a house in the country

ON MONDAY, I DROVE DOWN TO OBINITSA to clean out the outhouse, a special treat. This is a bio-kompost, a composting toilet — Finnish made, with a white and blue cross on it, and a black plastic chimney puncturing the wood roof.

In the back, a small, transparent rubber hose dives down into the grass for filtering out liquids. It’s almost impossible to see but magnificent to watch in action. At the base of the composting toilet, there is a small door. This is unlatched for the removal of rich black soil, for over the course of the seasons, all that was left behind here has been turned to premium muld.

I shoveled out the compost and placed it around the base of the fragrant apple trees, at last in bloom with white flowers. I have heard that it helps.

The apple orchard. I had nearly forgotten it. Just as I had forgotten about so many other things down here. The well. The mattresses on the second floor. The ladder up. The grill idling on the terrace. The windows, the swing, and the writing desk. That lovely sea-like view and the unusual silence. At one point, we had thought of building a larger house, and there were conversations with local businessmen at dimly lit pubs who wanted to sell us high-quality logs.

In the end, we kept the same structure, but adorned it with new wallpaper, and painted the floors. I spent a few summer nights sleeping in the barn, and painting all day. I came to know every rough groove in those floors. I stained the floors in the sleeping barn too. Somehow, I had forgotten it all.

Inside the outhouse, the frame I put in place roughly a decade ago is still standing, built of young saplings, now all hard and gray. Around this, a team of real builders constructed the outhouse, joking to each other about the job I had tried to do. I remember how I had gone to my friend’s outhouse, just down the road, and studied its structure, observing how effortlessly the beams interlocked. It looked so easy. Just some wood and a few nails here. “Lebo,” as the Estonians say. “Piece of cake.”

Yet it was never very lebo. Just a few yards from the outhouse is the smoke sauna that I never used. Not once. It just sat there solemnly, with that black witches cauldron at its center, the true purpose of which I never understood until I observed how a neighbor had washed his child in a wooden bucket with steaming water drawn from the metal bowl. For them, this was natural. The child Seto thought nothing of bathing in a dark sauna in an old bucket.

I gave up on the idea of describing any of this to people back in New York.

After I finished emptying the composting toilet, I removed some dirt from around the barn doors so that they would open more easily, and then I finished painting a few shelves for the kitchen. So much labor went into the dream of a house in the country. It’s a dream shared by many in this country. Like most great projects, though, some come suddenly to life, propelled by some unseen force, and others never seem to materialize fully.

The whole of the country is dotted with such abandoned efforts: factories that never came to be. Unfinished hotels. A broken, disregarded storefront. Sometimes having the money, vision, and even energy is just not enough. You need that extra cosmic push.

When I was done with the work, I locked up the house, but not before giving the place another look over. This was the fruit of a decade’s worth of energy. Was it all misplaced? Or had it been worth it for me, just for the experience?

I glanced at the two corner shelves I built for Orthodox icons. Ikooninulkad. Most Seto houses have one, but this one has two. They are decorated with colorful textiles that I bought from a street vendor in Crete and a piece of the monastery of Saint Irene from the same island. I used to have a beautiful icon of Saint Peter that I would carry around with me, too.

Somewhere here, a few years ago, it fell out of my pocket and I lost it.

One thought on “a house in the country

  1. I love reading your posts, although I live in Australia your post’s of connection, children, thoughts and life..resonate with me…I have copied and pasted a few of your thoughts into my own daughters diary that I write for her, it used to be daily but as she grows time shrinks…so my musings become weekly.

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