Monday, September 5, 2011

Reflecting on Water

The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain. 

~ Tao Te Ching

Human beings were invented by water 
as a device for transporting itself from one place to another.
  ~ Tom Robbins

Sky Bus living is in many ways, life at its bare essence.  Fire, earth, air, water - each of these things is recognizably, distinctly involved in my daily existence in a way that I had never experienced before.  I cannot overstate the value of this.

The relationship I've developed with water in the three months that I've been living on the mesa delights and inspires me.  I can't just turn on a tap and have water appear then run down a drain and disappear.  And this makes all the difference in the world.  Moving water around, orchestrating its use, watching it come from somewhere and then deliberately taking it somewhere else so it can be used for more than one purpose - these things have given me a whole new appreciation for water.  I've become more aware of the water content of my own body, and meditating on water has become richer metaphorically because my actual interaction with water has become richer.  I have gained awareness of myself as water, water bearer, and also borne by water.

I started the summer with a 55 gallon plastic barrel that Rusty brought me.  He would bring me water from the community well at the entrance to the mesa, then siphon it into the barrel for me.  Then, I in turn would siphon it from the barrel into my two 7-gallon square plastic containers.  

I absolutely hated siphoning, sucking water up through a length of yellow garden hose until it felt like my lungs would burst, only to have the water finally shoot out into my mouth and choke me.  Ugh.  And then Rusty and I stopped communicating (not going to get into that here), so I had no way to fill up the barrel.  I had put in an application for membership to the West Rim Mutual Domestic Water Users Association (Cost:  $150), which, once approved, would supply me with a refillable money card to slide at the well.  (Cost per gallon:  3 cents.)  However, I didn't get the application sent until just barely after the June board meeting, so it wasn't approved until July.  And they happened to be out of water cards at the time.  They finally sent me one in late July, but it got lost in the mail, so I didn't actually get it until the beginning of August.  So for most of the summer, I simply hauled my containers into town and filled up at friend's houses, which actually worked pretty well.     

I keep one of those containers outside as backup, and the other in the kitchen, sitting on the counter next to the sink. 

The spigot turns on and off easily, so it's kind of like having real running water.  Kind of.  At the risk of stating the obvious, it differs in that a) the water is only one temperature - whatever the air temperature in the bus happens to be, which varies distinctly by day and night, b) it is a finite supply, so conservation is ever a consideration, and c) when it goes down the drain it doesn't just run away to some treatment plant, it goes into a 5-gallon bucket which eventually gets full and has to be emptied.

I may have said once or twice that dirt is heavy.  Well, water is heavier. I have been getting into shape in many ways with my new lifestyle, and hauling water has probably been the primary way.  A gallon of water weighs 8 pounds, so every time I haul a water container into the bus, that's 56 pounds I'm lugging.  The hardest part is lifting up onto the counter.  But it's getting easier.

When I want to wash dishes, I use water that I've drained from the ice chest, which I store in a bucket solely for that purpose.  I heat it up on the Coleman stove, then pour it into a bowl.  It really doesn't have to take much water to wash dishes, I've discovered.  

I also use the ice chest water for mopping, and watering the cats.  And since the bus leaks when it rains heavily, sometimes I use the water that puddles on the kitchen floor to mop.  Might as well, since it's already there.  (I don't have a rainwater catchment system yet, but look forward eagerly to the day when I do.  One of my neighbors has a cistern that holds between four and six thousand gallons of collected rain and snowmelt, and she says she rarely has to get water from the well.)

I use the greywater from under the sink to water my plants outside.  In addition to several baby pine trees, I have the two tomato plants Kerry and Richard brought me, two borage plants, a bee balm, basil, and jade, and before the monsoon season started, this greywater was their sole source of hydration. 

Borage.  I bought it because it was supposed to attract bees, but there are NO bees on the mesa, sadly.

Spare bus tire with bee balm (which hangs in there but doesn't thrive), jade, and basil.
One of the things I've become versed in is dealing with the varieties of greywater.  The stuff under the sink is frankly, gross.  It's not grey at all; it looks more like vomit.  Sorry, but it's true.  I learned early on not to let the bucket get completely full before emptying it, because splashing it onto yourself is no fun at all.

The greywater from the solar shower, however, is truly grey.  And it smells good, like the locally-produced Aromaland rosemary mint shampoo and the Dr. Bronner's lavender soap that we use.  That water is collected in a black rubber tub I bought at Taos Tack and Pet Supply whose purpose is really for horse feed.  I frequently use this water for the plants in the bus, or to rinse the composting toilet bucket.

