Jess Walter: The Urban Outdoors

Someone once called golf a good walk spoiled. But I’ll tell you what really spoils a good walk: man scat. Big. Human. Turds. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been walking along the river only to find that someone has loafed on the trail.

“This is my number one outdoors issue,” I told the editors of Out There Monthly when they first contacted me about writing this column. (Full disclosure: Initially, I returned their call because I misheard the magazine’s name and thought I was being publicly linked with Tom Cruise again.) As I explained to the editors, I consider myself an “urban outdoorsman,” a man whose entire relationship with nature takes place within the city. I am king of the white-trash frontier.

So I have rafted the mighty Spokane towing an inner tube of beer. I have fished beneath bridges for bottom-feeders so loaded with heavy metals that you weigh them with a Geiger counter. I have sledded the great peaks of Manito Park and watched drunken rock climbers scale the brick faces of those handful of old buildings that we haven’t turned into Diamond lots. This is what I want to write about, I told the editors, the outdoor opportunities and issues right here in the bespoiled heart of our city. And the biggest issue I see right now is  this public display of defecation, the trail of turds. I have lived on the river most of my life. I’ve taken thousands of walks along our great urban stream and have seen man scat roughly, oh,  every single freaking time.

For years, I did what anyone does when I saw trail dung. I ran away. But hunters don’t run when they come across deer droppings. Conservationists and biologists don’t run from bear scat. They study it. They poke at it with sticks, take it back to the lab to dissect and analyze. There is no better way to learn about something than to study its shit.

So, in my desire to understand why people crap on trails, I began crouching along the offending stool like those trackers hired by posses in old Westerns. (It’s usually a stoic Indian played by Ricardo Montalban, who holds up a broken twig and then calmly announces that three men and a mule passed by nine hours ago, that one of the men was wearing dance tights and that the mule was clinically depressed.)

Here’s what I’ve learned by studying path poop:

1. The people who do this are either horribly backed up or this is a breed of shitting giants (I mistook one of these things for a fumbled football and in a fit of muscle memory, nearly pounced on it.)

2. Too much Fritos, not enough salad.

3. Trail dumpers exclusively drink malt liquor. There are always malt liquor cans nearby. If I were in the malt liquor industry, I’d stop marketing to rap fans and go for the lucrative outdoor shitter market.


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