Skip to main content
Jim Duke | Author


I have led a very privileged life. Not privileged in the sense of wealth or social status, even though did have a secure and loving upbringing and have never wanted for much. But I’ve never been either rich nor poor and wouldn’t want to be either, although I believe that, with my tendencies toward excess, I’d have dealt with poverty better than with wealth. My life has been privileged in that I have almost always been able to choose where and how I wanted to live. In other words, I have practically never had to pursue a career or design my life around trying to make a living.

Although I ‘had to’ go to Alaska to study Mountain Goats, and I ‘had to’ go to northwest Colorado to study Antelope, and ‘had to’ go to Aspen to work with environmental programs, these were obviously all things I wanted to do. Before that, while living in Fort Collins trying to find a position in my field of Range Science, I mostly worked for Larimer County’s Agronomy Department mapping weed infestations and eventually riding the back country on my mules delivering Musk Thistle seed eating weevils to remote patches of Musk Thistle. Hardly a tremendous sacrifice.

During those years, I almost accepted job offers with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as a Range Conservationist in some pretty dismal regions like the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (highest suicide rate in the U.S. at that time), but chose but stay in a town full of pretty women and work construction jobs instead. I have periodically, throughout my life, had to work construction or other menial labor jobs in order to get by living where I wanted to be, but at least I was able to do so. The point is that, although I might never have excelled in either aspect, I have always been strong enough for physical labor, and smart enough to find or create alternatives to such. Not everyone enjoys such flexibility.

If anything has guided my choice of where to live (besides pretty women), it has been my critters, including surroundings in which we can romp together. Other than that, I would say that my life in general was mostly random. I would claim to never have had any sort of plan, but my oldest sister would prove me wrong. An irrepressible hoarder of old documents ad photos, she showed me an essay I’d written sometime in my mid to late teens. It was written in such horrendously poor script that it couldn’t have been anyone’s writing but my own. My plan for life was rather vague, but also quite definite. My main goal was to avoid convention at any cost. I considered the worst possible fate being an eight to five job with a predictable future and swore that I’d take any sort of long-shot gamble or live under a bridge eating pigeons before I’d submit to a life of clone homes in suburbia. While I’ve had a few deviations from that original plan, I’ve done a pretty good job of remaining true to that goal.

Throughout my entire adult life, I have lived somewhere that I could piss off the porch (also an important consideration) and be able to see my herd from my bedroom window. Being out of sight of my crowd for any length of time causes me more anxiety than having to pee in a toilet, which I consider to be an unconscionable waste of resources in multitude of ways; It wastes the nitrogen in my urine as well as the clean water used to flush it down, creating waste products of both these valuable resources while wasting the energy and resources necessary to process all of the above.

Ever since I first started composting, I have come to believe that the practice of contaminating clean water with our most personal ‘human wastes’ is the most ignorant and irresponsible concept humans have ever contrived. The only way our current sewage ‘disposal’ (in a world of limited resources there is really no such thing as disposal) would make any sense is if the water was used as a delivery system to transfer all our sewage and other household organic wastes, via a heavy duty, grinding waste processor, through our current sewage systems to a compost facility designed to recover all organics and water. In our current society, it seems quite likely that the most valuable product of the human race is our own shit.

So strongly do I feel against contamination water with feces that I designed and built my last home in the Roaring Fork Valley without a flush toilet. I managed to do this by circumventing the permit process with the use of an electric gate to deny access to county regulators and promoters of religion. I strategically placed the access keypad on the trip plate of a very gnarly looking, tooth-jawed, grizzly bear spring trap. Although the jaws of the trap were welded open, I made sure that was not apparent. This allowed me to build at my own discretion, including the installation of an outhouse so that all water produced in the house was greywater suitable for irrigation.

Because we were so close to the river and with a very high-water table, I couldn’t dig a hole under the outhouse and risk contaminating the ground water, so I used a five-gallon plaster bucket under the toilet seat and another bucket full of sawdust to cover the daily business, which I eventually transferred to my compost pile. Always leaving the door open, I’m quite certain that I have seen more Bald Eagles and other wildlife, as well as more shooting stars and other heavenly phenomena, while sitting on my toilet than most folks see in their lifetimes.

While Kathy also enjoyed this outhouse and its view, as well as our outdoor shower, my habit of leaving the door open during winter, resulting in ass-chilling drifts, and the difficulty of standing on ice while showering, finally pressured me into building both an indoor shower and an indoor outhouse, complete with tin shed roof and a little quarter moon window in the door. While I did extensive shopping for composting toilets, they all require sawdust or some other bulking agent to be brought in, while the finished compost needs to be hauled out. This and the fact that all the composting mechanics were hidden somewhere in the depths of the unattractive toilets, convinced me to stick with the simplicity of buckets, easily hidden beneath a conventional one-holer seat.

While this whole topic likely seems a digression from my main theme of freedom of lifestyles, it is actually very much in the same vein. It is quite often necessary to learn how to break freedom restricting regulations in order to pursue a chosen lifestyle. Having a really fast mule can also help avoid extraneous rules and regulations in the back country.

Bottom line is that, although we all enjoy the same freedoms, we don’t all enjoy them to the same degree. For most of us, this is largely a matter of choice. Appreciating freedom is a good thing, experiencing it is multitudes better. Freedom becomes the most valuable when it’s exercised to the maximum.