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Poop Can Save the World? You Bet!

by Kathleen Meyer, January 2012

Happy 2012!

Someone has just handed me—as people always do with anything related to poo—an article entitled “Poop Will Solve All Our Problems.” Finally, we’re composting all the high-dollar campaign rants pouring forth from our radios and TVs? Probably not: the gist of the piece refers mostly to the benefits of elephant and panda turds, and pig poop. I’d be the first to cheer the presence of a pachyderm in Montana (imagine the size of its pile), but I haven’t spotted anything of such magnificent proportion in our river bottom for the past 12,000 years. The subject of useful shit, however, puts me in mind of Joe Jenkins’ Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure, the teachings of which could, as huge regions of the globe dry up, save volumes of our current flushing water for drinking. Humanure is perfect for the garden. It’s not in the least bit stinky, not toxic nor pathogenic. Watch some of Jenkins’ many YOUTUBE video clips; he travels all over the world. During Haiti’s earthquake crisis, he headed down to help set up community composting sites. While all the emergency portable chemical toilets filled up, reeked, and bred maggots, the Jenkins’ way proved that fecal pollution and human waste is a thing of the past. (Link to Haiti clip.) Add Jenkins’ 3rd edition to your 2012 reading list—it’s light and enlightening reading. He also takes orders for his impeccably designed, indoor, household Loveable Loo. Or Loo kits. 

        On another subject: With its being the dead of winter where I live, even though we’re still waiting for that promised big dump of snow, many of us are out skiing and snowshoeing, trussed up in gear that presents challenges for squatting women. If you’re anything like me, you head for the cover of a far pine tree to peel down your britches. The snow is at least knee-deep, and invariably you come out of your bindings, water your leg and long johns anyway, and spend the next hour digging yourself out. That is, until I discovered a delightful solution. Now you too can step five paces off the trail, keep your wits and bloomers about you, and like the the men, just turn your back.     

        I give you my favorite winter FUD, or female urinary device, the SHEWEE Extreme, which has a 5-inch extension that’s blessedly helpful with bulky cold-weather clothing. I’m partial to the fushia-colored version. Comes with a case, or, should you prefer, slip it into a plastic bag and tuck it into your parka pocket. Shewee is offering 20% off on everything until Jan 15. So, hustle to their Web site.

Walloping Airporter

by Kathleen Meyer, February 2012

Surprises. We tend to think of them as joyous events, laced with delight and romance: as in, a box of Valentine chocolates, a thoughtful compliment, or perhaps in the backcountry, the first buttercup of spring. But my Webster’s says the verb “surprise” is also defined as “to take”—or be taken—“suddenly by storm.” The jolt implied can range from a three-year-old’s gentle “boo” on Halloween to a near-collision with someone flying around the end of a grocery store aisle to an horrific encounter deserving of the label Monster Assault. A couple friends of mine, a mother-daughter team, were once taken by tornado in the bustle of an international airport; it happened four hours after consuming a breakfast of (it was later deemed) spoiled pork sausage. After that day, episodes of intestinal mayhem became known in their family as “airporters,” and neither one of them ever again ventured forth without carrying a spare pair of slacks.

        The unleashing of an airporter is not caused by proximity to asphalt and concrete; it can hit hard on a sandy path in the outback or, in this month where I live, on a snow-laden trail through the forest. There was a time when I believed that a disaster of such indecorous distinction must excuse a person from responsible human waste disposal. Goodness knows, it happen to me more than once, and I ended up applying the quick sprinkle of leaves or hurried placement of handy bark and then sprinted away, begging forgiveness from Mother Nature. Nowadays, though, it’s a cinch to be prepared, even for a Green Apple Two-Step.

        See the LINK column, below left, for Solo Poop-Packer Systems. The double-bag throwaway products come equipped with t.p. and a sanitary wipe. Because they contain magic poop powders and comply with EPA guidelines, they can be tossed into any garbage can.

