Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How to Shit in the Woods (Meyer, Kathleen)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 1989
Genre: Nonfiction / Outdoors
Read again? Yes, at need

"An environmentally sound approach to a lost art."

This isn't a sit-and-read book so much as a humorous instruction book for hikers, campers--anyone who will be out in the wild. Meyer explains things in a straightforward fashion. Yes, yes, yes, you think you know how to drop one now--it seems as simple as just dropping trou and assuming the position, right? Well, no.

What if you're on a steepish rocky hillside? Do you want 'em rolling down to the camp?

What if you're riding the rapids and there will be others who want to enjoy the place without looking at your poop in the river?

What if you're trying to find drinking water up in the mountains--but someone dropped one too close to the stream you find? Do you want to risk Giardiasis? Cryptosporidium?

Meyer, a former river guide, first takes us through her process of picking the best word for the book. She didn't want to go for the clinical euphemism (eliminate, defecate, stool); or for zoological-sounding terms like scat, chips, and pellets. I like her direct approach of "calling a crap a crap." I wouldn't be surprised that some prissy, over-protective type would want this book banned because their precious snowflake shouldn't be exposed to such vulgarity...but everyone shits, even the tight-assed.

I must admit, I'd never given the process of wilderness-poo much thought (my Boy Scout troop didn't do wilderness). Find some bushes, find a tree, hunker down between the car doors on the side of the highway. But I don't know what poison ivy looks like, and who wants to clean up with that?

Next, she discusses the humble hole. You don't want to just leave it in the open, but you don't want to put it too deep, too shallow, too close to water (this is why you don't want to drink from that clear mountain spring without boiling the water first--and why the Ganges River in India is a festering cesspool). Like housing, it's all about location, location, location, finding a spot where your leavings will decompose without messing things up for other people (or for yourself, should you come back that way again). She also introduces some typical parasites you might encounter; the more people fail to clean up after themselves, the more such critters will be a problem for everyone else.

Can't dig a hole? Hanging off the side of a cliff? Pack your poop and take it with you rather than bombing the folks far below. Meyer recommends a few models of washable, re-usable carry-out containers for those who wish to just buy one (wanna spend $540 for a top-of-the-line model? I don't, but if you're dealing in volume it probably makes sense), but for the more enterprising and creative there's a do-it-yourself item that uses 4-inch PVC pipe and a few fittings to make a 12- to 25-inch personal poop tote.

Next on the tour: how to protect yourself with water filtration/purification systems. You can't assume that that clear mountain stream is clean, anymore. Giardia will break you from both ends, and all the other little parasites and bacteria lurking out of sight will at least make you miserable.

The women's chapter: "How not to pee in your boots." It's a quick lesson in undergarment selection, a little about going standing up, and finding a good spot for the less-adventurous who need to get closer to the ground (either way, it seems that you need some strong leg muscles). It turns out that Tupperware bread-savers are useful for more than bread!

Finally, there's a chapter for cleaning up. You could use toilet paper, but what if you're caught out without? Just remember: the solution grows on trees. Yup: Leaves. Meyer points out that you don't need to take a botany class--but you must learn your bad plants: poison oak, poison ivy, stinging nettles, sumac. I don't remember a damn thing about those plants from my Scouting days--but then, their idea of "wilderness" was a canoe and camp trip on a local river, and we roughed it by digging a hole and hanging a TP roll off a convenient stick next to it. Our 2-week camp at Camp Euchee was even less barbaric than that: each campsite had a latrine shed, complete with plumbing and TP rolls.

It's not just a dry how-to manual; Meyer tells a few tales of people who made a mess--the man who inadvertently pooped in his poncho hood; the miniature rock-slide caused by pooping on a slope (it really does roll downhill!); the woman who went outside in the snow and ended up with "the soggies" because every layer of clothing caught some snow. As long as you're not some Victorian prude, this crass little book is worth the ten bucks.

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