unseasoned cheeks, repeatedly flash-frozen, turned the red of a ripe tomato, then black. Very romantic. (I would never have made it as an Eskimo.)

        Autumn of ’93, I’m conducting research for the second edition of How to Shit in the Woods and turn up a new, to me, factoid: outhouses generate underground bacterial plumes that travel good distances. Our outhouse sat smack at the edge of the bench by the river. Why on earth I worried about this—when all up and down the valley cows were freely squirting in the feeder creeks and river—I don’t know. Except pollution is pollution; humans spread altogether different diseases than bovines; and I’d been overly schooled in wilderness sanitation. I wore the badge Shit Lady with pride and kept imagining the headlines: FULL OF POOP AUTHOR CONTAMINATES BITTERROOT RIVER.

          When I gently announced to my rather feral sweetie that I was ordering a dose of enzymes (stumbled upon also while researching), which would compost the cone of deposits in the outhouse, and then we would have to shut it down and install an indoor john, he went off like a rocket. “No way! I’ll dig holes. I’m NOT shitting indoors.” I handed him the shovel and said, “OK. But not by the river. Go that way.” My arm swung toward the highway, where our three-acre parcel meets the macadam and there is no cover.

          A few days later, when he ran out of fire and floated back down to the barnyard, we hired a contractor-friend to hook up a toilet. A bit of back-story now before I can explain our search for the flushing fixture itself. When we bought the barn, it came with a newly drilled well and a newly buried septic tank and drain field. The first fall, we dug waterlines from the well to the barn and to our two fields for spigots handy to the horses’ stock tanks, and then plumbed in, for us, a washing machine and a tub with a shower. A different friend—far less skilled helped us lay the waste line under the barn floor and the front deck. Who guessed it was supposed to slope at an optimum drop for good flushing? By the time we knew better and went looking for a five-gallon flush toilet, to insure every little thing’s moving along the sixty flat feet with a right-angle bend to the septic, especially in winter when everything below floor level freezes, a wave of environmentalism had swept the country and with it came a new federal law outlawing the selling of a toilet with a tank larger than the 1.6-gallon Water-Saver, or a ULFT. “Ultra low-flow flush toilet.” Reduced to sleuthing back rooms of the area’s plumbing establishments, we eventually located a secondhand bowl at one and in the far attic reaches of another a five-gallon tank. Needless to say, they weren’t made for each other. As for guilt, we had none: our water came from our well and went back into the ground by means of the drain field, nowhere near the river, or, for that matter, the well.

          One evening, twenty-plus years later, we were in the final throws of planning a party. We hadn’t hosted a party in ten years. It was to be a Scrooge Party Potluck (an anti-consumering, holiday get-together with silly fireside games) combined with—not mentioning any critical names or numbers—a landmark birthday and a celebration of recovery from Stage 4 cancer. It was, thus, a big and important whoop-up. About the time the invitations had been addressed and stamped, I remembered the toilet and said, “Hmmm, I suppose we should fix the toilet.” The years hadn’t been kind to it. The bowl had developed a habit of slowly swiveling until it sat almost sideways and we once more yanked it straight. Saying it leaked would be a stupendous understatement. With each flush, water seeped from the wax seal, which promptly broke loose again each time we replaced it; water dripped steadily from the back of the tank and other more mysterious sources into several strategically positioned empty yogurt containers, except when they frequently got knocked aside. Our precious pegged pine floor had rotted all around the base and halfway across the room. (In my June 2012 blog, I wrote about the otherworldly translucent mushrooms sprouting around our toilet . . . no doubt because the floor had decayed down to the original barn planking, permeated with seventy years of cow shit.) More recently, the decrepitude of our porcelain purgatory had gone lethal. One of us, in lifting a buttock to engage in a necessary function, tipped the whole thing over and landed head first in the tub. (I wasn’t home at the time.)                                                

       

                                                               


For the coming week, my work was clearly defined: housecleaning, decorating inside and outside, cooking. It seemed the bathroom project would fall to Patrick, the person inherently hateful of indoor plumbing, and I was surprised and thrilled to hear him offer, “I can get it done. Probably take a couple days.” He was even willing to entertain matching the pine flooring with similar various-width boards, rather than plowing straight for “the practical” and a slab of plywood. Part of the latter had to do with our nonexistent budget for this job and his knowing we had a few odd pieces of pine lying around, one even primed.

