I am carrying a bucket of human waste. Two buckets, actually. I’m visiting an off-grid cabin in an Acadian forest where the vegetable garden is nourished by a humanure composting system. It’s my turn to take out the, uh, compost. Every visit to this forest is an opportunity to get away from Twitter, away from the noise of the city, and enjoy a simpler life as a temporary monastic hobo. My intention coming out here is to get closer to nature — closer to its candor and integrity — but I’m more likely to spend my time thinking about toilets and databases.
Cabin life it isn’t for everyone. The anxieties caused by mortgage, insurance, water, heat, and electricity bills are replaced by unconventional stress: of empty solar batteries, tainted well water, and keeping the wood stove stocked. The cabin has a well but no running water and every morning when I carry the water buckets I daydream about the methods humans use to supply potable water to an entire city. Modern life is remarkable. Automated, convenient and fragile. If you’ve ever had a water main break on your street, you appreciate that — while pipes automate the water supply — the plumbers are the real heroes. They are the city’s DevOps team.
Sometimes, when I turn the water on to wash my face in the morning and warm water comes out just like magic, I silently praise those who made it possible: the plumbers. When I’m in that mode I’m often overwhelmed by the number of opportunities I have to feel grateful to civil servants, nurses, teachers, lawyers, police officers, firefighters, electricians, accountants, and receptionists. These are the people building societies. These are the invisible people working in a web of related services that make up society’s institutions. These are the people we should celebrate when things are going well.