Outhouses in the field? I’ll take my chances with the birders in the bush.

One of the things you get used to as a field biologist is the lack of proper bathrooms available to you at any given time. When I started doing fieldwork, this was a really hard thing for me to get used to. Going to the washroom in the woods was just not something I was really comfortable doing. But I had to get used to that quickly, and I did.

And just as soon as I did, a permanent outhouse was installed at one of our field sites. I was thrilled! How luxurious! Especially since this property was heavily used by researchers so you never knew who you would run into in the bush. And those birders can be sneaky and quiet, so the outhouse was a nice addition. While the outhouse was a bathroom for the majority of us, it was also a new home for a whole slew of critters. And it was a favourite home to the one creature I simply couldn’t handle…very large spiders.

I quickly developed a routine for this outhouse. I would take two deep breaths, swung the door open as fast as I could and check all corners for spiders…while holding a duster (weird, I know, but it was the ultimate spider web remover).

One day, a bunch of us were out in the field, a crew of 10+ people and to boot there were birders all over the property, lurking in the bushes. I had to use the outhouse; I didn’t want to risk getting caught in the bushes. I took two deep breaths, swung the door open and entered with my duster. And there she was, a giant and I mean, size of your palm GIANT spider in the top corner. I tried to poke her with the duster and even with a stick and she didn’t do anything. “Just watch her while you’re in there” one of my colleagues said, “she moves, and you bolt”.

I’m sure some of you can guess how this went down.

*I can do this. I really can. It’s just a spider…*

I closed the door behind me, and stared at her; she stared back at me. I’d love to know what she was thinking as she carefully studied me.

As much as I would like to tell you the details of my encounter with this spider, the rest of the story is just a blur. At some point over the next 2.5 seconds, she jumped. And by jump, I don’t mean she gently hopped off the wall and onto the ground… she LUNGED and right at my face.

At some point while this was happening, I spun around and then burst through the door of the outhouse. The next thing I remember is standing outside of the outhouse screaming “get it off of me” over and over again. My field assistant at the time, Emily, ran over and after colorfully confirming the presence of the spider on my back, she brushed it off my back and into the grass.

And that all happened 4 years ago. I have never, ever, ever returned to that outhouse. I’m perfectly happy to take my chances with the birders in the bushes.

The beast herself

The beast herself                 Photo credit: S. Baxter

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2 thoughts on “Outhouses in the field? I’ll take my chances with the birders in the bush.

  1. Pingback: Oh, the places we’ve gone and the places we’ll go | Dispatches from the Field

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