Polite Outhouse in a Tree

Lee Foote
3 min readOct 20, 2023

Sitting on a toilet seat four meters in the air, braced up against a tree, I marveled at my friend Marty’s ingenuity at building a two-story outhouse with a window-view across a lake. There is no human occupancy below, just a lot of storage capacity produced by a guy who just didn’t want to dig much of a hole in rocky ground I guess. To add curiosity to practicality, he has side-by-side seats so one can dawdle there holding hands with a close friend while evacuationally occupied. Actually, his thinking was to use one side until it filled a bit then shut it down to oxidize while the other side was used. As I sat and daydreamed, I recalled a junior high essay question “What would happen if gravity ceased on earth?” My essay title was “Outhouse Crisis!”.

The Poster Foundry published a calendar with monthly photographs of the most scenic, remarkable pottys around the world; Open views of the Grand Tetons, vine-covered garden loos with stained glass, simple drops into crystal blue tidal lagoons, and modernistic Swedish sauna-like woodland water closets. I wanted to defile them all on a worldwide vacation of excrementation!

There is some inherent taboo tinged with embarrassment about outhouses that generates euphemisms- some of which I have used here — loo, water closet, bathroom, crapper, relief station, latrine, potty, and possibly my favorite “Long-drop”. The long-drop concept however has a certain chilling repercussion of splash-back, a thought that makes liquid-filled porta-pottys particularly frightening. Even the word “ablution” has a certain ominously onomatopoeic ring to it. My five rambunctious brothers would certainly consider locking a sibling in the porta-potty or even turn it over while occupied! Porta-potties do not qualify as real outhouses to me. Too synthetic, chemical, enclosed, noisy, and commercial. Practical and appreciated in a bind but not aesthetic.

Potty humor is alive and well and outhouses have their own sub-genre and here is one I liked for it’s gender equity:

A mountain man with suspenders, bowler hat and trailing beard was getting a cussing from his wife that the outhouse was “broken”. After a careful inspection he replied “tain’t broke”. She insisted he stick his head in the hole and look around, which he did — no problem seen — but when he pulled his head out, his beard snagged in crack in the seat and *boink* plucked a tuft of his whiskers. “OW!!” His wife just smirked “Aggr’vatin’ ain’t it!”

Apparently during the privations of the US Civil War (what a decidedly un-civil route to justice!) when gunpowder ran low there was a process of excavating abandoned outhouses to retrieve the nitrate concentrated from dried urine to get the saltpeter (Potassium Nitrate) component of gunpowder. How ignoble to be killed with a piss-propelled bullet!

Riffing on saltpeter, an offshore oil rig worker told me of his 10-day shifts of all male work crews in the Gulf of Mexico. He insisted you should never eat the meat on a rig though because they laced it with “softpeter” . . . hmmm, a fitting malapropism.

I appreciate a roomy, well-ventilated outhouse though. While so ensconced I have had unannounced outhouse visitations by cool birds, bush-tailed woodrats (AKA pack rats), and even watched deer wander past my closeted self. Of course, there are some wildlife outhouse concerns too. The protected, den-like environment with high humidity is a great environment for wasp nests and certain spiders. Purportedly, Black Widow spiders find the microenvironment between lid and base a perfect lurking spot. Bites to the male anatomy are more common than would be expected by chance alone. Ouch! That is worse than a good beard plucking! Snakes, rodents, raccoons and even the occasional hibernating bear have been reported in loos. Frightening eh? See what I did there? Reduced the outhouse wait time.

What else do I love about these outdoor relief stations? It makes me feel connected and functional linking back to the same earthly soil from which our food grew out of. Like an earthworm swimming though its soil food, we position ourselves in the processing chain as a unit in the circle of life, however, I don’t expect the Lion King to sing an ode to the outhouse, but I just might yodel a tune out of the wooden crescent moon.

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Lee Foote

Southerner by birth, Northerner by choice, Casual person by nature.