When I was getting ready to move to my land, planning and designing the shower was, for some reason, my favorite obsession.  It went through an evolution of changes, even after I set it up.  This is what I ended up with:

I used the tow rope that broke when Jeremy and I tried to tow the bus to hang the 5-gallon Coleman solar shower that I bought for 7 bucks.  (The shower worked great for the most of the summer, then the handle ripped right through.  I bought the new one pictured here for twice as much, and it was twice as crappy; the handle ripped within days, so I returned it, and bought another Coleman one.) 

I used my old baker's rack as the outside wall of the shower stall, and the saltillo tiles I got for free at the beginning of the summer to make a floor.  I simply laid them down on the dirt, and it works fine, although it's not completely level. 

I got this tarp from a friend, and I love the fact that it matches the bus. 

I really thought I'd miss having a bathtub, but I haven't, until very recently.  Taking showers has been a treat.  The trick is finding that perfect window of time, when it's hot and sunny, the water's just the right temperature (it takes three hours to fully heat up), and the wind's not blowing.  It's only in the past week or two, as the days are getting cooler and we've been getting frequent rain, that I've begun to miss having an indoor shower.  But for most of the summer, while it was extremely hot and dry, it just felt glorious.  There's something about showering outdoors, with the sun shining on your skin, that's incredibly satisfying.

And as with dishwashing, it takes far less water to get clean than people normally use.  Graeme and I both can take adequate showers with the bag not even all the way full.  I did cut my long hair at the beginning of the summer though to save water. 

I'm really grateful for the relationship I've developed with water in this "pioneer phase," as my blogging friend, Kel, has called it.  My experiences around water this summer have actually influenced my plans for water in the house.  I've decided that I don't want a shower in the house at all, just a bathtub.  I am a huge fan of baths, especially in winter, and that is the one water luxury I will keep.  I'll set up a permanent (and more attractive) outdoor shower for summer use.  Why not bathe differently with the seasons?  This way, I won't need a water pump at all; I can just set my cistern up on a berm and use gravity to get the water where I need it to go. 

Simplicity is so lovely.


  1. Simplicity is so lovely. We're hauling well water for building, bathing, dishwashing and watering the cat and dogs. Drinking water we haul from town. I was filtering the well water to drink, but the mineral content is so high that the filters lasted only half as long as they should have.

    We're watering a couple of ocotillo and now the lettuce I planted with our greywater.

    Bathing does take far less water than I imagined and I haven't cut my hair yet, though I might in the future. My house will have a shower because the footprint is smaller and I'm planning a bathhouse with a tub because I really love baths.

  2. something as simple as water has many lessons to teach us when it's not available at the quick turn of a tap

    your outdoor shower looks quite private, what a great design using a bakers rack and tiles on the ground

  3. Simplicity IS lovely. And sunshine on your skin is nice, too.

    Have I mentioned how cool all this is? Watching the setup from Day One? And I'm LIKING that new pic at the top of the page!

  4. This is so full of interesting observations and lessons to all of us who can turn on the tap. But at what cost.

  5. Denese - I love the idea of a bathhouse. Will you build it with earthbags?

    Kel - Thanks. I had no idea that was what I'd use the baker's rack for when I moved it out there; I just figured it would come in handy for something. It's perfect, actually, for what it ended up being used for.

    Postie - Thanks for coming along for the ride! I still wish you'd fly here; I think about that often, as I pass the airport on the way into town every day.

    Tess - Yes, it's been an education. I will never be able to be as unconscious when I turn on a tap anymore.

  6. I also love your top page picture. I can smell the sage looking at the rainbow. This is a great post to all who take water for granted. It gives life. I am obsessed with the fact that it is so heavy to move around, and yet can be moved so easily with its own weight in a small plastic pipe. Thanks Pollinatrix, for your lovely perspective. I love hearing from you.

  7. Thanks, Lou - Those are kind words indeed. Yes, water is fascinating in so many ways. Such a "simple" everyday thing, but its properties are really astounding once you start exploring them.

  8. I found your blog this morning, and have enjoyed reading it from the beginning. I love your writing style...

    I have property in Terlingua, TX (Big Bend), and am also going to build an earthbag house. Plan on spending time with Denese (Desert Rose) when she starts, so that I can help out and learn at the same time.


  9. Thank you! Glad to make acquaintance with another earthbagger. Our ranks are growing, it appears.