          My contribution, as the Shit Lady, was to set up our Restop Commode, a five-gallon plastic bucket with a foam seat, in the corner of the bathroom, and position nearby several Restop 2 disposable poo-powder-laced bags and a roll of t.p. As for Patrick, he headed off to town, whereupon leaving the local ACE Hardware with his first armload of supplies, the friendly DIY professors behind the counter warned him not to get discouraged when he had to come back, that any plumbing project required three trips to the hardware store.

          Next morning, Patrick tore out the toilet, pried up the rotten floor, and we turned on the heater and set up a fan to dry things out. The week wore on, full of chatting with plumbing-skilled friends and checking related books out of the library; renting and borrowing tools; gluing a new flange to the drain pipe (the old one had never been secured); changing out the chain and flapper and replacing the flush valve and tank bolts and washers and fitting the floor pieces together and, finally, drilling the holes for the screws and phony wooden pegs.

          It was on his ninth run to the hardware store that Patrick had beelined for the plumbing aisle and was sorting through the bins by himself when two familiar heads popped around the tier of shelving, fairly singing, “A priest, a rabbi, and a plumber walk into a bar . . . .” Before he could chuck parts at them, they ducked out of sight. I seem to recall this as the same day he blew through the front door, whining, but with his usual eloquence, “You planned this soirée just to wangle a new crapper.”

          Friday, with the party the next evening and more than a hundred dollars sunk in fixing the old mismatched toilet, we suddenly discovered why the tank refused to stop leaking—a hairline crack in the porcelain. This would never do, not with our lovely new floor. To the phones! Where we were soon deep in information-seeking calls and a dither of decision-making. In the closest town south, Patrick located a brand new toilet for $120. Not yet beaten, he nonetheless was frazzled, ready to go (I thought, maybe over the mountains never to come back), and reluctant to remember that with a ULFT we’d be differently screwing our system. I called a building recycling center seventy-five miles north and found a bunch of used 5-gallon tanks at $15 a piece, and a whole toilet from the 1930s that had just been dropped off that morning. How much were entire toilets? Twenty dollars, the man said—but the antique might be $40, or more. Imagining that it might also require a fresh set of innards and eight more trips to ACE, I explained our whole sorry situation and asked what we could expect out of such an old toilet. He sounded quite stunned: “All our toilets work!”

          So off again Patrick flew, to pick up a tank, or maybe a toilet if it was at all cute and not too much change. Left to myself, unpacking boxes of little Christmas gnomes, arranging them in the windows, I brooded. When has the Irishman ever known cute from utilitarian? Face it, if he finds a tank that fits, it will be the quick final fix. There’s no time left, plus old Montana toilet bowls will be stained silly with rust. Steel your heart for the worst. Crap, don’t even think about.

          The phone’s ringing yanked me out of my obsessing. It was Patrick’s grade school friend in Indiana; he’s writing a memoir of his tour in Vietnam and often calls to chat with me. No time to ramble, I quickly brought him up to date on our bathroom saga’s latest episode. He offered Don’t worry! Throw around lots of four-letter words. He’s a Marine, he’ll get it done.

           And before I knew it, Patrick was marching through the door clutching a tank to his chest, and I stopped to hear his tale. As he bent to rest it on the floor, his voice showed some excitement: “If this works, we’ll be done.”

