Greetings from Alaska!1
Let me begin by clarifying: I am not from Alaska.
I grew up and attended college in the suburbs of Chicago. Upon graduation I moved south to Greenwood, Mississippi, and after getting married there, my husband and I moved north again to the far north, the Last Frontier: Fairbanks, Alaska.
Like the vast majority of my peers, I grew up in a home with running water. Secure in (and oblivious to) my own privilege, I assumed I would always live that way. I had grown so accustomed to the indoor plumbing lifestyle that I didn’t even think of it as a lifestyle. I mean, really, do YOU think of yourself as living an “indoor plumbing lifestyle”? I certainly didn’t.
Without even realizing it, I assumed that everyone in the United States in the 21st in a home with indoor plumbing. Sure, I had an understanding that many folks struggle to keep the lights on and the water running due to financial challenges, absolutely. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the assumption that all homes are equipped for the possibility of running water, that all homes have pipes, either connected to city water or to a septic tank and a well or to some other water supply I’m not thinking of. I was wrong.
As it turns out, quite a few people in the US don’t have complete indoor plumbing in their homes, and for over a year I counted myself among them. The great minds over at the US Census define complete indoor plumbing as having all of the following: hot and cold running water, a flush toilet, and a bathtub/shower.
For a county-by-county breakdown of just how many people in the US live without complete indoor plumbing, including the stats for Leflore County, check out this fun interactive map.
Upon arriving in Fairbanks Derek and I moved into a home without any indoor plumbing at all, what locals affectionately/euphemistically call a “dry cabin” because dry cabin is so much quicker to say than “cabin without running water”. It was a cute 20’ by 16’ two story home in a black spruce forest. The first floor was one big room with a kitchen in the corner, and the second floor was one room with slanted, walk-bent-at-the-waist ceilings. Staying in a rustic two-room cabin in the woods without running water for a weekend getaway? How romantic! Living in the same cabin for a year through a harsh winter in the interior of Alaska? Not quite as romantic.
So how does one live in a home without running water? Great question! As I see it, we had three main problems to solve: The Sink, The Shower, and The Toilet. I’ll tackle how we addressed those challenges in an upcoming post, but until then the teacher in me can’t help but assign some homework...
Please consider the following:
What would it look like for you and your family to live without running water? How would YOU solve The Sink, The Shower, and The Toilet?