When I was little, we had a children’s book called “Everyone Poops,” by Taro Gomi. You probably know it, because everyone knows it: The captivating illustrations of deer pooping on the move, babies pooping in their diapers and one-humped camels pooping one-humped poops. After all, everyone poops, although I do remember there being a curious lack of human females in that book. Girls don’t poop, it would seem. Rainbows and butterflies is what it’s all about. We don’t fart, either.
I think the book was supposed to diffuse society’s inherent discomfort with the notion of excretion, and educate us all into, perhaps, NOT laughing at the mention of poop, diarrhea, dingleberries, turds, shit, ass apples, dookies…(naturally, as I write, I’m exploding with fits of giggles in the middle of White Mountain Café and insisting to my friend sitting across from me that I am, in fact, an adult.)
Just a few weeks ago, I brought up this very topic with my mother, pondering aloud, “Why do we grow up thinking that poop is funny?” After a brief discussion we concluded that poop simply is hilarious, and we sat there, laughing, sharing a pivotal mother-daughter moment.
Incidentally, human manure is a favorite topic of conversation amongst caretakers. One of the most important duties of a caretaker is to manage the human waste composting system that the AMC has implemented at all of its shelter and tent sites. Secretly (or maybe, not so secretly) this is one of the biggest reasons why we are even up there at all. The privy provides a singular location at which hikers can relieve themselves. This helps decrease the negative environmental impact of hundreds of hikers passing through fragile alpine areas and scattering their bowel movements all over the shallow top soil of the mountains. The composting system of the privy provides a means for rotating the waste through a very deliberate cycle of decomposition that ends with finally dispersing the resulting “humus” back into the environment – a small peace offering to Mother Nature in exchange for our destruction of her lands.
On an ambulance, EMTs jest about blood and gore in order to cope with the monstrosities of the job. Similarly, caretakers enjoy de-stressing by managing to integrate poop into almost every conversation, as a means for psychologically handling the experience of stirring, chopping, and mixing 70 gallons of human waste at a time. This also helps combat the occurrence of feverish dreams about mounds of human feces glinting in the sunlight, manically preventing you from sleeping at night.
Maybe that’s just me.
But you’d be surprised by the capability of a 70 gallon bucket of poop to instill inspiration. The repetition of methodical chopping and the strange beauty of witnessing this life cycle allows the caretaker to almost transcend toward a peaceful, zen-like trance.
“I kind of go into a zone, and get pissed when people disturb me,” admits Liberty Springs caretaker Stephan Grant when asked about his experience doing a “run” – that is, the experience of emptying the bin beneath the privy and, shovel-full by shovel-full, homogenizing the waste with dry bark to absorb the moisture in order to prep the sewage for adequate decomposition.
Doing a run takes patience and is one of the most tedious tasks of caretaking. The first time I pulled the bin out to homogenize its contents, I blanched and had to turn away, dry heaving almost to the point of vomiting, certain that I was not cut out for this. Chicken poop I could handle just fine. Human poop seemed like an entirely different story altogether.
But eventually, you develop your little immunities and you hone your ability to dawn your Poop Face before commencing a run (the sort of caretaker equivalent to putting on one’s “game face”) – and the next thing you know, you’re pausing to lean in a little closer, utterly mesmerized by the swirling natural brown hues, light to dark, fringed with green, bedazzled with little yellow stars, a beautiful masterful painting…
(Here you may or may not dry heave again when your reverie slams shut like a dusty, rotting book and you realize those enchanting little stars are bits of corn, and those green swirls are probably the result of digestion gone wrong, and over to the side there’s a pair of dirty underwear that someone evidently decided to use as toilet paper, and an entire pop tart has suddenly emerged from the deep, a little blueberry surprise.)
Taro Gomi probably had it right in his attempt to develop increased comfort with the idea of human waste. Perhaps the most profound result of composting sewage manually is the realization that many of us live totally disconnected from the notion that we operate in a world of cycles. It is beyond easy to leave our remnants in the toilet and then wave goodbye as we flush them away to some mysterious abyss, never again to ponder where, exactly, our waste is going, and what that transitional process might entail, and what kind of labor it may involve, and what kind of impact it could have. I, like many before me, have found comfort in the blissful ignorance of allowing certain things to remain mystified and vague, as a sort of method of shunning my own accountability, shirking my own responsibility to consider my personal footprint on the my surrounding environment and on the natural world that sustains me.
With the intent of subtly undermining the importance of the work that caretakers do, hikers often joke to me that my job title should just be “poop stirrer.” I’ll rock the unofficial title with pride, and you better not forget it; I’m the one that’ll be chopping your shit tomorrow morning, so feel free to tip me substantially when you leave!
Check out the AMC Trails blog entry, It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it: Training the 2015 Caretakers
I created a new “About” page that you can find on the menu above, briefly detailing the premise of Quinnthegirl.com
Some words of gratitude are in order:
A big thanks to Lars Hogblom for designing my little Quinn the Girl logo!
Also, thanks to Steve Grant for being my emergency, on-call editor.
And finally, thank you readers — I’ve had over 260 individuals visit my blog this summer so far, with over 500 views. This is a highly unexpected and greatly appreciated feat for me!
All the best,
Quinn the Girl