The Outhouse


OPINION — When I started writing this column twenty-odd years ago, I wanted to call it The Outhouse. My wife objected on the grounds that I was an idiot, which was a difficult argument to refute. So the column remains pretty much unnamed, although some papers have dubbed it Outdoor Outpost or some such. I still think The Outhouse is far more catchy, and offers an honest characterization of the majority of the column’s content.

Most of my more seasoned readers have probably used outhouses at some point, anyway. I’ve personally availed myself of such facilities on many occasions, and one of the things I learned, early on, was that it’s a good idea to check things out prior to commencement of festivities. Outhouses with wooden seats should be inspected for cracks, which can cause painful pinches, and any uninvited guests, such as wasps, lizards, and spiders, should be evicted pronto.

Shannon Stevens learned that lesson the hard way while visiting a backcountry outhouse just before Valentine’s Day. Shannon, her brother Eric, and his girlfriend were staying at Eric’s yurt in Alaska. Yurts are basically round, straight-walled tents, and are unlikely to contain indoor plumbing. So Eric built an outhouse about 150 feet away, hopefully downwind.

As soon as Shannon enthroned herself, so to speak, she was bitten in a very personal region, namely Haines, Alaska. Luckily she remembered the protocol prescribed by the Alaska Department of Being Bitten on the Behind, which is to immediately panic, scream, and run. So that’s what she did.

Outhouse Rules

Outhouse Rules

Shannon’s companions treated her wound, thinking she’d been attacked by a squirrel, or maybe a mink. Eric decided to take his headlight and find out what it was. As he walked toward the outhouse, the sinister da-dums from the movie Jaws could be heard in the background. Probably.

And when Eric raised the lid of the toilet, there it was, a great white shark.

Not really. It was a bear, staring at Eric from the outhouse basement. Which is not the prescribed location for bears, according to the Alaska Department of Acceptable Bear Locations. But critters don’t always follow the rules.

A bear awaiting his turn at an outhouse

A bear awaiting his turn at an outhouse

The bear evidently decided to use the outhouse for a den, which proves my theory that animals aren’t getting any smarter these days, just like people aren’t. You’d think a bear, with its keen sense of smell, would choose a less aromatic locale to hibernate for six months. Personally, I’d just as soon freeze to death. But then, I’m not a bear, most of the time.

But Shannon was lucky the bear didn’t do a lot more damage. According to the Alaska Department of People Being Attacked by Bears in Outhouses, she is the only human ever to encounter a bear in an outhouse and survive. She’s also the only human ever to encounter a bear in an outhouse. There is no Alaska Department of People Being Attacked by Bears in Outhouses, but that doesn’t affect my statistics.



Texas outhouses seldom contain bears, but they’re often home to some pretty irritating companions. One outhouse with which I was intimately familiar during my youth sat behind the old church of Christ building in Voca, Texas. It was a one-holer, but was always pretty much full of granddaddy longlegs spiders. Several hundred of them, at least, as I recall. My dad told me I shouldn’t worry about them, since they wouldn’t bite, but every time I used that outhouse I ended up with them crawling all over me, which may explain some of my current problems.

A two-holer I used periodically in Mason was home to quite a few scorpions and the occasional centipede, so I always checked things out pretty carefully there. It’s almost impossible to relax and do your business with the threat of a foot-long, green centipede, with ugly, yellow legs, making your acquaintance from the bottom up, if you get my drift. I would carefully stick my head into the hole on that one, just to make sure.

My mother grew up using an outhouse near Rochelle, Texas, back when toilet paper was a rare luxury, so corn cobs and old Sears catalogs were pressed into service, no pun intended. Once used, these items were deposited into a bucket, probably to keep from filling the basement too quickly. A box of kitchen matches was kept handy, to alleviate the aroma in the facility.

My grandmother looked out the kitchen window one day and noticed that the tin roof of the outhouse was lying flat on the ground. My aunt, who was about six years old at the time, had been striking matches in an effort to run off the flies, and throwing the burnt matches into the bucket. She had vacated the outhouse without realizing one of the matches had caught the paper on fire, and the outhouse burned to the ground.

Maybe I should revisit the idea of calling my column The Outhouse. My motto could be ‘Grin and bare it.’ After all, I’ve been told many times that’s where my column belongs, but I know that’s not true. Newspaper is way too thin . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and minister who prefers Charmin 2-ply. When you gotta go, go first class. Write to him at [email protected]

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