Saturday, November 1, 2008

At midnight (not accounting for the time change) I walked from the house to out behind the barn, by the garden. It's been a radiant autumn day, in the 70's, a flawless sky spread above vibrant yellow and red trees. Now it is cooler, but still pleasant in light pants and a sweater. The stars gleam brightly above, but a veil of mist begins to blur the margins of the farm. By morning there will be thick, obscuring fog.

But now, a nice point of view: the heavens stand out sharply, in clear focus, while the worldly things fade into the enveloping fog.

I walk a little ways without turning the headlamp on, and the pale mist throws a black shape on the path into contrast: Ambrosius the Fine Cat greets me with dignity and assumes his right to ride on my shoulder, purring contentedly. I purr back. It is indeed a lovely evening, made even more perfect by a wonderful feline companion.

But what could have compelled me to leave the bright house and venture out to the farmyard so soon before bedtime?

The outhouse, still not quite complete but approved for service by the Health Dept...the first in some 25 or 30 years in this county.

In recent months I've been increasingly aware of a certain dampness near the base of the toilet, and finally determined that I really did need to address the resetting of the stool while the weather was still pleasant.

Previous leaks had rendered some of the vinyl tile unattractive, to say the least. And it dated back to the 70's, as near as I could tell. A couple years ago, when I tiled the new hearth for the woodstove, I'd observed that the bathroom really wasn't much bigger than the hearth, and was inspired to purchase some close-out ceramic tile for the bathroom, "someday".

There is a wonderful children's book called "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" that well describes the dynamic that's been set in place with the bathroom.

Plan of Work:

1. Replace wax seal on toilet. Done. Right?

2. Well, it would be a good opportunity to tile the floor while I have the stool up. 2a. Strip off vinyl flooring. 2b. Research adhesive removers (bathroom floor turned into a giant upside-down sticky note when the vinyl came up with a heat gun). 2c. Get a respirator in order to not sustain permanent lung damage using the Adhesive Remover. 2d. Scrub entire floor with AR. Vacate premises for awhile, while it airs out.

3. Removing stool reveals significant damage to subflooring and sub subflooring. 3a. Learn to do plunge cuts with a circular saw. 3b. Cut patch for subfloor, a jigsaw puzzle shape because of old floor joints and the dynamics of where the saw will fit around the various pipes. 3c. Realize that sub subfloor needs repaired as well. Figure that out.

4. Notice that the room seems MUCH larger without the ugly old vanity. Shop for "new" wall-hung sink at Habitat for Humanity Restore. Remember I have an old wall-hung sink like that at home already.

5. Notice that the wall behind the fixtures appears to have been sheet-rocked with the window cut-outs from the rest of the house, badly taped, with runs of old paint beaded up behind the vanity. And there's that hole that was never patched from the old medicine cabinet, that the new one didn't quite cover. And an extra electrical outlet (not to mention the stray wire....) appeared when I took the vanity out. 5a. Take down medicine cabinet. 5b. Shop for sheetrock. 5c. Realize that if I'm doing one wall I might as well do the other.....

Meanwhile, I've made enough trips to the outhouse to get back into the routine, though it's been about 17 years since I've lived without an indoor toilet. I do have a "chamber pot" if needed, but each time I head that way, I realize how much more pleasant it would be to walk out to the outhouse without the slop bucket, so I just go do a "direct deposit"....

The project and I are settling into a comfortable long-term friendship. I'm setting no deadlines...thoough the impending winter urges me to keep at it. No deadlines greatly reduces the stress level. I work in little bits and pieces; just fetching a tool counts as completing something worthwhile. It's a nice excuse to talk to Dad on the phone more, picking his brain for bits of construction wisdom.

Several people I've worked with in the past would be pushing me, anxious on my behalf for the project to be finished, hurrying me to answer on each little decision, promoting short cuts. It is nice not having the outside pressure. I've been learning to appreciate my own indirect way of doing things this summer, valuing it for its distinct benefits though others find it frustrating.

The latest issue of The Canadian Friend magazine arrived recently, and I've been browsing the stories as I take my breaks or eat breakfast. I know many of the authors from my stay in Canada, where I "sojourned with Friends" twice for the annual national gathering of Quakers. As I reflect on the descriptions of Quaker worship--sitting quietly, waiting for the Divine Light to shine through the gathered bodies--I come to a new understanding of my way of working at a big project like this.

The time spent sitting and looking at a project, or perusing the shelves at the hardware store, is not procrastination. Nor is it laziness. It is, in fact, a form of prayer and meditation akin to Quaker worship. It is how I open myself to the inspirations I need to bring the project to its most perfect completion. It is a spiritual act of taking in God as my partner in this endeavor.

Of course the end result will not be perfect. But it will be the best I can make it, with God's help. The goal is to do it deeply and soundly. If I succeed in that, it will serve me the rest of my life.

And, after all, its end use will be as a place of prayer and meditation, won't it? Isn't the bathroom so often our mini-retreat space, our place to hide from the clamor and stress of the world and detach from it for a few minutes' sitting or a long hot shower? Isn't it a place of healing and self-care? Shouldn't it be built with the loving craftsmanship I would lavish on a chapel?

Though on a balmy autumn night, it's easy to forget that an indoor toilet is really a necessary part of that. It's hard to argue with stars for a ceiling....


Anonymous said...

This was a beautiful "story" I know there is a better word to use but it evades me now. I don't know if you think you are at peace or not but to me it seems you are at a wonderful place within yourself.
Thank you,

Natalya said...

I would call it a story, an essay, or a reflection--like most my blog entries.

I AM at peace in a big way right now. It is very nice, though I know "this too shall pass". But as time goes by, and the farm teaches me, the times of contentment grow larger and close together. I am enjoying it very much, and wish I had more time to share it on the blog. I also hope that someday I can more publicly welcome others to partake in the serenity here.