Making the Camp Toilet

Making the Camp ToiletMy dad taught me to camp before I was potty trained. My family went to pristine forest camps in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the forties. We walked to springs for our water and cooked fresh trout and hash browns with onions on a cast iron griddle over the campfire.

My dad’s two rules of camping were to “respect Mother Nature” and “always leave the campsite cleaner than we found it”.

He was a stocky man with curly black hair parted just to the left of the middle and combed not quite straight back. He seldom wore a hat. On camping trips he wore dark brown Red Wing boots, a T-shirt, and khaki work pants. I watched him dig the toilet hole. The process fascinated me. He was clean before, during, and after the digging. The white T-shirt stayed white. Through some mysterious molecular shield he possessed, my dad avoided dirt.

The Honor of Making the Camp Toilet

When I was old enough, twelve or thirteen, dad gave me the job of digging the camp toilet. This was an honor. My dad had a definite idea of how the camp toilet should be constructed. One did not waver from that idea. The hole is two feet wide by four feet long, three feet deep, and a hundred feet from the nearest water. The toilet seat is carved just above the hole on that perfect fallen tree.

There is something about digging in fresh, dark-brown mountain dirt full of rocks and roots that is invigorating. The afternoon sun warmed me as I dug the camp toilet. I became lost in a quest for perfection. The rest of my family went about their business of reading, hiking, scouting the territory, or napping and I was in the one place I loved beyond anyone’s comprehension.

Making the camp toilet became more exciting when the hole finally reached that three-foot depth. When the digging was done, the real artistic work began: the toilet seat, carved to a smooth finish.

It’s an ancient craft – art and nature converged in a rough-hewn cleft just right for the broad or bony buttocks. The fallen tree must be the perfect height off the ground. Dangling feet are as annoying as a bare butt immersed in the freshly dug hole.

My toilet seat is carved with a well-honed ax. I’m quite good at it and I’m proud of my work, although I have not received many compliments at camp. One does not sit around the campfire and comment on the aesthetic or practical merits of the camp toilet.

Author: Brian M. Biggs

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