I’ll never forget the first time I saw it — it was love at first sight.
It was July, and we’d arrived on the top of Coolwater Ridge in the Nez-Perce Clearwater National Forest. Mountains rolled off in every direction, and purple fireweed danced in the cool mountain breeze. The burnt remains of alpine fir stood as black lines in a brushy green landscape.
And that’s where I saw it — the most glorious outhouse in all of Idaho.
Glorious in its roughness and ruin, I mean. Outhouses these days are so tidy and pleasant — nothing like the “squeek bangs” I remember from my childhood, rickety wooden structures that some of us can credit with our ability to hold our breath for long periods of time while squatting.
But this one, it put all of those to shame. The walls and floor had holes in it, the toilet was held together with duct tape, and there wasn’t even a door. I assumed no one used it anymore, but I was never brave (or stupid) enough to check. I just knew the bushes in the area provided a vastly preferable option.
Words can’t describe how it feels to encounter something this beautiful. Yes, the view of the mountains fill you with awe, but there’s another feeling that comes when you stumble upon perfection. This was the most outhouse-y outhouse I could imagine — perfect in its condition, perfect in its location; it was truly magnificent.
And as people do when they see celebrities, I pulled out my camera to get a selfie with it. I have a whole series of outhouse selfies, taken with various friends and family we’d bring to that location over the years. It’s just too perfect not to appreciate. It inspires dismay and delight in equal measure.
Then two years ago, lightning started a wildfire in that area. We’d spent enough time up on that mountain to be worried for all we could lose. But I was especially worried about my outhouse. Trees and shrubs all grow back. But the glory of that outhouse could never be recreated. We watched the fire maps and assumed the worst.
A month or two later, after the fire was gone, we went up to survey the damage and grieve our loss. As we got closer to the top, the fire’s destruction was sobering. Blackened trunks and bare ground filled the spaces that had once been green. The whole area was torched.
Up in the distance I saw a gleam of light — a bright reflective beacon. As we got closer I saw it was the aluminum wrap used to protect structures from fire. My heart skipped with hope. We got closer and I saw it was the outhouse. It stood like a wrapped baked potato in a bare landscape.
I was giddy of course. My outhouse had been saved. It’s perfection had been retained. It made no sense, it seemed absurd that a fire crew had undertaken the effort to wrap it, but I was glad they had.
It’ll take time for the landscape around the outhouse to recover, but it will. I’m just glad the most perfect part of it was preserved.