On Life and Latrines

My parents have a long standing love affair with The Smith River in Montana. They have floated it every year for the last decade, maybe longer. I used to give them unmitigated grief that I was never invited to join them. I would hear the stories. See the pictures. Watch the videos. But I was never invited.

Eventually I wore them down and they did invite me. Only I was 8 months pregnant, so needless to say I couldn’t make the trip. But thanks anyway, yall!

A few years later they invited me again, but I was recovering from a car accident at the time and had just been told I needed back surgery. Again, going to have to decline. But hey, no really, thanks for asking. Appreciate it!

You can imagine it became quite the family joke.

IMG_0330Until two years ago. They finally extended me an invitation to join their Smith trip when I was both able-bodied and unpregnant. Heaven!! 60 miles of water, five days of fishing, four nights of camping. Just the transcendental soul-scrubbing adventure I needed at the time.

And it was totally sublime. The weather was great. The scenery was great. The laughs—ha! The campfire life, dreamy. I loved it all. I could go on and on about the fishing and the camaraderie and the scenery. But I think I am going to focus on the latrines.

At the outset, our venerable outfitter gave his traditional speech about the outdoor loo. The advice was simple, “Don’t look down and enjoy the view.”

Logically I understood what he was telling me. At each spot they had selected the most prime real estate for the al fresca toilet-box. From that particular vantage point you enjoyed the best views of the canyon. Yeah yeah yeah, whatever. If you say so. But I was still pretty much ‘all-business’ when it came to the communal outdoor toilet-box.

And as for not looking down? Ugh! Why did he have to say that? Of course the first thing I did was look down. Egads! Quel horeur! My eyes! My eyes! What have these people been eating? And holy shit, we’re all on the same trip! Did I eat that too?

IMG_0417It wasn’t until the last night that I caught the magic of the Smith River latrines. It was the most gorgeous campsite, with the best spot for the toilet-box. I was so wind-burned and sun-burned and gamey by that point that I was pretty loosey goosey in general. I had long since given up looking down into the toilet-box. You could hear nothing but roaring river water and endless laughter. And while I was there at the latrine, enjoying the sounds of fish, friends and family, an eagle came gliding by.


A few weeks after the trip I had to give a speech at an Executive Womens conference up in Dallas. I think I was supposed to inspire them in their careers and help them with strategic planning. There I was in a hotel ballroom with a headset mic and about one hundred bright-eyed, bushy-tailed women hanging on my every word. I couldn’t help it. I had to call an audible. I abandoned my planned presentation and started telling them about my trip on the Smith. All about how it took a decade to navigate pregnancy and work and divorce and motherhood just to be able to go. All about the fishing and the camaraderie and the scenery.

And of course I had to tell them about the latrines. My mistake of glancing down. The views. The eagle. And off the cuff I concluded with, “So I suppose that whether we are talking about Life, The Workplace or Outdoor Latrines, my advice is the same. You have to remember to slow down to enjoy the view. Remember that blessings come in the most unexpected places. And don’t ever involve yourself in other people’s shit.”

After the session, a woman from the board called me aside to talk. Uh oh. I was pretty sure I was in trouble for saying the word “shit”. Hey, I was an outside consultant, what could they really do to me? Oh but this woman was a badass. In two years of working with this organization I’d never seen her smile. She was a dean of some really important college in California — suddenly I couldn’t remember which one. And she’d been on the cover of magazines. Oh damn, which magazines? Think. Think.

Well, she didn’t want to scold me for shit. She wanted to talk about fishing! She was a flyfisherman, an avid bird hunter, and she trained field trial dogs for competition. She had fished practically every river in the West that I’d ever heard of, plus I few I pretended to know when she named them. And in California. New England. New Zealand. South America. She’d fished everywhere.

IMG_0393 Everywhere except The Smith River. Apparently it was her life-long dream and she wanted to hear every single detail of my trip. We talked for over two hours. It was one of those conversations that just makes you happy to be alive. That you will remember forever and someday write about on a blog. She was, in fact, a complete badass. And because of my story about outdoor toilets, I had her complete attention for the better part of an afternoon. Once again, the Smith River latrines brought an unexpected blessing.

I was never invited to speak at that conference again. But I have been invited to join family and friends on another Smith Trip! In fact, I leave for Montana later this morning, so you all behave yourselves while I’m away. I’ll try to come back with stories that don’t involve toilets and bodily functions. But hey, I’m not making any promises.

Catch you on the flipside.

14 Responses to “On Life and Latrines”
  1. Dash says:

    Hope you have a great trip!

  2. oatka says:

    Have a wonderful trip, and take lots of pictures.

    “Catch you on the flipside.” I have a fear that somehow that’s in reference to a toilet seat, and if so, I hope not to be caught anywhere near it’s flipside!

  3. Anthony says:

    Just to let everyone know – I have contacted the local authorities in Montana to warn them of a Texas Chick is en route to the Smith River. Tight lines darlin, and make sure let your magic wand work its magic for big takes.

    We look forward to your stories and photo update.

  4. margaret says:

    flows are high- that is in the smith river and it is snowing here.

  5. Ah, the toilet routine on a river trip.
    Back in 1998, I went on a 10-day father-daughter “bonding trip” on the Main Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. Even back then, it was “pack it in – pack it out” meaning EVERYTHING.
    We had to learn how to go to the bathroom all over again. Since “storage” space was at a premium, it was pee in the river (yes; it’s millions of gallons of dilution vs. going where you sleep and eat). Then you take care of the rest.
    The typical set-up was an ammo box with a toilet seat (and a bag of lime).
    The river name for this contrivance is a “groover.” There is a good reason for that name.
    Here is my story from way back then. (This was before blogging so it’s a PDF that MAY need to be rotated to view – sorry.)
    And, yes, it was one of the greatest views I have had while taking care of my business…as long as I didn’t look down!

  6. This is some fine writing right here. Hope you catch some hogs on your trip.

    EO Carp

  7. Ken Lokensgard says:

    Great blog. Just found it. I grew up, and grew as a fly fisherman, in Helena. Like yours, my family occasionally floated the Smith. Beautiful county, and I’m lucky my work takes my back regularly. I look forward to reading this blog in the future.

  8. Ken Lokensgard says:

    “Country” I meant, not “county.”

  9. J.R. Salzman says:

    I floated the smith last year and had the same experience (except the fishing wasn’t so great).

  10. Smithhammer says:

    Damn entertaining piece o’ writing there FFC. The Smith has been on my list for a while now.

  11. BShay says:

    What;s all that white stuff on that hill? Salt?

    Looks like a lovely time. The only place around here named “Craig” is an auto repair joint who ripped me off. I’m sure it’s not the same…

  12. Anthony says:

    Glad to see you were able to get some slabs, cold ones, and get away from civilization. After you get yourself rested and realize the Texas heat is for real, provide us with some clever wit to get our banter back. I am sure the rest of FFC followers are ready to heat up the keyboards again.

  13. Great blog. Just found it. I grew up, and grew as a fly fisherman, in Helena. Like yours, my family occasionally floated the Smith. Beautiful county, and I’m lucky my work takes my back regularly. I look forward to reading this blog in the future.

  14. Landing Mats says:

    Came across your blog, and it seems like you had a good trip! The Smith River is a beautiful place for family reunions. I’ve subscribed to your blog, and hope to read more great posts like this in the future.

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