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04/14/2006 Archived Entry: "Report from the Desert Hermitage/BioLet NE"

ANOTHER REPORT FROM THE DESERT HERMITAGE. Boy it feels like a long time since I did this. No frost fairies on the window this time, for sure. But rattlesnakes on the road and hot, dry sand in the washes. It's lovely, although also hard for a forest-dwelling northwesterner to get used to.

For the last three days I've been up here on homestead hill without driving anywhere or spending any money. I know that must be quite normal for Jack Boone up there in the Arctic Circle. The Weaver family definitely knew what it was like not to leave their mountaintop for much longer than a lousy three days. Probably lots of backwoodsians think nothing of hunkering down for a week at a time. But even with my small-scale life it's unusual for me not to run some little errand or another every day. Usually even if people stay at home to putter we have to duck out and spend $49 at the hardware store or buy a pizza. Nothing wrong with that. (I love spending money on cool stuff.) This is just different.

I'm far from bored. The dog walks here go on for miles of beautiful broad washes or graded dirt roads. I've followed side washes to spots where, in flood, water cascades into huge, deep rock whirlpools. I've found a sandstone slab completely blanketed with a layer of highly textured quartz. (My non-geologist guess: A volcanic intrusion of magma found its way into a fracture in sandstone, hardened into quartz, then later fragmented, broke off, and was carried down the wash with that layer exposed.) I've seen an animal that wasn't quite a bobcat and wasn't quite a domestic cat and might have been a mix of both.

Still, it's a change of pace not to go into town for days at a time or spend some drib or drab or great gleeping glop of money.

If it's not already your lifestyle, try staying at home three or four days when you're well and mobile. Don't drive anywhere at all or spend one dime. Not even to McDonald's for a Big Mac. Or the store for a quart of milk. Just walk or bike everywhere, spend nothing. We can compare notes on the experience.

I did get the opportunity to spend a bit of money on "cool stuff" earlier this week. Uh ... not cool stuff in the sense of cellphones that also act as time-travel devices. But cool stuff in the sense of the thrill you get when somebody offers you an incredible deal on an only slightly broken tractor or drives up with two bushels of apples because the yield in their orchard was so huge they couldn't use or preserve them all.

Anyhow, the deal: One of the other hermits got a lead on a brand-new, still in the box, still wrapped in plastic BioLet NE (non-electric) composting toilet.

Okay, don't everybody envy me at once.

Anyhow, this backwoods gadget, which retails for $999 or thereabouts all over the Web, was just $150 (and bonus: no taxes). The fellow hermit who came across the bargain could have bought it himself and resold it on eBay for $600 or $700 at least. Instead he told me about it and I grabbed it.

Someday I'd love to have my own little hermitage here on the hill, but if possible I'd like to avoid permits, inspections, and all that. So a tiny house with a composting toilet and a graywater system (to water trees or a veggie garden) would be the way to go.

Now, just gotta figure out what to do with this BioLet beastie for the next five years. This may turn out to be like the incredible $5 garage-sale bathtub (big enough for two) that I had to build an entire house around.

I must confess I was surprised to see how crudely and flimsily made the BioLet is. I'd had my eye on the comparable Sun-Mar model, which I believe costs somewhat more (and certainly more than $150!). I had never seen either up close in person, so I don't know which is better. But for $1,000, I'd expect something more than a light-weight plastic shell with a seat you can bend with bare hands, and rough edges that won't show but might collect crud.

Functionally, it's ingenious and simple and if it works I'd sure prefer it to emptying a trailer's blackwater tank. Urk. But if there was a lot more commercial demand for such a thing, this would be "worth" $50 at Wal-Mart. The concept is so simple that a any clever handyman could build a composting toilet at home with little fuss for about the same price I paid. It might be wood instead of plastic, but it's quite do-able.

Still, given that there is only a small market and that Wal-Mart won't be selling stacks of BioLets any time soon, I got a great, great deal and my fellow hermit made a chivalrous sacrifice on my behalf. Given that I don't weigh 250 pounds, the BioLet might even hold up under my skinny backside should I ever actually get it installed.

Posted by Claire @ 10:17 AM CST

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