source of shit! In America, there are 73 million cats and 68 million dogs… which every year create a total of 190,000,000 tonnes of shit. Think of all that amazing fertility that is being thrown away every single day.

My point is that we as a society, really need to start dealing with out shit. We are getting to the point where we really can’t keep on trying to get it to disappear. We can’t afford to keep flushing it away and hoping that somebody else will deal with it. Shit is one of the best sources of fertility that we have, and considering the state of our topsoil, we need every extra bit of fertility that we can get. We need to get out shit together. Because if we don’t, we may be in deep shit.

Sincerely,

Adam

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The Build

This weekend has been absolutely crazy. I’ve barely been able to process it myself, let alone put it into a form which would make sense here. Still, I managed to take some shots of the tent building process that happened on Saturday. It was incredible. This post is dedicated to Adar, Caitlin, Tim, Mike, Dave, Sylvia and my parents, who made this build happen. THANK YOU SO MUCH!! I will post more about the build soon… but school starts tomorrow and I’ve been going non-stop since Thursday.

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Shadow is the Russet House Farm Dog. In the summer, he herds cattle. In the winter time, mostly cats.

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We carried a load of pallets down a one kilometre laneway that was completely covered in snow. It was absolutely ridiculous. The fact that I had got quality help is evident from the fact that there wasn’t an open rebellion against me. There should have been. It was bad.

This picture also shows a bit of the site before any work was done.

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After we all had miniature heart attacks from carrying the first load, Sylvia and her 65 Massey Ferguson came to the rescue. She cleared not just the laneway, but also the very site where we were going to build, saving us about a week’s worth of manual labour.

Without this tractor and snowblower, there is no way we could have completed the build.

We drove the rest of the supplies down with my dad’s truck once the laneway was cleared.

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Mike and Tim are laying out the patio stones which were meant to act as support stones in the four corners of the tent. Mike (a landscaper and contractor) and Tim (a high school tech teacher and contractor) felt the stones would work better to balance out the floor. I was easily persuaded to listen to them.

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This is a good shot of the beginning of the pallet sub-floor.

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This picture is in the kitchen of Sylvia and Brian’s house. My parents showed up with chili my mom had made up the night before. We very much needed this lunch.

My mom rocks.

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Caitlin, Dave and Tim screwing in the plywood. Technically it isn’t plywood. I say plywood because it’s easier to say than OSB panels. OSB is cheaper and, for my purposes, pretty functionally equivalent.

Notice the one blue board. Dave named him Harvey.

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My dad helping to pull the tent down over the frame. In this shot, he’s inside the tent.

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Dave hammering in a t-stake that we’ll later tie the tent to in order to prevent it from blowing away. Despite the frozen ground, the fence post driver which he’s using (basically a big, heavy, metal tube) made really quick work of it.

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Caitlin, Adar, Dave and Tim, happy that the job is finished before the sun goes down.

Introduction: Part 1 of 3ish

First of all, I would like to thank those of you who read the first posting. I would like to especially thank those of you who sent me a personalized message. I’m not sure if anybody can comment on my post or not… I know I have severely restricted access to my Facebook account for a myriad of reasons, though I would like to have some way to create discussion about my upcoming experiment… I’m trying to figure out how to proceed on this front and so I will keep you all posted on what I decide.

I’m excited and encouraged that people are curious about what I’m up too. Hopefully, as the upcoming year progresses, each of you will continue to check back, following along as I try to better learn how to live well in my place. I hope we can learn from each other.

In my third year at Lakehead, I took a course called Ecological Literacy. What a fantastic name for a course. Through this course, I was introduced to the idea of Place, a concept that still excites me whenever I think about it. Rest assured, I will explain this concept in much further detail in a future post. Through disciplines such as tracking, bird watching and foraging, I began to see the world around me in ways I had not previously seen. I was also introduced to the work of Mr. Wendell Berry. I will also go much further into him in a later post, though for my purposes today, I will provide a quick sketch.

Mr. Berry is a writer. Fiction, poetry and essays are his mediums and his messages include love and fidelity, stewardship and work, conversation and thought, and the power of fellowship, among others. Mr. Berry is living in a community in Kentucky, along the Ohio River, in which he can trace his family for several generations. This looks like it may continue, as his children and grandchildren also currently live there. Mr. Berry, though foremost a writer, is also a farmer. And he writes about farming extensively. Through his work, I began to become interested in perhaps pursuing agriculture as a possible career.

Around that time, I had the option of volunteering with some friends at a local farm. After spending a day there removing some old fencing, I began to realize that perhaps, this was something that I was really interested in. I began to work in agricultural settings. I worked with a historical farm in 2010. The summers of 2011 and 2012 saw me working with a local urban vegetable garden. This past summer I worked at yet another local vegetable farm, in a full-time capacity. Each step of the way, I realized, more and more, that this was something that I enjoyed doing. I enjoyed the feel of the dirt on my hands and under my fingernails. I enjoyed the honestly analytical questions that were required of me to be asked. I enjoyed the humility required by weather and pests and everything else that was outside of my control.

And I knew it was time to stop looking at agriculture as a fun way to spend a summer, and to start looking at it as a life’s vocation…

Views on Deer

This evening, as I was working away at my computer, I looked up and saw two deer outside of my window, grazing on the grass in my backyard. I’ve seen these deer almost every day since moving here. Or rather, I have seen deer, almost every day since moving here. Whether or not they are the same deer, I am, as of yet, unable to determine. Perhaps, as my familiarity with this neighbourhood, and its more-than-human residents grows, I will one day begin to identify specific deer. That would be nice.

As I watched them, I began to think of the current deer hunting by-laws that have recently been passed. Using the fewest possible words, the city of Thunder Bay has recently allowed for the bow hunting  of deer within city limits, a move designed to help limit their numbers, and the resulting injuries to both humans and deer that, sadly, happen all too often on our roads and highways. If you would like more words, I would direct you here: Deer Bow Hunt Season.

I thought of how I would be personally interested in hunting a deer, as a single animal could easily supply me with more than enough meat for a year, and, as the hunter, I could ensure that the creature was killed with as little pain as possible. I thought of how eating an animal that came from this place (a 1/8 mile diet?) could allow me to better connect with this place, and of how the process of stalking, hunting, cleaning, butchering, preserving, cooking and eating it would allow me to cultivate my sense of the importance of food.

I thought of all these things and then smiled.

I do not have my hunting license, nor do I own (or have ever really used) a bow. Furthermore, I would have no idea what to aim for on the deer to ensure a quick kill, and I do not understand even the most fundamental parts of cleaning and butchering the carcass. As such, the hunting of these two creatures in my backyard was entirely beyond my abilities.

And as I thought of these things, I realized that, do to my inability as a hunter, I am forced and thus allowed to appreciate these deer on a different level, one which allows me to appreciate their health and strength and beauty, not as potential prey, but as neighbours in this place.

One of these views of deer, as prey, or as neighbour is not inherently better than the other, and certainly, these two views are much closer related than I have presented here. Still, I am glad that, for now, I am enjoying this view, from my window.