Bill Heavey writes a humor column for Field & Stream magazine, and he’s hilarious. He also writes informative articles, and they usually have a healthy dose of humor, too. This one is just the thing to help solve the TP Apocalypse.
It’s also a really good example of writing humor, not to mention a little relief from the general all-around tension of the times. Thanks, Bill.
Six Best Toilet Paper Substitutes from Nature
Can’t find any bathroom tissue thanks to coronavirus hoarders? Don’t worry, the outdoors has your backside
As I write this, Charmin, Cottonelle, and Downy Soft toilet paper, to name a few, are “currently unavailable” on Amazon. This verifies what you’ve always suspected: When things get scary in the U.S., the first thing most of us think about is pooping. The average American goes through 30 rolls of t.p. a year, which is kind of impressive but still not a reason to stock an entire wall of your basement with them. Seventy percent of the world’s population doesn’t even use bathroom tissue. They use a variety of things, including, in some countries, the left hand. I have no intention of covering that technique here.
People have always devoted a lot of thought to cleaning their backsides. As early as the 6th century, the Chinese scholar Yan Zhitui wrote that he preferred not to use paper containing quotations from the sages. The first task-specific toilet paper was invented in China in 1391. The sheets were initially intended for the royal family. They were big and perfumed. A 16th century French writer recommended “the neck of a goose that is well downed.” Doesn’t sound like a bad idea. On the other hand, it’s tough stockpiling goose necks.
The Romans pooped communally—just like they did most things—and used a sea sponge attached to a stick to clean themselves. Between uses, the stick was plunged into sea water. This, incidentally, is where the phrase, “the sh*tty end of the stick” comes from. The Vikings used old sheep wool and smooth pottery shards. They were hardy people. The Eskimos used two of the better t.p. substitutes: snow in the winter and tundra moss when it was available. Snow, incidentally, is often ranked both as one the best and one of the worst alternatives by natural-bathroom-tissue experts. On the plus side, it is fantastically effective, both smooth for comfort and mildly abrasive for effective cleaning. What’s more, it can be custom-shaped. On the minus side, it’s really cold. It’s also wet. A wet butt is not a good thing.
In this country, until the late 1800s, it was common to find a corncob hanging from a string in the outhouse. I know, I don’t want to think about it either. Seems like it would start out too smooth and end up too rough. And, of course, it was communal. Really, I have no idea why it was so widely used.
The Sears catalog changed everything and was a quantum leap in bathroom technology. It was free, contained hundreds of soft, uncoated pages, and gave you something to read in the meantime. The sort of toilet paper we use today wasn’t commercially available until 1857. Gayett’s Medicated Paper for the Water Closet contained aloe and was marketed as being good for hemorrhoids, which were called “piles” back in the day. The patent for rolled t.p. was granted in 1891. Fun fact for settling bar bets: The original patent drawing shows the paper unspooling from the top rather than the bottom. This is the only sensible way to do it, but some people like to quibble.
If you find yourself in a survival situation—or if you just can’t buy toilet paper anywhere right now—you’ve got options. Believe it or not, smooth stones, like river rocks, of a fairly small size are considered one of the better choices for the task. Not particularly absorbent, but better than a corn cob. The cones of Douglas fir trees are recommended because they are said to be comparatively soft. “Comparatively” is the key word here. A handful of grass stalks, all carefully and tightly bundled and then folded over to create a “brush” is another popular alternative on survivalist websites. It actually looks sort of doable.
But if my ass were on the line, I’d reach for one of these six options, at least one of which is available anytime and almost anywhere in the great outdoors.