Answering the call of nature presents an interesting challenge for CLM Interns and other outdoors people alike. The vast majority of our lives are spent in civilization where we feel comfortable and can achieve privacy easily, but when you are out in the woods or on the steppe, answering this call of nature may not come very… naturally. In order to dispel some of the awkwardness that comes with “going number two”, I wanted to write a blog post to educate fellow and future interns on a topic that isn’t frequently explored. I know it’s easy to be immature about this topic but we are no longer in grade school and frankly I think there are some worthwhile points that merit discussion. We all poo. I poo. You poo. Your mentor poos too. Get over it.
An Intro to Poo
What is a poo?
I’ll keep this brief. Poo is a combination of waste material and bacteria. It is mostly made of water (~75%) and the rest is all the bacteria that helped digest the food, fiber, waste material, etc. It is usually brown because of a compound called bilirubin, which is a pigment that comes from the breakdown of red blood cells in the liver and bone marrow.
What is fiber?
Dietary fiber is a carbohydrate and the undigested portion of food derived from plants. Basically, it adds bulk to your stool and make it easier to pass. Good sources of fiber include whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.
What does healthy poo look like?
Your poo is a troubleshooting tool. Just as we use species composition and alteration as indicators of streambank stability, we use our poo to tell us if we are properly nourished. Flushing without looking is like hiking to a mountaintop just to hike back down. You went through all that strain, but what about the view? Think of it like a check engine light in your car. If you don’t do something about it now, you might have bigger problems down the road. Feel free to consult the Bristol Stool Chart, a visual guide for stools. Ideally you want to achieve a Type 4 or 5, which are considered “normal”.
How often should one poo?
Everyone is a little different – but you should typically poo at least once a day. Signs of constipation include pooing only a couple of times a week, not ever feeling quite empty, and hard stool. On the other hand, going 5+ times a day is stepping into the realm of diarrhea. When this happens it is important to rehydrate your body to make up for lost fluid and to consume fiber to add bulk to your stool.
This is a topic that I want to take rather seriously. Our work revolves around helping better manage the land, resources, and ecology around us. Careless pooing does exactly the opposite of that in that it adversely impacts environment quality and the aesthetics of the land we use to recreate and share with others. I suggest getting familiar with all Leave No Trace guidelines, but the ones concerning waste disposal are as follows:
1. Minimize the chance of water pollution
2. Minimize the spread of disease
3. Minimize aesthetic impact
4. Maximize decomposition rate
The most practical method is to dig a hole and bury your poo. We always have a shovel in our truck for this very purpose. First and foremost, locate the toilet paper. Agree to keep it in one spot so you can all find it easily. Find a private spot far away from water, trails, or campsites and dig a hole at least 6 inches deep. In desert environments, waste has a harder time breaking down so it is recommended to dig shallower holes (2-6 inches) to maximize decomposition. Once you finish your business, toss in the toilet paper and cover the hole completely and disguise it. Because we usually work in very remote public land, this method is adequate. In many popular, high-use areas however, you may be required to pack out your waste. Remember to sanitize/wash your hands afterwards!
Toilet: . . . . .
Groover: I first saw one of these when I went on a float trip on the John Day River. It’s essentially the most miniature of porta-potties, a large canister with the sanitizing blue chemical in it and a toilet seat attachment. They’re called groovers because they used to not have the seat. Use your imagination. Here’s a good article about them.
Holding it in: So you decided to go this route, eh? Think you can make it a day until you get back into town? That’s cool, but keep this in mind — If you decide to hold it in, water will absorb back into your body, dehydrating your poo, making it harder, which can lead to unnecessary constipation. Also, because your brain treats a stretched intestinal wall as a stimulus to excrete, a prolonged stretch will dull the signal to empty, and will result in more effort when it’s time to go. It’s not harmful to hold it in from time to time, but you shouldn’t make a habit of it.
What to Wipe With
1.) Hopefully, toilet paper.
2.) Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is a biennial forb that is native to Europe and Africa. It’s a common weedy plant in the United States and prefers well-lit disturbed soils. The soft, tomentose leaves make it nature’s version of your favorite triple-ply extra deluxe TP from your parents’ place. Except it’s right here, on the other side of that sagebrush over there. Go ahead… try it out and you’ll see that miles and miles away from your house (or another human being for that matter), you’ll feel right at home. You can also sleep well at night knowing that you contributed marginally to curbing the population of an invasive weed.
A word of caution: Be very careful to not use plants that you are not familiar with. For one, they can have adverse conditions and be harmful to your health. They may also be listed as endangered and under federal protection. I’m really preaching to the choir here and I trust that all you botanists-in-training will recognize that.
3.) Alright. You found a safe place to poo but you’re out of TP and the vegetation looks abrasive at best. It’s time to get creative. When my fellow technician Wyatt first suggested this, I thought he was just messing around. I thought it was some sick joke until I actually tried it so hear me out: rocks. A river rock, a chunky lump of upland basalt, it doesn’t really matter. It all works equally as well and there is no shame to it. So if the world ever puts you in that desperate position… just take the leap and join the club.
Just a few quick tips here. In the field, you are essentially reduced to pooing as our ancestors did. There is no tall porcelain structure to support you, so you have to essentially squat in order to go. Research has found that this is actually the healthiest posturing to poo because sitting puts pressure on your rectum and impairs bowel movement. The most stable and best way to squat is the 3rd world squat, a basic human movement which many of us cannot do. Try it. If you are one of those people, you may like to learn, or, you can always support yourself with a shovel/tree. Another problem concerns keeping your clothes clear from the line of danger. For this I would advise the following:
When crouching with your pants around your ankles, reach in from the front of your legs and grab the back part of your pants (middle of your belt) and pull it forward. This will keep your clothing clear of the danger zone.
Some Workplace Considerations
Out in the field, our bodies and minds have to put up with many factors, whether they be the heat, humidity, rain, mosquitos, fatigue, hunger, etc. Each one of these wears on us over the course of the day. The urge to go is just another one of these distractions – pulling your focus away from the task at hand, making you irritable, lowering morale, and negatively affecting your interactions with coworkers and ultimately your productivity and the quality of work you put out. Why put yourself through that?
I feel very fortunate to work in a crew where we talk about mostly anything. We spend looong days in the field — I’m talking regular 10-day monitoring trips. It’s impossible to not get a sense of everyone’s poo schedule. So when one of us is off beat, the others notice. Take it from me when I say it’s really nice to hear someone ask “Did you remember to go today?”. Honestly. For one, yes. Yes I did forget to go. But two, that means I won’t have the urge to go during the middle of the day when we are in the thick of monitoring. It is an unnecessary disruption to the workflow that can be mitigated and, like I said, a senseless tax on the brain to deal with the urge otherwise. I would invite you all to communicate openly and maturely about with topic with your coworkers.
Thanks for reading, y’all.
Michal Tutka 💩
Prineville, Oregon BLM