Vogue sent Hamish Bowles to wilderness survival camp for its upcoming environment issue. You know, one of those courses people do that involves wandering the woods with strangers for a few days to find themselves or distract from divorces and other very unpleasant things in life. After whining to Anna Wintour and getting no sympathy, Hamish enrolled in a four-day trip run by the Boulder Outdoor Survival School in Southern Utah. Television personality Josh Bernstein, an outdoorsy History Channel type who has been featured in Men's Vogue, led the trip. Hamish had to do all sorts of uncomfortable things. First he went to Paragon to buy hiking boots. Then he had to sign a contract for the trip that warned he could die of a flash flood or bubonic plague. He surrendered his Barbour overcoat before hitting the trail, and carried all his belongings on his back in a papoose. Also, he had to crap in the woods.
“It’s all about walking lightly with the earth,” said Josh, who moments later was demonstrating another way of giving back as he squatted to reveal the correct posture for a procedure long since corrupted by the use of Mr. Crapper’s celebrated household fixture. Toilet paper was produced by the Chinese as early as the fourteenth century, Josh pointed out, but not by the Anasazi. Heeding his counsel I gathered a stock of the headily scented sagebrush in readiness.
And then he journeyed — scaling mountain after mountain, crossing treacherous pass after treacherous pass! — to where the wild bears roam free. On Hamish's day to lead the hike, he came across a bear print in the earth. One of his leaders found bear crap not far off:
Dave knelt to examine the scat, picking at it with his dexterous fingers. “Look, it even found ripe pine nuts when the ones we’ve seen so far haven’t even grown yet!” he effused. Wendy and I knew how brilliant bears could be—we’d both read The New York Times’s front-page story on the savvy bear who had worked out how to open screw-top jars that had foiled many a starving hiker in the Adirondacks. Dave broke off a piece and held it under his nose. “It’s very sweet-smelling,” he said, and almost before I had time to grasp the enormity of the gesture, he popped it in his mouth. I was incredulous. Surely we’d just been told that bear scat couldn’t even be held close to the face, as microbes might transfer and damage your brain? Or was that raccoon? As my enfeebled brain attemped to process the welter of information, Josh rapidly followed suit, carefully masticating a bit for himself. Then they both looked quizzically at me.
In the interest of community spirit, saving face, giddy bravado, and thinking of Divine in John Waters’s Female Trouble (if a Baltimore drag queen can do it, so jolly well can I!), I broke off a piece and popped it into my mouth. It was indeed oddly sweet, evoking benign thoughts of Winnie the Pooh and a jar of honey. “What does it taste like?” asked Josh, clearly impressed. “Well, funnily enough, like something you might buy in a sort of crunchy-granola health-food shop,” I told the openmouthed group, “of dates and nuts . . . and”—was that a maraschino cherry? Goodness, these bears were crafty. Was I that hungry? Had the heat and the endless trek and the food deprivation warped my mind? It seems incredible to relate, but it really was rather tasty. So much so that, to everyone’s stupefaction I broke off another segment and gobbled it up.
The "scat" turned out to be dates Josh bought in the grocery store for the purpose of playing a prank on Hamish. But still, Hamish ate it when he thought it was bear crap. And still, before he knew it wasn't bear crap, he took seconds. After that they had a hearty chuckle and continued on their way. Hamish survived. But he did get fleas.