Nature Calls

Yesterday I was driving down a winding gravel road in rural Adams County, Illinois. I was lost in thought; the route I was following is thoroughly embedded in my mind these days and miles can go by without leaving a trace in my memory.

The mental state known as “being lost in thought” is a peculiarly human trait. Is it a good thing? Sometimes it can be, but the state can also lead to a disconnect from that Real World out there, a messy and disorganized set of places which fortunately contains those unrepeatable and beautiful alignments of time and location which are all too easy to miss.

Being lost in thought can have a malign effect upon the world. When those thoughts become entangled in endless loops of striving, ambition, and exploitation of both other people and places on earth they can lead to irreversible damage leavened by financial profit. The common mode of “business-like” practical thinking, in other words.

For better or worse, I’m not afflicted much by that particular mode of thought, tending more towards the aesthetic as a general rule. Head in the clouds? Not really that, it’s more that I try to stay aware of the cresting wave of the present moment — except when I become lost in thought!

I take refuge in the excuse that all of us are bundles of contradictions, some of us being more aware of that universal human condition than others.

Back to the gravel road: I gradually became uncomfortably aware that I had to take a piss. I kept my eye out for a secluded dip in the road, out of sight of farm-houses or farmers on tractors. I was trying to be reasonably discreet, you see!

I found a spot, got out of the car,stretched my legs a bit, and did my business, a golden stream of urine making pockmarks and small puddles in the dry white limestone dust. Certain butterflies will appreciate my liquid contribution to that stretch of road! There are worse roles to play than being, for a short time, a benefactor to the lepidopteran tribes.

Certain readers will be wrinkling up their noses and thinking, “I don’t want to hear about such icky reminders of human animality! Yuck! Go back to pretending to be a pristine soul inhabiting a body that is best ignored!”

There are two different ways of regarding our inescapable status as organisms, creatures inhabiting the earth along with the worms, reptiles, and birds. You can try to deny biological reality or you can acknowledge it as a necessary part of our existence.

Denial results in such intellectual aberrations as a belief in Heaven or a desire to be downloaded into a silicon matrix, both of which involve fantasy and willful ignorance of the power of Occam’s Razor, a keen blade which effectively deals with ideas with no repeatable proofs or any evidence other than words.

I have an optimistic nature and in general try to see advantages and benefits in circumstances beyond my control, such as the fact that I inhabit a body which periodically exudes a variety of substances, most of which are not appealing at first sight or smell.

So what are the good points of urination, you might well ask. There is the oft-ignored, or at least not talked about, feeling of well-being which follows such voiding of the bladder. You no longer are carrying around a sack of fluid waste. That insistent pressure is gone.

More pertinent, though, is that you are forced out of the mental world of day-to-day duties and activities. You have a bit of a time-out when nature calls. You can take advantage of this forced interlude and take stock of your life and environment. Of course this works better when you are outside, rather than in a marginally clean room with a hexagonally-tiled floor, surrounded my white porcelain structures with chromed handles.

I’ve made my point, such as it is, and I sense a certain restiveness in my readers.

“Okay, Larry, so you took a piss! I didn’t come here for this! Where are the photographs, the amusing dialogs and scenarios? Maybe a book review or a cool video?”

During my time-out period, standing by the side of the road heeding a nasty and unmentionable biological urge (I can’t resist a bit of irony here!), I saw a young Black Oak sapling, a tree which may never have had the privilege or (more commonly) bad luck of being observed closely by a human being. Quercus velutina is a coarse member of the oak tribe, a tree with crudely-designed but effective leaves and black and furrowed bark. The leaves look as if they were designed by children, the master designer looking on indulgently as they practice their craft. This particular tree had the abnormally large leaves common to very young trees fighting for whatever light they can glean from what its elders had let slip by. Like a scrawny dog, its ribs showing through mangy fur, lurking beneath a kitchen table and hoping for fragments of tossed or dropped food.

It was the range of colors which attracted my attention, rooted as I was for a minute or so to the spot. The green of the leaves’ centers was darkened with admixtures of black and blue. The rims of the leaves were changing first, a border of a deep red slowly spreading inwards. The colors were muted by the diffuse light from an overcast fall sky.

I shook off golden droplets and went back to the car to fetch my camera for a couple of quick shots. These colors and textures became the backdrop of my thoughts for the remainder of the day.



Filed under Essays and Articles, Photos, Plants, Quincy

20 responses to “Nature Calls

  1. Excellent excursion, Larry, from the quotidian to the sublime in the same moment. And I’m smiling as well!

  2. Great post, man. Couldn’t have said it better myself! I’ve made some of my best nature observations while taking a whiz.

  3. Thanks so much, Julian and Dave! I enjoyed writing this one, which incubated overnight; I woke up this morning having to take another leak, but immediately afterwards I sat down at the computer!

