Monday, August 18, 2008

Wife Rule #66: The Wilderness Stinks

It has been a long time since my olfactory senses have been stirred by the aromas of nature in quite the same way they were this last week in Yellowstone National Park.

And the pit toilets were only part of it.

Leaving the comforts of home behind is always an adventure, but one my wife and I have learned to enjoy together. She grew up in a family that practically lived in the mountains, but paradoxically, seldom picnicked and almost never camped. Hiking was not done so much for recreation as it was out of necessity, such as the trips each fall into the mountains to cut a firewood supply for the long, harsh winter.

In contrast, I grew up surrounded by the suburbs, but lived counting down the days before our next excursion to whichever mountain or desert wilderness was seasonably favorable at the time. A huge chunk of my family's recreation together consisted of picnics, hikes, and camping or backpacking trips.

So The Wilderness is one of those areas in our marriage where we have had a lot of good, healthy compromise. By "good" and "healthy" I mean, of course, that my wife has changed her views to more closely match mine. The kind of compromise where I change my views seems a lot harder for some reason, so I try to avoid it. I'm just lucky that my wife was crazy enough about me early on in our marriage to allow me to open this can of worms up. Now our kids are infected with the Wilderness bug, so there's really no going back.

Actually, my wife has been a great sport about it for the most part, and has even learned to love much of what I love. She still doesn't understand some soul-satisfying aspects of life in The Wilderness, such as early-morning Tarzan yells, or completely bypassing personal hygiene for days on end, or spitting off cliffs, or the deep sense of satisfaction that comes after relieving one's self in the woods.

Which brings me back to the topic of pit toilets. I mentioned that my wife has done most of the giving-in when it comes to our outdoor recreational choices, but this is one subject that has caused me serious reflection and soul searching.

See, "personal time" in the wilderness is usually brief and simple when you're a guy. Apparently it's a totally different story for our female counterparts. Something else they never told me before I rushed blindly into marriage and family commitments.

So in Yellowstone this past week, we were a good twenty miles from the nearest plumbing, having a picnic at 8500 feet at an idyllic spot nestled into a forest glade among the happy pines and chirping birds. Have you ever noticed what happens to a bag of unopened potato chips at 8500 feet? It blows up like the Goodyear blimp.

It turns out that the same thing happens to kids' bladders.

Thus, we had Potty Time a lot during our forays into The Wilderness last week. As I mentioned, my previous wilderness-potty-soul-searching has led me to the conclusion that if my wife is willing to let me drag the family that far away from plumbing, I had better shoulder the responsibility of helping anyone who needs Potty Time while we're there.

Which is fine and good, because I have been well-trained in the ancient art of Going Potty in The Wilderness. Since I was young, my father ingrained the idea into me that for certain types of needs, every tree, shrub, and careless woodland creature is a potential potty when you are in The Wilderness. I have employed these valuable skills when helping my daughters and sons alike.

But there are also occasional "other" needs, which are a little more complicated. Thus, when my young son required this kind of relief, I squared my shoulders and marched straight into the pit toilet with him (Um, I mean into the enclosure around the pit toilet, of course).

The aroma there was, to say the least, poignant. It brought back memories that have not haunted me in years, such as one of the first Daddy-child moments I ever had in a pit toilet. We were picnicking up one of our local canyons, and my daughter had one too many cups of lemonade. She was freshly toilet-trained, and very insistent on doing things the "proper" way (no shrubbery escape-clause this time). So, I dutifully led her into the pit toilet, helped her get ready, and attempted to sit her down.

She took one look at the black, gaping hole beneath her, and went into Full Panic Mode.

"It's too far! It's too far!" she cried, suddenly transforming herself into what I can only describe as a very frightened octopus-like creature, clinging to me with at least eight appendages, each covered with a thousand invisible suction cups.

At that point, I knew I was toast. There was no prying this child off of me to sit on that seat, perched precariously atop an infinite black hole. Neither was there any stopping the powerful Force of Nature that landed us here in the first place. All I could do was stand there, helpless, and experience the smell.

Shuddering, I forced my mind back to the present. Concentration. This is hard enough without the ghosts of past failures haunting me.

Well, we survived the pit toilet, aromas and all. We finished our picnic and loaded back into the car. Naturally, after such an ordeal, my brilliant idea for our next stop was a bit of "R and R"--at the stinky mud pots.

Yes, I willingly signed us all up for another hour of smelling brown, sulphurous ooze. I knew my kids would love it, and I was right. In fact, the only thing that topped the boiling mud for my youngest boy was watching the bison we encountered along the trail, pooping (the bison, not my son).

"Behold," I said in my best authoritative National Geographic narrator voice. "A real, live bison pooping in the woods. Welcome to The Wilderness, kids."

"How can you tell the bison is pooping?" my oldest asked.

"Umm," I stammered, both bewildered that I would need to explain such a thing, and trying to figure out how to delicately point out the obvious.

"Easy," my second-born observed, "just watch for the stuff falling between the back legs."

"Ooooooh," my kids chimed in chorus.

Thus it's plainly obvious to everyone that there are all manner of memorable, educational, smelly experiences to be had when Dad drags the family far from home, deep into The Wilderness. It's true that The Wilderness stinks, but in Yellowstone, at least it's a good kind of stink.

Outhouses excluded, of course.

1 comment:

Shell said...

I got to visit the pit toilet both when my needs hit me, my little nudger inside me kicks me and when my other girls (soon to be even more!) have to go. There are sometimes when the joke about every tree being a potential resource just isn't funny anymore.