With the birth of a new year, my wife Nancy and I feel rich. We have two nearly full woodsheds, a shoveled driveway, a ski path through the woods, good health and silk toilet paper. Life doesn’t get much better.

It’s true, silk wipes. And I am here to say that Charmin doesn’t hold a candle to them.

Both Nancy and I enjoy using our outhouse rather than the indoor toilet. And given that most of the planet’s human population does not have access to a flushing toilet this makes us more aligned with normal.

I can thank Nancy for the gift of silk. Normally we use worn out t-shirts and other aged clothing made from natural materials for our wiping chores. This time, Nancy offered the gift of an old silk shirt. Unlike toilet paper, the cloth wipes require no chemical bleaching, no cutting of trees, and no surprise rips.

Most packaged toilet paper is processed from old growth Canadian boreal forests. These vast woodlands sequester more carbon than the South American rainforests. Planting a young tree is a good thing but it will take decades before it can really absorb significant carbon. We don’t have that kind of time. If you are going to buy toilet paper, read the label and choose only those made from at least 50% post consumer recycled paper.

So instead, Nancy cuts fabric into five-inch squares and puts them into a plastic pickled herring bucket that sits next to the single hole in our outhouse. Before leaving the outhouse, we sprinkle a scoop of sawdust over our leavings. The oaky covering cuts down on odors and provides carbon to balance the nitrogen of our human waste.

Our outhouse composts our deposits, creating a continual source of free rich fertilizer, called humanure, for use in the nearby garden and orchard. During warm weather months microbes break down the collected blend of wipes, sawdust and poop into crumbly rich soil. The process generates its own heat, and combined with time it ensures the elimination of harmful pathogens.

I built the outhouse walls from five old doors that I had been hoarding for some future “project.” I especially loved the old ones with antique white and brown porcelain doorknobs. We pilfered a glass-fronted storm door from a dumpster in Duluth for the entrance. That and another windowed door facing the garden provide pastoral, uncluttered views and ample light for comfortable reading.

It’s ironic that we treat feces as waste and something to, at most, whisper about. Historically it was called “night soil” and used to augment soil fertility. We as a society need a perspective shift regarding the wealth of manure. One of the keys to sustainable agriculture is to wean ourselves off the massive amounts of synthetic fertilizers. These are made from fossil fuels, which are major contributors to the current climate crisis.

I am reminded of the time when Nancy gave a Sunday morning presentation at the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Richfield, MN. Her program, Everything is Holy, highlighted aspects of our lives that most people don’t consider sacred. When she brought up the subject of the blessedness of our everyday release to the toilet, there were chuckles, a couple bursts of laughter and certainly the nervous rustlings of seated parishioners. She asked folks to consider the miracle of a well-running body and the transformation of food to energy and finally the act of a blissful bowel movement.

Manure is gold, whether derived from human, poultry, livestock, or fish. Human manure, managed correctly, is safe for raising produce, fruit and vegetables. We really need to give a shit about shit.