  4. bev

    The Black Oak leaves are beautiful!
    On my drive to the southwest, I found it interesting to see which states acknowledge the reality that humans do need somewhere to stop to take a piss. stopping on the side of an interstate is too risky and probably illegal. So what is a person to do when there are no rest areas. The state of New York provides many rest areas. Pennsylvania seems to have very few. Ohio and Indiana scored quite well. I believe Illinois and Missouri flunked. Oklahoma was Okay. Texas was dismal – there are many “picnic areas” on the interstate that crosses the panhandle, but no restroom facilities. C’mon people. Who stops for a picnic without needing to use the restroom?! New Mexico seemed promising, but some of the rest areas were closed. I saw a lot of this across the U.S. A sign of cutbacks? Does this mean that we need to cut back on our output as well?

  5. bev

    Oh, and I meant to say – great post on meditations associated with answering the call of nature along a wooded roadside, Where better to answer that call!

  6. Thanks for your kind remarks, Bev!

  7. Joan

    Stopping By the Woods …..
    On a Fall Evening

    If indeed pee time is ‘me time’
    In the wild to do one’s biz,
    Gender-wise, the favor granted
    Is a lot less hers than his is.

    Guy equipment is much simpler
    Like the male to female brain.
    A fellow need not wander far
    To find a spot to rain.

    Thirty seconds doesn’t grant much time
    For shallow thought or deep
    Though one might count the interval
    To watch the urine steep.

    Plus shaking off and zipping up
    But still, the time is brief
    Tween urge to purge and acting out
    That urge there on a leaf.

    The oak tree pics are great
    But I would gladly place a bet
    That the foliage in the pic at top
    Appears a bit more wet.

    Did you crop the upper photo
    For esthetics? To look neat?
    Or was it just too keep us all
    From gazing at your feet? 🙂

    To Bev: Glad you got home all right from your long trip! You are certainly right about Missouri’s roadside ‘facilities’ being sparse. I remember years ago the open right front and back door of our car parked at the side of the road was often the only bathroom stall for my two little boys. I like to tell myself, the roadside wildflowers grew better there the next year. 🙂

  8. bev

    Ha, excellent poem and so true, Joan. I’ve always thought there was some serious and practical unfairness in the design differences between male and female anatomy. The difference becomes especially problematic when you are on a long canoe trip with male companions. Much tricker for a woman to pee in a canoe as it usually involves some shore leave! I have read that one of the reasons women wore long dresses during the ages of coach and horse travel was that they were wearing their own private restroom for use during stops to rest, feed or water horses.
    Btw, I have been meaning to get back to answer some questions on my recent blog post – but you asked about wood for carving and the answer is Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus).

  9. Joan

    Bev, Thank you. I admire people who carve very much. Clay, you can always take away and put back on. Wood, and stone, not so much. (grin) BTW. I think I snuck another wood sculpture question on your blog comments while you were on the road. There is a small sculpture in the yard next to the stone mountain lion, which I can’t get enlarged enough to see. However, it looks like folk art, and it looks like it might be yours..and I’m dying to see it closer or at least know more about it. It’s an animal figure..sitting up.

  10. Joan

    P.S. The hoop skirt as portable bathroom. That’s just amazing! Who knew?

  11. Claire

    Tiny blue butterflies, right?

  12. Among others, Claire. It always seems paradoxical for such airy and brightly-colored creatures to be flocking around pee, dung, and carrion. De gustibus non est disputandum, as those Latin folks used to say.

  13. bev

    Joan, I think you may have seen the howling coyote from Mexico. It is a very colorful ceramic piece and has appeared in a photo or two on my blog.

  14. Joan

    Well, shoot! I thought it might be yours and thought it might be a wolf howling but it was hard to discern from far away, what animal it was. Oh well. I love Mexican folk art..just don’t own any but some small bark paintings. Still, it’s a nice little item and should you dig up any more of your woodcarvings to photograph give us a holler.

  15. A post on this blog is not complete
    ‘Til Joan has had her rhyming say;
    Poetic comments can’t be beat —
    Sun is shining, she makes her hay.

    A bit weak, but verse is not my metier!

  16. Joan

    Well, a double rhyme is not easy, Larry. And you did it. You and Ogden Nash can work on the meter later. (grin)

  17. Jeff

    At least you’re not going into length about emptying your bowels by the side of the road- Whoops!- Better not encourage him!
    When some friends and I purchased our 40 acres in Northeast Missouri, the 25 acres of timber and brush had a great many young Black Oaks. Over the course of a few years, though, a blight spread from tree to tree (root transmission) and killed all of them (probably Oak Wilt, although it’s said to affect Red Oaks, too, and I didn’t see much die-off in them). It made it handy cutting firewood, though; the trees were all 6-10″ in diameter, perfect stove wood size. I used to call them “Dog-shit Oak”, because the split wood had a sour, almost nasty smell, not like the fresh tang of White Oak.

  18. Joan

    uh uh, Jeff. Could this be true?

    Does a bear poop in the woods?
    If he does, he’d best be wary
    Cause there might be competition
    In these woods, because of Larry.

    We’ll know at least a part of this
    That’s one thing that’s for sure
    Because Larry will then blog it,
    While the Bear? He will demur.

    That little oak tree Larry photographed with the huge leaves looks like my baby burr oak. It was like a kid with big huge baseball gloves on.

  19. This is a great thread. That’s twice in one day Joan has made me belly-laugh.

  20. Joan

    Thanks Dave! It’s Larry’s hi falutin’ subject matter that inspires all of these commenters to come out and play .

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