“I didn’t realize it would be like the Oregon Trail,” my co-chaperone drily notes.
“What,” I ask, tightening my backpack strap, “you mean marching for hours?”
“No, I didn’t realize they’d all have dysentery.”
We’re sheepdogging six little girls along a local hiking trail. Two hundred fifty children from their school have been released into the wild on this autumn morning, with only a dedicated cadre of volunteer parents to save them from being eaten by pumas.
“Certain things must be learned outside the classroom,” declared the Head of School via Twitter.
In theory, I completely agree.
In practice, the only thing our six charges seem to be learning is how to relieve themselves in the woods. We’re a half-hour past the trailhead’s vault toilet when:
“I have to go,” announces one.
“Uh, how badly?”
“I reeeealllly have to go,” she plaints, hopping from foot to foot in her purple hiking boots.
“Okay. Does anyone else have to go?”
Four little hands fly up. My co-chaperone and I exchange shrugs.
“All righty then. Um, how many of you have gone potty outdoors before?”
“Well, then, we’re about to have a group lesson in using Nature’s Ladies’ Room. I have only one condition . . . ”
“Please, please, please do not tell your parents that the only thing you learned today was how to go potty in the woods. Deal?”
I am not at all confident this is what the Head of School had in mind. But I’m carrying toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and plastic bags in my giant frame pack, so we’ve got this.
Behind a handy stand of boulders, I gather the five of them ’round and give them a step-by-step:
“First, everybody find a friendly rock.”
With much giggling and a couple of changes of friendly rocks, they all take care of business. We deal with our toilet paper, squirt sanitizer on a circle of small grubby hands, and head back to the trail. I feel like Mountain Mama Extraordinaire for nineteen minutes. Then:
“I have to go.”
It’s the holdout who did not have to go twenty minutes before.
“So do I.”
Okay. Three little girls and I troop into a stand of pines. I ask the veterans to explain the procedure to our newcomer. They do so with the glowing zeal of new converts. Everybody again takes care of business.
All is well for another half-mile, then:
“I have to go Number Two.”
“I have to go again.”
Sweet hell, really?
This time, we must go farther afield to a shallow gully, where we find brush cover, deep duff, and digging sticks all in the same place. We convene again and I explain the procedure for a Number Two. Two little girls finish their Number Ones in quick order. Hand sanitizer is dispensed. We wait for our third pioneer. And wait. And wait. Frequent calling into the woods ensures that she is fine, just taking care of business.
Since we’re on the topic, I spend a few minutes showing the girls that we’re not the only ones who think this is a great place to poop. We find, in quick order, the leavings of deer (or maybe elk), and fox (or maybe coyote).
I am amazed, as I am every time, by how much you can see within ten minutes’ drive of a grocery store.
Further, as the girls exclaim over what a bear (or deer) does in the woods, I realize that I’ve just passed on an actual piece of woodlore to my daughter and her friends.
I mull this over as we rejoin our group. My co-chaperone raises an inquiring brow. His brood moved here a few weeks ago from Los Angeles. My brood moved here eight years ago from Florida. I think all four parents are keenly aware of how decent life can be in this unapologetic cultural backwater.
“For the next three minutes. You know . . . these little girls have no idea how lucky they are.”
“They do not,” he quietly agrees.
And down the trail we continue, led by our children, into the Out There.
If your kids are like mine . . . . You need to be ready for a backcountry squat at a moment’s notice.