          With a careful casualness, I surveyed the tank. Before me sat the living distinction between “cheap” (inexpensive) and “tacky.” Of course, there will be folks who’ll swear I’m disturbed, preferring a decaying floor over trashy-but-fixed. Everything around here has a theme: Ancient or Half Finished or Half Worn Out. Modern would never match. This tank was thin-walled and D-shaped with a curved belly. Yet, with safety looming as the pressing issue—no broken bones, no stinky messes, during the party—I closed my eyes and let it go. Then the next thing, I heard Patrick grumbling, “Shit!” He had measured everything but the space between the bolt holes. The tank was not going to fit the bowl. I, too, measured it—thinking, this just can’t be—with no better result. “What,” I whispered, “are we going to do?” and he proceeded to tell me he had the antique in the truck. Really? How much? Twenty dollars. Really? Adorable? Yes, come see for yourself.

          It was a sweet one-piece with a solid oak seat, brass fittings, and not a trace of rust on a uniquely scalloped inner bowl. The shape of the tank with its two blunt bump-outs reminded me of a wing chair. Behind the bowl, a thick shelf flared out to meet the tank. And the porcelain detailing on the tank’s lid and the bowl’s pedestal might have been inspired by someone’s fancy cornice molding. Best of all, as I would soon hear tell, the bowl was deep and accommodating of certain swinging anatomy.

          Wow—what a score!

          But, of course, it wouldn’t be the “quick final fix.” Back to the store for another wax ring. And, the flange, now firmly cemented to the drain pipe, sat too high, causing the pretty commode to teeter atop, shy of reaching the floor.

          Saturday. Twenty minutes before the first guests knocked on the door, Patrick, having, with a borrowed jig saw, fashioned a thin piece of plywood to the exact pattern of the pedestal bottom—no mean feat with the hole in the center—and finished setting the toilet, again, stepped out of the bathroom. “Wanna come look?” Already wearing a festive apron, I walked in to see a huge red ribbon adorning the beautiful seat and receive a pick-me-off-the-floor hug and a “Happy Birthday!” I was nothing short of DAZZLED.
                                      
 

Dazzle Me

by Kathleen Meyer, January–February 2013


Our first three winters living in the old dairy barn, 1990-93, we were fairly well served by a quaint, white-washed outhouse that so charmed me I planted its sides with vines of honeysuckle and purple clematis. The “fairly” qualifier indicates poop and pee had a proper-ish place to go but the downside, not so thrilling, was frozen buns. Nobody bothered to advise this child-of-southern-climes how to save my ass by installing, long before ambient outdoor temperatures plunge to 30º-below, a Styrofoam seat—a slab, two inches thick, with a hole carved in the middle. The material immediately takes on the cozy temperature of your keister. Instead, my pale,

Not so white-washed anymore.

          As the party progressed, I noticed lights shining in the bathroom and people loitering, sipping from glasses of wine and Reed’s ginger ale. I peeked in. Patrick was holding court—in our bathroom!—recounting the whole story, for one group after another.

Goo Patrol

by Kathleen Meyer, March 2013


Early this morning seventeen marauding wild turkeys trooped into our yard, prompting me to dash out—still in my nightgown—on an erratic zigzagging course, barking like a pack of all-sized dogs, flapping my arms, and, finally, in exasperation at their meandering only a few feet away, letting loose an operatic scream that sent them skyward over the cattails. The big feathery beasts habituate so readily to my scare tactics, I’m forever challenged to add new acts. Guttural gorilla talk oo-oo-oo worked for barely a week.

          If these none-too-lovely bird-brains were not snorting up pounds of expensive sunflower seed and laying down a carpet of twirly goo—unlike the ninety-two well-mannered quail who visit from the river bottom—my heart would open to them. Still and all, I’m grateful for the health benefits of wild turkeys. They get my blood moving at top speed before breakfast, which cuts my coffee requirements in half. And if I could develop a bit more proficiency with the sling-shot (a Christmas present), I might cut the grocery bill in half.

Now they are a weedy species.

Prolific beyond belief.

Pests!

Cute birds?  Maybe, at one time.

          As species continue to go extinct, the world will be left with those that are weedy, or versatile enough to reproduce at an alarming rate. That is, cockroaches, kudzu, flies, starlings, wild turkeys, and, of course the weediest of them all, humans.

 
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