        Even so, there’s always the spur-of-the-moment saunter, and there’s the morning you wake up in an absentminded fog and leave your potty paraphernalia at home; for these, you’ll want to have a couple of mitigating maneuvers up your sleeve. Mitigating for you and for our Mother. Thus, if you have the least minute of warning, head for the high ground away from any water courses your deposit could contaminate. If other people are present, dive also for cover, where you’ll find that trees and bushes, because they collect heat, often shelter unfrozen ground. No time to dig a hole? Excavate afterward, right next door. No trowel? Employ a stout stick, a sharp stone, or, in places where humus is rich and loose, your bare fingers. As a substitute for toilet paper, grab a handful of snow. Then bulldoze your leaving into the hole, making sure also to bury the soiled implement.

        To avoid such scenarios altogether, after a sojourn, stash fresh squatting gear in your fanny pack, ammo can, or vehicle.

FUD of the Month: Uri-Mate Protector

                                         Uri-Mate Head Office

                                         32 Hartley Road

                                         London, E11 3BL UK

        For the traveling woman: this cone of thin white cardboard with its delicate pink-rose graphic is by far the smallest and sweetest of the disposable paper funnels. Comes folded into the size of a tea bag, although flatter. Sells by the 5-pack (3 cones to a pack); $9.95. Instructions in English and Spanish. Available on-line from distributors in UK, US, and Venezuela. Confused about FUDs? Check my September 2011 blog.

A Short Non-History of Underwear

by Kathleen Meyer, March 2012

“Ye gods and little fishes!” Whenever aghast, my mother would spout this  exclamation, as she did many other sayings of her era. The one that floated to mind this morning was “Always greet the world with clean underwear.” Which carries an implied coupling—not to be given power by uttering aloud—“You can never tell when you’ll be in an accident.” And we, nowadays, can add “strip-searched.” I solved this dilemma years ago by quitting under-things altogether and I don’t suppose I’ll be taking them up again until I need Depends.

        What in hell’s that got to do with the price of eggs? (Another from my mother.) Well, it’s one less layer to peel down when squatting in the woods. One less layer to launder, purchase, grow out of, send in tatters to the landfill. It probably requires bathing more often, which is hard on the skin if you live in a dry climate, like I do, and adds to global warming if you insist on heating the water. Like I do.

        Some days, life seems like just a long string of trade-offs. Which brings me to my point. Should I make you guess? Or have I even settled on one? Landfills? couplings? fishes? eggs? I think it’s the weather. A half-inch of new snow coated the ground when I first awoke this morning, a half-inch crusted the sleeping bag, and a glob was melting through my hair onto my scalp above my right ear. A fews hours of wind and raking snow followed, and then I hauled it out to eat the oatmeal with raisins and sliced bananas Patrick had made.

        Fresh snow? Dry climate? I can hear you thinking How does that compute? My Montana valley is green in summer only because of the dozens of mountain reservoirs built in the late 1880s to impound spring’s natural run-off, preserve it for irrigating in the dog days of July and August. Each year now the snowpack sags earlier, fills the creek beds with thunder; the mountainsides dry out, the hay fields grow houses, the central river slows to warm, non-fishable dribbles, and the smoke from forest fires blankets the sun, paints it a midday blood-red. Arrghhh. Perhaps you’re needing a tidy moral to this story? Here it is: Never burn your toilet paper in the backcountry, or it could be you who starts the season’s conflagration.

        And that, my friends, is the long and short of how the cookies crumble when you’re forever hiding chocolate chips and sugar in your underwear.

        To keep saner than I, get out in the woods! Get on the river! It’s spring!

Least Publicized Job of Wilderness Rangers

by Kathleen Meyer, April–May 2012

Leave it to brazen, delightful writer Nevada Barr, bless her blue-sky heart, to tug beach-poop-patrol into the sunlight as part of her new novel The Rope, set in Glen Canyon National Recreational Area. The tip arrived from a friend, and I trotted down to our rural library to scratch my name onto the waiting list, already numbering twenty-two. Only a month earlier I’d been asking when we would be seeing the next in Barr’s long line of outback psycho crime dramas.

