There was a time not so long ago when Hollyburn Ridge likely had more outhouses proudly standing their ground than any place this side of the Yukon. Just wander back behind any cabin on the mountain and somewhere hidden in the shadows beside a stump or two, one will find a weathered, wooden enclosure perched on stilts. Why haven’t these humble little huts received the recognition they deserve? After all, how many communities can still claim to have such a multitude within their midst? It’s a shame, really. Given their vital function, haven’t these quaint woodland stalls gotten a bum rap? When was the last time ‘outhouse’ and ‘world-class’ were referenced in the same sentence? Is there no heritage designation for these structures? To those who concern themselves with such matters, this is no piddling affair. It’s doubtful we’ll ever see these inconspicuous shacks featured in an architectural digest, but they’re importance can’t be overstated. Until the call of nature impels us to assume the initiative, nothing else this life-affirming is so routinely taken for granted as the simple, shingled commode.
It may be the crude abode that dares not make its presence known, but to visit Hollyburn Ridge is to discover an indispensable assemblage of these irregular piles of wood. Just think how much the unassuming outhouse has inspired humankind. Countless songs have been written about it; ‘Please don’t tear that little brown building down’; cute expressions coined; ‘Built like a brick s—house’; execrable limericks composed; ‘The fellow wore nothing but skivvies/As he trotted out to the privy’ and evocative euphemisms devised; ‘I’m off to see a man about a horse’. Not only that, but it would be a gross disservice to overlook the many great artworks conceived within the confines of some dungy outdoor lavatory. Just consider for a moment Rodin’s ‘The Thinker.’
Also bear in mind that these rustic outdoor conveniences enjoy pride of place. And, woe betide anyone who would perpetrate mischief against a person’s outhouse. If these homely asylums are not inviolable, what is? Isn’t it a relief just knowing there are sanctuaries scattered throughout the forest to which an individual can retreat without incurring any expense? Let’s give credit where credit is due. Find a well-built biffy containing a tobacco tin full of dry TP and you’ve found just about the cheapest four season resort anywhere around. When the need arises, there’s practically no better place to spend time. And, the best part is, there’s no queue and you’ll never need a plunger. Besides that, they’re economical to build and easy to maintain.
Undoubtedly, there’s a modest downside to these woodland water closets not least for reasons of personal necessity. In summer, the sitter must often contend with spiders, flies, curious squirrels and perhaps the occasional skunk. In wintertime, the flies and other creatures may have retreated, but not us stubborn humans. What a joy it is to roll out of a warm, comfy sleeping bag at four in the morning, then stumble through a snowy, frigid night with only a flashlight for companionship, just to sit alone shivering spasmodically in the creeping cold.
But, on cloudy or moonless nights, when the ghostly woodlands are damp as dew and dark as a sump-digger’s armpits, those musty, cramped quarters can look downright inviting. You’ve got to admit that even when vacillation and inclement weather mar the moment, hunkering down on that elevated thunder mug still beats squatting over a damp, bumpy log with your backside fully exposed to the elements. So, as long as you’re on the can safe and sound, freedom of thought and movement are yours to enjoy. What could be more satisfying? In any case, lumbering off to a lonely loo in the middle of the night is the very essence of Spartan discipline and a practise that makes tough mountain folk just that much tougher. And, by virtue of occupancy, that lowly outhouse is at once transformed into an impregnable redoubt; a forest stronghold where no one can touch you or wants to.
Up on the ridge, those indispensable timberline toilets have seen many changes in the last hundred years. Even the concept of ‘just in time’ has taken on a whole new meaning. Gone are the days when one wiled away those precious moments perusing Eatons’ mail order catalogue. Nowadays, it’s all about checking e-mail on a cell phone. When push comes to shove, the outhouse remains the last bastion for those with personal business to attend to; a secure refuge to which one can always flee during times of turmoil. That simple, oval space is the great equalizer; the ultimate expression of egalitarianism.
You may be rich and famous. People may crave your company and hang on each and every word. You may be the nicest, most magnanimous person in the world, but when that all-consuming urge strikes, you’re on your own.
Just think back to one of those glorious, sunny days when everything seems right with the world. Ensconced on that smooth, wooden seat invigorated by an earthy forest fragrance gently wafting through every nook and cranny, relaxation just seems to happen without even thinking about it. As one listens with delight to the muted murmur of evergreen boughs nudged by a delicate breeze and the cheerful chatter of mountain songbirds reverberating through the woods, one can almost feel Mother Nature’s soft caress.
As far as that secluded woodland throne is concerned, there are few other places where one can rest on their laurels and think pleasant thoughts. Existence takes on a sense of timelessness. One can let down their guard and be completely composed. Apart from the very obvious, a secluded outdoor commode’s utter solitude facilitates endless reflection, contemplation and introspection. Rooted for as long as it takes in that crude confessional, troubles are purged, obstacles overcome, ideas flushed out, internal dialogues parsed and final decisions determined. Inside that lofty, wood-panelled shelter purpose-built for self-expression, where else is a person able to entertain romantic notions, daydream about far-off places or simply gather wool without constant interruption? All things considered, is there any better place to exalt over triumphs and brood over failures or simply meditate on one’s place in the great scheme of things? Not in this lifetime. Finally, it’s a forum ideally suited to self-disclosure, especially for those individuals whose only voice of authority is their own.
Despite the obvious nuisance of clambering up into a decrepit hut six or more feet off the ground, where else can so much gratification be derived with so few drawbacks? Talk about the perfect place to cogitate! Where do you suppose Shakespeare was when inspiration struck? If the outdoor latrine was good enough for the Bard, isn’t it good enough for the rest of us?
Some folks view the simple one-holer as nothing more than a peculiar building arbitrarily erected in the bush, but they don’t know diddley. To those who own one, these moss-laden crappers aren’t just impersonal objects propped up out back for their occasional convenience; they’re part of the family. Numerous backwoods biffies bear a classy name like The Drop Zone. But named or not, cabin owners take personal pride in occupying one that’s unique. Though pedants and persnickety people generally vilify these ramshackled facilities as being odious, primitive and unsightly, they’d be first to make a beeline for one should their innards suddenly get a little slack.
So, next time a toast is proposed, stand up, raise your glass and speak from your guts: ‘here’s to the outhouse - bottoms up!’ After all, year after year in all kinds of weather, that old shack holds up its end, just so whoever happens along looking for a place to park theirs will find relief awaits them.
The fellow wore nothing but skivvies
As he trotted out to the privy
Then gripping despair
For ahead loomed a bear
Who thought the poor chap he would divvy.