Well if you haven’t heard about it by now, you either live in a cave or are hibernating like a black bear in Alaska.
In fact, even if you live in Tuktoyaktuk or Timbuktu, the story of the lady who sat down to do her ‘business’ in an outhouse and was bitten by a bear will no doubt have already made the rounds faster than you can say “biffy bear bites blonde’s bare bottom!”
For the record, the salient facts are these: a fair-haired young lady named Shannon Stevens was camping with her brother and his girlfriend in a yurt near Haines, Alaska and after cooking sausages on an open fire, Shannon went to use the chilly outhouse. She sat down, whereupon, as she so eloquently put it: “something bit my butt!” She jumped up and screamed, as you would in such a situation, and when her brother came running and looked down the hole, a “bear face” was looking right back at him. The Stevens quickly exited the backhouse and tended to her bleeding buttular region which was determined to be non life-threatening.
This dramatic incident raises a few questions, doesn’t it? First of all, what the heck is a yurt, and second of all why would anyone want to be camping in Alaska in February where the only latrine facility is a frozen outbuilding? Oh, and also, how does a bear get into the least-desirable basement floor of an outhouse?
We were having a lively chat about this embar-assing, potentially tragic situation the other day, and my bro-in-law, Norm, who is an well-experienced 86 year old farmer, expressed seriously reasonable doubts around how a bear could get through the hole and into a potty pit even if he wanted to.
So I looked it up and, wow, your average black bear is about 1 meter high and weighs anywhere from 80 to 180 kilograms. (Hey, Norm, that’s 3 feet, and 175 to 400 pounds in our world.) So he certainly has a point.
Upon further research consisting of reading a news report from London, England of all places, it seems a wildlife biologist named Carl Koch was consulted and based on photos the presumably limping Shannon took that showed bear tracks leading up to the back of the biffy barn the biologist figures the bear got inside through an opening at the “bottom of the back door”.
Call me a city slicker but I didn’t know that outhouses even had a back door. In fact the only bathroom-related “back door” reference I ever remember referred to the button-down flap on the butt end of your long-johns.
Biologist Carl also confirmed that it was a black bear and not a grizzly based on footprints and recent area sightings. I figure – and I’m guessing here – there wouldn’t be much left of Miss Stevens or the outhouse for that matter if a grizzly bear had’ve been lurking in the down-under.
Also, Carl suspects that Shannon’s wound was “caused by the bear swatting her with a paw rather than being bitten”, but it’s not clear how close Carl inspected Shannon’s injured area.
Still, all in all, it’s a memorable tale destined to be told and re-told whenever the conversation turns to outhouses. Which reminds me: Once upon a time at the farm, a fellow opened the outhouse door to find his brother standing there, pants down to his ankles, throwing a $20 bill down the hole. “What on earth are you doing, Henry?” his brother exclaimed. Henry groaned and said, “A quarter fell out of my pocket into the pit! You don’t think I’m going down there for 25 cents, do you?!”
Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker.