Friday, October 28, 2016

More Than a Privy

Several friends recently gathered for supper. One thing led to another once our stomachs were full of home-cooked food, and childhood recollections soon had us laughing aloud. We discovered that rural Texans and Kansans share similar tales, with those growing up in the country contributing more than one outhouse story. These memories triggered mention of the fancy Brooks Lake Campground outhouse, which, it just so happens, thrives under the care of a Kansas couple.


The term “fancy outhouse” generates several mental images. If I hadn’t seen this facility already, I’d envision the multi-level crapper at the Encampment, Wyoming, museum. Designers constructed that particular two-holer to accommodate DEEP snow. Designers built one toilet a floor above the other so that summer users accessed the lower level while winter patrons crossed towering snowdrifts to the now reachable second floor. I’m not sure how functional this was, but it was enterprising.

Brooks Lake’s fancy US Forest Service pit toilet began as a standard single seater with the expected signage you’d find at any campground. These rectangular government postings instruct you to close the lid following use or explain how to avoid bear conflicts. Typically, camp hosts clean these sites and stock toilet paper and hand sanitizer. However, the responsible parties at Brooks Lake exercised originality to make their facility unique.

 When we fish the nearby lake and stream, we encourage newcomers to take a camera along when nature calls. While our friends shake their heads in confusion before they open the privy door, no one leaves without snapping a photo to share with loved ones back home.

So what makes this potty stop without running water, heating or cooling devices, and only the most basic of paper products special? Initially, you note a cozy rug softening your entry. Then bright posters identifying local wildflowers and birds catch your eye. These lighten the mood of the imposing bear warning posters that intensify any outdoor experience in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, including a visit to the loo.

 Finally, guests find themselves examining a table displaying a wilderness lending library stocked with popular mysteries, romances, adventures, and science fiction along with magazines. Fellow campers add to this collection as they finish books and periodicals brought from home.

For fun, these clever camp hosts included an old rotary dial phone in their display. I suspect youngsters visiting this latrine have no idea what this is, but the older generation chuckles when they spy this out-of-place d├ęcor. One clever camper commented, tongue in cheek, on his USFS evaluation that the phone didn’t work.

I once chatted with the caretaker of this loobrary and asked what inspired his clever efforts. This fellow Kansan couldn’t recall the initial motivation, but he mentioned the result was that users kept the facility astonishingly clean. Ultimately, this made an unpleasant job easier as well as more interesting because these custodians never know what books, magazines, kitschy doodads, or funny comments they might discover tucked amongst their own contributions.



As a writer and former English teacher, I seek life truths in every day experiences. The veritas in this story is that anyone can positively affect another’s day, even while cleaning toilets. Who doesn’t love finding surprises in unexpected places?

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