Shit Creek

Crossposted to The Clade

What is natural, you ask, &
I can only reply with a story
I got second-hand, from
an old hippie friend: how
at the Rainbow Gathering
in Kentucky, hundreds
of patchouli-scented kids
decided that the natural
response to the call
of nature was to go squat
in the creek. We are water
beings, they said. Three
days later, when everyone
got sick, it seemed natural
to blame some chemical
released by the government
plane that had repeatedly
buzzed the crowd, trying
to disrupt their otherwise
perfect circle.


A completely revised, greatly expanded version of an old poem. This was prompted in part by my reading of The Shit Creek Review, actually quite a respectable online journal, whose latest call for submissions I find tempting, if only I had something to fit the bill: Talking to the Dead.

14 Replies to “Shit Creek”

  1. Hah. I’ve been to a couple of Rainbow Gatherings, albeit 20+ years ago. My first one came to an early end because I foolishly assumed that the Hare Krishnas would have sterilized their water. They hadn’t….

    Lovely idea, very fun crowd, but man do they stomp their sites… 15,000 people in a couple of square miles will do that no matter how you recycle and clean up afterwards.

    1. It’s simply too big. Even the regional gatherings, I hear, can draw quite a few thousand.

      The Hare Krishnas probably chanted over their water. Hell, it had to have been cleaner than the sacred Ganges.

  2. This poem reminds me of a time one summer I spent in the dusty high country of the Oregon coastal mountains, nearly 40 years ago. Lots of families living in the woods together. Tents and lean-tos, and a giant sweatlodge off to the side. I remember walking near the cook tent when a fellow wanderer squatted right there in front of me and peed a long trail into the dust. yeah, it was natural, but I considered the proximity to the kitchen and figured it was time for me to move on.

    1. I guess since I grew up in the country with parents who taught us how to go to the bathroom outdoors, it can be hard for me to understand how other people might experinece that as liberating — or, conversely, how many people find it impossible to answer the call of nature outside. Now that I think about it, I suppose the behavior described in this poem represented a reaction against that repression.

  3. I’m okay with people answering the call of nature outside. It is the answering of that call in the communal public space by the kitchen that bugged me. I’ve always had this notion of what is appropriate public behavior. I once told my older brother that I didn’t want to see him arguing with his wife in the same way I didn’t want to see them making love. I have a very strong sense of what is public behavior and what is private. I am always interested in how other people feel about these things, since we all basically grow up outside of true community and have to make it up as we go along.

  4. It is the answering of that call in the communal public space by the kitchen that bugged me.
    Understood. Good point about community, too. Actually I am with you on most of this.

  5. I’ve been to 6 Gatherings and have never gotten sick or seen anyone shitting in the creek. We dig shitters, latrines if you will. I won’t argue with you, stay in Babylon, have your fireworks, and celebrate your loss of freedom.

    1. Thanks for illustrating the very thing that led me to stop hanging out with hippies years ago: the strong tendency to caricature and condescend toward anyone with a different viewpoint. In fact, if you’d taken the time to read my latest post, you’d see that I’m not a real big fan of patriotic displays. Nuance much?

    1. Yes, even our hippies buy into the pervasive American paranoia toward the government, which is (theoretically at least) ourselves.

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