Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Faculty Voices: Phyllis Root

I am writing this on Atsokan Island (a name that means  storyteller) in Rainy Lake in early September. I have come here with eleven other writers to write, critique, eat, swim, canoe, take saunas, and just plain be in a beautiful spot. Some combination of us has been gathering on this lake for a week each summer for twenty years or so.

Some years I come with plans to put words on paper. Some years I am the person who claims I am writing while I sway in a hammock or paddle around the island. And in a way, I am writing, even though I might have nothing tangible to read at any of our evening critique sessions.

For years on the island where we’ve gone in previous summers, the composting toilets required turning at the end of our week, a noxious job that often involved the application of Ben gay under our noses and a plunge in the lake afterwards. We lined up by the steps to the hatch on the hillside underneath the outhouse to take turns shoveling, and time after time the next person in line would snatch away the shovel from the person doing the turning, insisting, “You’ve done enough now. It’s my turn.”

For most of the year I write only in the company of my cats. But I come to the island because the care and feeding of a writer (at least this writer) also requires time to rest, relax, dream, do nothing for a while but let the clouds drift past and listen to the ducks peep and call. And to be with people I love and who love me. And who don’t let anyone shovel more than her share of shit.


  1. Oh Phyllis - so well put. I love your wisdom and way of being in the world! xo

  2. Nice to know that literature, and not civilization, has taken over Rainy Lake. Phyllis's mantra is Rest, Relax, Dream, right after Eat, Pray, Love. Both are worth pursuing.

  3. I didn't know an essay about poop could be so beautiful.

  4. I wonder if there's some way to get some red wriggler worms to do some of the work for you.


    Actually, yes there is! Google "composting toilet vermiculture" and you'll get lots of good links like this one: -- maybe this might help you guys out a little bit!

  5. How wonderful that the name of the lake matches your own talent as a storyteller! It looks beautiful.