        Her protagonist Park Ranger Anna Pigeon, while untwisting mysterious doings, must endure—necessarily to the genre and Barr’s style—bizarre, torturous, near-death captures, attacks, rescues, and escapes. But ingenuity in the face of hair-raising jams is her forte and it’s been played out in national parks from the Dry Tortugas to Isle Royale, from Yosemite to Big Bend. In the series, The Rope falls as the prequel to Anna’s career as a ranger. It’s the story of her first foray into the West, where, just off the bus from NYC, she signs on as a seasonal employee working the red rock environs of Lake Powell (a reservoir actually—I can’t help myself!—backed up by Glen Canyon Dam, notable in literature as the subject of Ed Abby’s The Monkey Wrench Gang). Anna’s boss and housemate is one Jenny Gorman, better known as the Fecal Queen, for one ghastly event in an otherwise heroic stint of cleaning human turds from beaches where the camping/partying boaters and jet skiers ply the sand much as cats do a litter box.

        Anna, buoyed by her inherent strong spirit and unflagging determination, fast becomes a welcome addition to the crap brigade. If not yet the mistress of physical prowess that Barr’s readers have come to expect, Anna gets a boost from her current state of mind—fleeing a recent tragedy—that has rendered her better suited to shoveling shit than much of anything else. Within the arc of the narrative, however, poop-scooping is a small embellishment on the wild ride that will lure Anna toward badge-and-gun-toting rangerhood.

        As I turned the final page, curiosity consumed me: Might Barr’s readers wonder whether the shit patrol is one of the author’s deeply-researched details or something she invented for gripping fiction? I, of course, as the Shit Lady, am here to tell you it’s the former: backcountry human waste management is a huge problem in high-use areas and regions with fragile eco-systems. Wouldn’t you know—I heavily relate to the Jenny Gorman character.

        But hey, the particulars of Jenny and Anna’s beach duties were shocking even to me: I suddenly realized how unaccustomed I am to reading anything written about the subject in someone else’s voice. Gloves, tongs, brimming five-gallon buckets. Although we like to joke as much as possible with that grand old English word scitian—finding it in your campsite is no laughing matter. Many reports of poop-removal-by-salad-tongs reach me via wilderness rangers. And if that’s the icky-est part of the larger story, the saddest is that when we humans don’t take care of business, so to speak, the upshot is rules and regulations. This morning, in talking to Steve Horman, Chief of Facility Management at Glen Canyon NRA, I learned that in 1996, their whole approach to human waste changed with a lovely new plan. It relieved rangers of the hands-on chores by placing the responsibility directly in the laps of poopers, where it belongs. Click here: and scroll down to “Lake Powell Pure – Now and Forever.” All of which offers us a lot to think about and strive for with our remaining unregulated hinterlands: get it together on our own steam, or lose the wild quality and dish out taxes for more enforcement?


Be in the know.  Teach others.  Thank you, Nevada Barr!

FUD of the Month: SHEWEE

                                         49 Walton Street

                                         Walton on the Hill

                                         KT20 7RR UK

        SHEWEE’s uplifting slogan is “Stand Up and Take Control!” This molded, water-repellent plastic funnel—washable, reusable—is for outdoor women. For women traveling to places where public toilets are icky. For women in wheelchairs and hospital beds, women pilots and sailors, women in the military. SHEWEE also carries snazzy women’s boxer shorts with a fly front.

* If anyone’s wondering, I do not receive remuneration for raving about products.

Mushrooms & Bathrooms

by Kathleen Meyer, June 2012

Western Montana’s June rains are performing their miracle, popping millions of morel mushrooms through the sooty soil of last year’s big burns. One summer’s terrifying forest fires are the birth of another’s bounty. And everyone’s off on the hunt.

