The Long Drop….

Just a word of warning: folks with delicate sensibilities may find the subject  of this post somewhat unsavoury. If  you are on the squeamish side, you may want to give it a miss….

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On this chilly spring day, I am going to write about poop. Not exactly about it, as in manure for the garden or anything like that, but about human poop and how we deal with it, both at home on our island and collectively, if not somewhat historically.

The subject of sewer systems came up some time ago when we gathered together with C.’s family in order to sort through some of the ancestral photographs. Among the older, sepia photos  was a portrait of an elderly gentleman, one Donald Cameron, C.’s great-grandfather, the great-great grandfather of our children.

On the wall in C.’s office there hangs a lavishly hand-decorated certificate of appreciation dated September 25, 1902. It was presented to Donald Cameron on the eve of his retirement as City Surveyor and Engineer, after more than 25 years of service to the City of Exeter in the county of Devon in England.

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Among other things during his time in Exeter, Donald Cameron modernized that city’s water system. He also implemented a state of the art public sewage treatment system.

Although Frenchman Jean-Louis Mouras is credited with building the first septic tank in France around 1860 (a concrete unit known as the “Mouras Automatic Scavenger”),  it was Donald Cameron who brought Mouras’s successfully patented technology to England. Cameron improved upon the design and first used the term “septic tank” for his system that was built in Exeter in 1895. As an aside, and in an eminently practical move, the methane gas from the system was used to heat and light  the treatment works.

At first Donald managed to secure a temporary patent in the U.K. for his “septic tank” system. However, he was unable to patent the system permanently in that country. Following his retirement in 1902, Donald emigrated with his family to Vancouver, British Columbia, where he continued to try, unsuccessfully, to patent the system both in the Dominion and the United States.

According to historical  documents, a natural process such as the anaerobic one used to transform sewage within the tank system, could not be patented. In the end Donald  was never able to reap the real rewards of what has become one of the most common sewage disposal systems in the world.

Ironically, an early septic “cesspool” system, with inlet and outlet pipes, was patented in England in 1882 by a man called Lake. This happens to be my father’s name (and my surname) as well, though I don’t think we are related in any way to the cesspool Lake.

Coincidentally,  my father once attempted to introduce another, natural, and relatively inexpensive sewage treatment system, the reed bed system, to the island where he lives down the coast from us. Sad to say, the powers that be on that island were loath to believe that an ancient, simple, and proven system could possibly work in the modern age. They preferred to spend more money and hire more expensive consultants to solve the septic system problem on that over-crowded island.

Meanwhile, back home on our wild island, we still use an even less technical and slightly more primitive method for our septic system needs. We call it an “outhouse” but it is known elsewhere on this planet as the “long drop”, the “dunny”, the “bog”, the “loo”, the “latrine”.

The traditional outhouse is a deep hole dug in the ground over which a small wooden structure is built. Within the structure and over the pit there is a rectangular wooden box with a hole cut in the top. This is where one sits to do the job. A plastic, ex-honey bucket with a lid, on the bench beside the hole, contains the roll of paper. The lidded bucket keeps the dust and mice out. A sprinkle of slaked lime and fresh sawdust every now and then combats odour. A good outhouse will last a long time, but even the very best outhouse eventually fills up. That’s when it is time to start all over again, with a fresh hole in a new spot, and most often with a new structure over that hole.

Always thinking ahead, C. had been planning for this eventuality for some time. Last autumn our daughter R. and her friend S. came to visit. As is their way when visiting the aging parental units, R. and S. kindly asked if there was anything they could do to help. C. did not miss a beat as he handed them a shovel and a pick-axe and pointed to the new “spot”!

A couple of days later, with much sweat and a few sore muscles, there was a new and very deep hole, not far from the previous one, in the back yard, at the edge of the forest, all ready to go! The topsoil and clay excavated from the new hole will be wheeled next door to the former outhouse to completely cover the previous 20-year old hole. The fate of the old outhouse building is still being contemplated;  tool shed or roaring bonfire?

Old outhouse on the left, new one on the right.

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A few months after the hole was dug and in need of an early spring-time project, C. began to build the new outhouse structure. When I went off on my holiday he was in full swing; seeking out milled lumber from the various piles he has squirrelled away; measuring, sawing, framing, siding, and roofing. Three and a half weeks later I arrived home to find a handsome, brand new outhouse complete with a see-through roof to let in the light.

