Friday, June 26, 2009

Lessons from the Latrine


Toilet Facilities: Use latrines at designated campsites. Latrines are not garbage cans and should be used for the intended purpose only. Personal waste items such as cigarettes, cotton swabs, or plastic feminine products should always be packed out and should never go into the latrines. If you're not near a latrine, dig a small hole 6 to 8 inches deep at least 150-200 feet or more back from the water's edge. When finished, fill hole and cover with needles and leaves.


We’ve been in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for the last eight days with fourteen teens and another couple.
If you’ve never been to the BWCA, you cannot imagine its rugged beauty or the rhythm of life in there. It's as close to the wilderness as we can get in Minnesota. There is no electricity, no internet, no plumbing. It’s the world much as God created it. The only “modern” conveniences found at each ranger-sanctified campsite are the iron campfire grate and the latrine, set a safe distance from the grate.
Incidentally, the Canadian BWCA does not have ranger-sanctified campsites and so has no modern conveniences. Campers build their own campfires and dig their own toilet-areas.
Traveling through the BWCA involves paddling a canoe and portaging (walking while carrying everything necessary for the trip).
It’s nearly impossible to imagine what it means to portage with a week’s supplies for eighteen people. Having done it for three years, I still cannot imagine it. But I can do it. Barely, though, at the beginning of the week. My 100-pound pack and I struggle. If I fall, it’s over. I have to wait with my pack -- sometimes face-down in the mud -- until someone comes along to help me heft it and place it on my back so I can continue the journey. Though I try to always carry my own load, sometimes someone has to help me finish a portage. That's okay. God wants us to know our limitations and when to ask for help.
As we consume the food, my pack gets lighter. I earn my light pack by the end of the trip.
Much to my surprise, I like portaging. I like the physical struggle. I like the feeling of earned sweat dripping off my nose. I like counting my paces and marking my journey to the other side.
I like canoeing too. I have my own rhythm, so I like to be in the front of the canoe. I don’t want to watch others not paddling or lazy-paddling. I want to count my fifty or seventy strokes and switch to the other side for fifty or seventy strokes. I like paddling continuously until we reach our destination.
I do not like visiting the latrine.
I would imagine no one really likes it.
I’m not sure they all struggle the way I do. In fact I know they don't. My seven borrowed warrior-girl daughters treat the latrine like a normal part of camp life. Or they pee in the water.
Visits to the latrine consume my thoughts when I’m not counting paces or paddle strokes.
This year, I was determined that I would go to the latrine by myself like a big girl. In the past, I’ve always asked Joe to accompany me. He does, but grudgingly. I felt ready to be independent. He's never really enjoyed needy me as much as he enjoys warrior me.
First, I decided to visit the latrine twice a day. That means no drinking unnecessary drinks.
Second, I put sanitizer spray, a lighter, and my tiny lantern in my toilet paper baggie -- my bag of goods. The sanitizer and the lantern I carried for obvious reasons. The lighter I use to burn ticks off the latrine before using it. For some reason, everything except the toilet paper disappeared by the end of the week.
Third, I planned my visits to occur during daylight hours. The first visit would occur after breakfast. The second following dinner.
Fourth, I started my pep talks before we left home: I can do this. I’m strong. I’m fearless. I’m a warrior. Those ticks don’t stand a chance. It’s only a few seconds a day. I can do this. I was ready.
Things went well the first two days. I managed my visits efficiently. My courage came at a cost: I sprinted down the path back to camp, slowing only as I caught site of the other campers.
The third day I had a problem. The latrine in the third camp was at the peak of a hill. As I sat for my morning visit (and don't be gross; we're talking about a visit for number 1), the sun broke through the light clouds and shone on me like a spotlight. For the second time in my life, I was crippled by performance anxiety.
I couldn’t let the latrine defeat me. I went to my happy place. Sitting there on the latrine with my shirt over my face, blocking any potential odors, and my baggie of goods at my feet, I dreamed of Mexican breezes and recalled rhythmic ocean sounds. I contemplated life with the seven borrowed daughters. I imagined the kind of husbands my brave and thoughtful sons will become. I made a great list of future blog topics.
And in those moments, I discovered that I am no longer a latrine-a-phobe. I can visit the latrine any time I get the urge. On our layover day, I visited the latrine a record-breaking three times. Perhaps I’ll never visit the latrine in the dark or for number 2, but we all have our limits.
Now that I’ve conquered my latrine phobia, discussions starting with the words "next year, we should..." no longer make me queasy.
Much to my dismay, I forgot all the great future blog topics as soon as I made it safely back to camp. Maybe next year I'll throw a notebook and pencil in my baggie of goods.

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