Still Life With Bird And Fly


My friends and I like to rate our pisses. I know it sounds weird, but we do. We’re just boys with a boyish sense of humor, foul mouths, and a love for the outdoors. Nobody cares when you piss in a toilet. Everyone does that. But pissing outdoors, in nature, now that’s something different all right. Sure, if you’re out hiking or camping, sometimes you gotta take a leak, but honestly, even doing like a coyote and pissing on a tree really isn’t all that neat. What matters to us are those times when you’re standing on the dunes, thirty feet above Marconi Beach, just before sunrise, and you let loose a stream so long and sustained that a pair of gulls, sailing on the breeze swoop beneath it and make you think, nobody ever gonna believe this!

Recently, I stood on a beach in Maine. We had kayaked out onto a little island in one of the state’s many bays and were camping for the night there. Just before six o’clock in the morning I woke up with a need to relieve myself and walked across the island, not more than a couple hundred feet in length, to go do my business. Coming to a nice spot on the ocean side of the island, I found myself looking out into the rising sun. Standing, with my feet on the slimy rocks, I looked upon the towering pines on the other islands and the masses of brown seaweed, thrown up on the rocks by the shifting tide. Here I was, at the gateway to the sea, one of the most natural and untouched places on this earth, about to perform one of the most primal rituals, today tamed and confined to a world of sterile white porcelain.

Stepping up onto a rock to avoid the waves, I unzipped my pants and exposed myself to the world around me. How strange it is to imagine this picture as an onlooking bird may have seen it. Here is a man, symbol of all things corrupt and unnatural in this world, the originator of plastics and of smog, of war and of hatred, surrounded by the endless beauty of the natural world, about to piss into the ocean. It seems almost as if it is one more act of spite towards those things natural and pure, a twist of the knife through the heart. But would a bird even see that? To the simple bird, perhaps I am no more than another creature, another child of Mother Nature, simply doing as I have been made to do.

As I let it loose, my thoughts wandered to the history of whaling in New England. It was a savage industry that epitomized human wastefulness, killing one of Nature’s greatest beasts solely to provide oil for the lamps of New York aristocrats and make soap for their wives. Looking out at the ocean, I thought of those fantastical creatures and how they too, pee in the ocean and let the sea carry away what their body does not need. I was here, like a whale or any other creature, just taking a piss.

Is “piss” even the right word though? “Piss” has connotations of being disgusting, unsanitary, and wasteful. What I was doing was not like the coyote, who selfishly marks his territory by defacing trees with urine, not like the whalers of nineteenth century New England who slaughtered whales for their oil and fat with no thought to their lasting impact. No, my action of pissing in the water was a natural one, one with the express intent of minimizing my impact. In doing so, I was allowing the sea to wash away all the blight and nastiness that my body had filtered out, assimilating it back into the world from which it came. While “piss” may mean literally to expel urine, it carries with it a foul odor that almost seems as to have no connection with my action.

The foul odor of the word “piss” was essential to my action. Sure, I could have stood before the ocean with my fly zipped and simply marvelled at the beauty, but that would have been too pure, too detached, too isolated, too aloof. It would have been like trying to see a polar bear in a blizzard, just too white, nothing for the eyes to hang onto and set things apart. There is contrast in the act of pissing into the sea: the foulness of waste and the natural beauty of the surrounding world. But harmony, too: an act of nature, pure and whole, performed against the backdrop of nature, pure and whole. Only through seeing both the beautiful and the ugly, can we appreciate the true beauty behind what we do.