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The new and improved “Cameron-Lake outhouse septic system” boasts a beautiful door, with opposing crescent moons cut into it. The user now has the option of privacy (door closed) or a bucolic view (door open) into the forest.

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So far there is only a single hole cut in the spanking new wooden bench, and this is probably how it will remain. The previous outhouse was once a two-seater with a junior sized hole beside the big one, perfect for toilet training the kiddies when they were small.

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I am going to splash out and invest in a new, oak finish toilet seat with a lid as well as a tin of pale green paint for the plywood box bench. C. intends to add a hand basin with running water and we have plans to camouflage the new outhouse building with a nice evergreen, flowering shrub, perhaps a spring flowering camellia. I might even put a sweet-scented hanging basket in the foyer! Perhaps something to attract the hummingbirds!

The way things are going, we should be in good shape with  the “C&L Septic System” for at least the next  quarter of a century!

 

 

 

©ClaudiaLake,claudlakeblog,IslandTime
So far there is only a single hole cut in the spanking new wooden bench, and this is probably how it will remain. The previous outhouse was once a two-seater with a junior sized hole beside the big one, perfect for toilet training the kiddies when they were small.
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23 thoughts on “The Long Drop….”

  1. Don’t be so modest! I am sure you are a Cesspool Lake.
    As for the contents of your blog, I’ll add this with a handful of sawdust and lime: when it came time for our loo, I consulted an old timer on the main island. “Hell, they makes such a fuss nowadays. When I was a young un, my dad buried a large, deep Cedar box and it has served for over fifty years. I got worried a few years back so I dug it up. Not only was it still only half full, the Cedar was still good and it is still working well.”
    Sal and I lived on our sailboats for over a decade. We have poop stories up the yin yang. First: poop is the most (bar none) popular topic in all our almost 50 years together. And not because of us! Because every guest we ever had eventually asked, “Unh, this may be an invasion of sorts but what do you do with your doo doo?”. And then the stories fly into the fan!

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    1. Hmm, yes, well, that cedar box sounds like it was/is one of those anaerobic “septic tank” systems, if I’m not a Cesspool Lake! Huh! Yes, it seems to be a popular topic (especially among five year olds) perhaps that’s because it is the one thing we all, and I mean all, have in common! Thanks for stopping by to have a read…

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    1. Thanks for reading RoaUM, and for your thoughtful comment. Yes, those men were/are clever and inventive fellows, and so is our C.! The outhouses do last a surprisingly long time. the last used mostly by a family of four, lasted about 20 years. Now that the kids have flown the coop, it is normally just the two of us, and because it’s an extra deep pit, this should be the last outhouse we will ever need. It can be cool in winter, or anytime of the year for that matter, but nothing that a warm hat, a down jacket, thick socks and boots can’t help! Now that there is a door to keep the weather out, one could even be tempted to stay a little longer! And the fresh air is a bonus…

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    1. Thank you so much for saying so! Yes, it is a lovely outhouse, and it’s a fine view. I am beginning to think that it might even double as a mini greenhouse of sorts, what with the transparent roofing material; it is so light and bright and very cozy, especially when the sun is shining. It might be a good place to have a nice tropical plant growing in a pot! Thanks for stopping by to have a read…

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  2. I do find all this fascinating! Your impact on the environment is so low, and it is all so… natural. We have a reed-bed system, but we are still using a lot of water that way.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and for your comments. It is pretty natural alright! I am very interested and curious about your reed-bed system….is there not enough rainwater/snow melt/surface water to supply your needs for the reed-bed system? Or do you need to provide extra water from your potable supply?

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    1. Yes, me too! The door is a first for our outhouses, and not a bad thing when the weather is vile, or when we have guests who prefer a bit more privacy than we are normally used to. Thanks so much for reading and for your comment Tala!

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  3. I BEING I, AM A BIT SNIFFED BECAUSE YOU DID NOT SHOW THE PHOTO OF YOUR MA WEARING A BIG SMILE WHILE SEATED ATOP THE HOLE WITH THE DOOR WIDE OPEN, WITH HER LOWER CLADDING AROUND HER ANKLES ADMIRING THE STUPENDOUS OCEAN AND MOUNTAIN VIEW AND ENJOYING THE SWEET AROMA OF THE SPRING BLOSSOMS WAFTING THROUGH THE AIR! WHO NEEDS AIR FRESHENERS, THOSE DEFFINITLY CAN NEVER DUPLICATE THE NATURAL SCENTS OF SPRING, SUMMER, AUTUMN AND EVEN WINTER (APPRECIATED IF ONES NOSE IS NOT FROZEN SOLID). MY HUMBLE OPINION IS THAT A LOO WITH AN OPEN DOOR AND AN OCEAN VIEW BEATS AN INDOOR LUXURIOUS “REFRESHENED” INSTALLATION WITH A PLASTIC COVER ANY DAY! YOUR NEW BOG LOOKS ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS AND THE LITTLE WILD FLOWER GARDEN AROUND IT WILL GROW STUPENDOUSLY WITH ALL THE DOWNCOMING FERTILIZER. CAN`T WAIT TO VISIT YOU AND ENJOY THE VIEW. LOVE, MA
    P,S, YOU DON`T HAVE TO POST MY COMMENT BUT I AGREE THAT C. IS AN ARTIST!

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    1. Thanks Ma! I thought about that….but decided to opt for not using that photo, though it is a dandy! I am sure you will find the new and improved version a cut above the previous model! XX

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  4. We are going through some big changes here at the float cabin on Powell Lake. Outhouses on shore that were approved at the beginning of our leases in 2002 are still okay, but may not be reapproved when renewals come in 2022 because we are not supposed to have anything on shore since our lease only covers our water lots. The only approved disposal systems may turn out to be composting or incinerating toilets. We exchanged our outhouse four flights of stairs up the granite cliff for a compost toilet in a bathroom addition in 2010 and are very happy with it. But we are only two people using it. I’m not sure a large family or people with lots of friends could use one efficiently. – Margy

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    1. Interesting to hear of your unique circumstances…my personal experience with composting toilets is limited, but folks I know who have them seem happy with them; I’m pretty sure they require power to function, I wonder how you manage in this regard?

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      1. I did the math some time ago…..as I recall: humans poop their own weight in a year – on average. Let’s use a 200 pound male. 75% of it is water so our guy makes fifty pounds of solid matter a year. That’s fifty pounds of processed, bacteria rich, humanure or fertilizer. Or maybe two inches thick on the bottom of a deep outhouse hole. Leave that dried poop in the sunshine for a while and the UV kills most if not all pathogens. Great plant food. And most of us don’t have cholera or other nasties. We poop good poop. Especially if aged. They suggest two years. The Chinese used it much, much sooner than that as nightsoil. There are 1.5 billion of them so recycling poop didn’t hinder them much. We really SHOULD be pooping in the woods like bears. We really SHOULD recycle. Instead we spend billions of dollars to mix it with deadly chemicals and pump it to a concentrated spot in the ocean at toxic levels. We really SHOULD get our poop together and fertilize, not get all freaked out by germs and yuck. Me? Nah. Too hard convincing anyone of that. They’d rather hide the facts, the truth and pretend. We truly are a silly species.

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  5. Well Claudia, a few comments. First of all a great cautionary introduction to your blog–who could resist reading it after that? And secondly I would like to see the photo of your ma posted–apparently she doesn’t mind! And lastly, what a beautiful loo! AND it will see you out! Nice work, C. Oh, and by the way, when you splash out it’s usually for a bottle of champagne or maybe a dinner out–I must say I’ve never heard it used in reference to a toilet seat–but then things are different on the islands.

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  6. How amazing !I came across your blog because you liked a comment I made on Jude’s. You may have been here before if you’re from London, but hello from Exeter, Devon 🙂 Reading about Mr Cameron’s work in my city has made my day, please say hello to ‘C’ as well.

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    1. Hullo there! How nice to meet you, and thank you for finding, and reading my blog! Love this! I am actually originally from Canada, though I did live in London for a number of years, and spent many happy times in the countryside of the southern part of England. Mostly Suffolk (where I still have many family members) as well as Dorset and Devon where I have friends, all of whom I still love to visit whenever possible. Look forward to reading more of your blog as well….

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