Now you might be imagining a spiritually uplifting walk in the woods, with wildflowers smiling, the music and dazzle of a kicking creek, frequent glimpses of woodland fairies, and then the sudden discovery of a giant morel—big enough for a meal. You oooh and ahhh. You fall to your knees. You note the firmness and blackness of the honeycombed flesh. Sooo perfect. Rejoicing, you tuck an offering of sweet grass around its feet and murmur prayers of mighty thanks to the Morchella gods, before moving on, yes leaving it, in all its glory, only to begin your sacred gathering with the next find.

And were you out searching for “naturals”—the fewer-and-farther-between morels, sprouting every year without a burn—you could expect such a blissful sojourn. But with burn areas, Think again. The lures of fortunes-to-be-made host a strange and scary modern version of the Wild West, a melting pot of faces and out-of-state plates belonging to the cheap hire-ees and gunslingers of commercial buyers. For locals, it’s a disheartening wilderness experience.

Still and all, the fanciful dreams of a freezerful of shrooms for snowed-in winter dinners spurs you to call a friend and pack the truck for an overnight.

A quick stop at the ranger station, to purchase an official picking map, also services to alert you to an altercation having just required the sheriff and his troops, twenty miles in from the end of the pavement, at the primitive hot springs you’d thought would make the perfect base camp. Something about commercial pickers not letting a local man make camp, or not letting him pass on through. Sounds too crowded and hot for your blood, so you change course, picking out another drainage on the map, and then finding cars pulled off all along the road. At one bend, you get out to stretch your legs and BANG a shot zings by—“This place taken!”

Finally, you come upon a lonely stretch of landscape—barren, charred, bombed out—where you heave a sigh of gratitude, and screech to a halt. You grab your basket and your mushroom knife (with the brush on one end), and lock up the truck. It’s already five o’clock but you’re cheered by the thought that there will be picking light until 10:00 p.m. But then ten feet off the road, it becomes evident the hordes have been there before you, pounding further hell out of the scorched earth and clear-cutting, leaving nothing but stumps, obvious stumps of mammoth morels that might have been destined for your basket. Now all has gone up in smoke again, this time the smoke of human madness. In three hours, you’ve scoured, at most, a couple meals worth of baby morels—they surely poked through the burnt surface within the last hour— and you and your pal have taken on the smudged look of two chimney sweeps after a hard day’s work. The very last straw is your night-under-the-stars accompanied by the drunken target practice of neighbors much too close.

Did I say “leaving nothing but stumps”? Well, add to that a carpeting of shiny spent shells, and then wads and tails of toilet paper, and all that goes with it.

This sort of abuse of our high country makes a person want to whip up a campaign to outlaw commercial picking; although, banning it would probably drive everything underground, create a black market rife with the greater violence that’s typical of prohibition. Thus, I offer one starter suggestion toward an altered approach. Because commercial pickers must buy a permit, it would be simple to crank up the price to included fecal pack-it-out systems—individual double-bagging products with cosmic poo powder that can be carted home and tossed in the regular trash (see Links in my left column). A big black number written on the bag and on each permit registered at the ranger station tells authorities whose bags are those gone astray, and just whom to fine big-time. Or, higher permit fees might cover establishing checkpoints like we have at river put-ins to make sure portable toilets are part of the camping gear. 

And now I must go, because my own bathroom is in need of attention. The old commode, which has almost rotted through the floor, is sprouting—all around its base—weird translucent mushrooms. One can only hope they are psychedelic and will spirit me away from this M&B mayhem.

Addendum: At our backyard table—an old shed door propped on weathered sawhorses, all overgrown with high grasses (yours truly hasn’t mowed)—we just enjoyed a dinner of morel ragout over pasta. The floor show in the creekside meadow below included a doe with her week-old fawn,

nursing and romping, a chorus of raspberry calls from the red-winged blackbirds that nest in the cattails, and a pheasant cruising in on a long, low landing. The Sapphire Range lounges in the background.