Visiting the Back House
“Many of us regret the passing of the quieter days, the pre-rat race days when everyone had to work much harder but yet had more time: The days when precious leisure moments were not devoured by television and organized entertainment, but could be spent in reading, story-telling, making things, or just plain looking and thinking” — Muriel E. Newton-White
Our backhouse at Mule Springs has a sweeping view of the lower pasture and the trees lining Kickin’ Mule Creek. Whereas modern facilities encourage you to get business done and move on, our backhouse –with its spacious pastoral “look” out– invites you to rest and think. You have left the door open; a breeze touches your face, and juncos tweet. Then they alight on slender branches just outside from where you sit.
Jaime, one of the men who built the backhouse, placed a mule’s shoe on the inside wall to hold the roll of toilet paper. The shoes he found around the old barn are not ordinary mule shoes, but are made from heavier metal. These were work- mules, animals that pulled a plow through the field.
Toilet paper isn’t all one needs in the outhouse. I just bought a fifty-pound bag of lime. I slit the paper bag open and placed a metal measuring cup nearby the bag on the floor. As the lady at the feed shop said, “you use lime when you need anything amended.” She was so enthusiastic about the curative powers of lime, I got the impression the fine white powder could be used for everything– stall dressing, garden fertilizer, or even for that little something special in the farmer’s wife’s layer cake. Of course I am kidding about the layer cake, but we do have great hope that a scoop for a poop will help keep the nose-plugs away.
Our wee little house masquerades as a wood shed, and unless you had the pleasure of using the farm’s bathroom, you would never know. So, in this way it’s truly a back house—or more accurately a back-barn –the room for relief behind the barn.
Clever names abound for this once common building across the American farm landscape: outhouse, the “little house,” the “wee house,” the “outdoor inconvenience,” “comfort station,” “the John,” the “out back,” the “privy,” and the “water closet.” These names and more are mentioned in Backhouses of the North, a delightful little book I found left for us, by our builders, in the newly finished sleeping loft on the upper floor of the barn.
Still for all its view, privacy, and style – as the book points out – outhouses may also come with “occupational hazards.” Bears, snakes, wasps, skunks, mice, and even the donkeys could make utilizing the back house a bit challenging. I imagine a bear rummaging around at 3 a.m. when I stumble across the barnyard to make a visit. Surely wasps will make a nest above the entrance, and the donkeys, being affectionate souls, will try and follow me inside.
When all this is going on, I will remember that outhouses symbolize the “spirit of adventure” found in rural life. And after all we bought Mule Springs for the adventure.