Kathleen in the Redwoods, 1989 Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner


Photo by Carolyn Cole

Morning Journal

Wyoming Centennial Wagon Train, 1990

Photographer Unknown

Kathleen Meyer is the author of the bestselling outdoor guide How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art, widely embraced by the outdoor community, with more than 2.5 million copies sold, in eight languages. And now in audio book. Her Rocky Mountain memoir Barefoot Hearted: A Wild Life Among Wildlife was published by Villard/Random House in 2001. Long the outdoor adventurer and nontraditional spirit, Kathleen early on chose—over housework—a life of rowing big rapids and driving draft horses cross-country, viewing the landscape from an inflatable raft or the seat of a hundred-year-old wagon.

       Born in Manhattan, the only child of a scientist and a librarian, Kathleen was raised on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. A water baby by nature, she acquired a passion as early as seven for racing catboat-class sailboats, Woodpussies. It all began near the New Jersey shore, on a mile-long peninsula jutting into the Shrewsbury River. The small neighborhood consisted of families from widely varied incomes—a diamond miner at one end, the Secretary of Labor at the other, and then there was Kathleen madly mowing expansive lawns to pay for her annual fifteen-dollar sailing club membership. She crewed every summer into her teens on the boats of more affluent neighbors. Later in life, in California, at a time when she worked with troubled adolescents, she succumbed to purchasing a stray New Jersey Woodpussy—the one she’d never had in her youth—and soon set sail onto the unpredictable currents of San Francisco Bay. Forever the purist (in this case, no motor), her first day out found her, with a handsome male acquaintance on board, becalmed and drifting with the tide into both the dark of night and the Richmond freighter channel—no lights on her boat, no flashlight to shine on the sail. Trapped for those long hours of terror in the open cockpit of a thirteen-foot boat, she remembers it now as the first time she needed to know how, on earth, to finesse bodily excretions with elegance.

       When a sophomore in high school, Kathleen moved with her parents, in an abrupt relocation across the country, to sprawling Los Angeles—a change that would leave an indelible mark on her sensibilities and as yet unimagined career as a writer. College years took her north to the Bay Area: Berkeley, San Francisco, and finally towns in Marin County, where she dallied for twenty-three years. She led wilderness trips for inner-city youth, and then, with a woman named Susan, started up a drywall taping company they dubbed (in lieu of the suggested Mud Hens) O’ Holy Mud. They became renown as women in the trades, and taped, among other places, the Grateful Dead digs, the room where Star Wars was written, and Melvin Belli’s San Francisco penthouse.

      Kathleen’s days also remained full of the open air. She guided whitewater rafting trips all over the western U.S. and Canada and rolled across three Rocky Mountain states by horse and wagon. Her writing life first sprang from her river trips, in the era when backcountry regulations requiring the use of portable toilets and packing out human waste were barely getting started. She aimed to ease the embarrassment and awkwardness that city folks experienced in trying to squat in the wild, as well as to save favorite beaches from assaults of soiled diapers and toilet paper and to protect mountain streams from fecal pollution. Her instructive guidebook, How to Shit in the Woods, now in its third edition, grew from a collection of graceless, laughable worst-ordeal stories, many of them her own.

       The author’s last relocation, from California to the rural town of Victor, Montana, supplied the grist for Barefoot Hearted. She likes to describe the move as “running away with the circus”—after meeting a rakish actor and horseshoer, a member of the Caravan Stage Company, a Canadian theater troupe, touring (then) by means of thirteen Clydesdales and five brightly painted gypsy wagons. Garbed in her white painters’ overalls, well-splattered with drywall mud, she had stopped at the Belli Deli in San Rafael to snag a midday sandwich when she spied an antique medicine wagon and two huge feathery-footed horses—the tent-theater’s promotional act—parked across the street. A tall Irishman’s unwinding from under one of the sturdy drafts sparked the meeting that lead to covered wagon journeys and, eventually, to setting up marginal housekeeping in a seventy-five-year-old dairy barn inhabited by an assortment of wild critters. Barefoot Hearted is the tale of this adventurous Western living, reflected poignantly against the author’s ponderings on the increasingly harried survival of wildlife as small towns everywhere go to sprawl.

        Kathleen has been a conservationist and activist for more than forty years, focused for the most part on water politics and issues of urban sprawl. She was the founding editor of Headwaters, an early publication of Friends of the River. For many years, she served on the board of Environmental Traveling Companions, an NPO offering wilderness trips to special needs people, and she is currently on the board of West Coast Rivers Alliance. Her travel essays have been included in the Travelers’ Tales anthologies A Woman’s Passion for Travel: More True Stories from a Woman’s World and Sand in My Bra: Funny Women Write from the Road. Her writing and photographs have also appeared in the Professional Farrier and Anvil Magazine. She makes her home with Patrick McCarron in their still fairly-well-unrestored big red barn in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley.

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