Why Here?

There are so many ways in which all of our lives have been changed by Covid-19.  We struggled through a spring lockdown and a summer of social distancing.  Most of us have had at least one brush with someone who tested positive for the virus.  I missed our church summer campout when I had to quarantine.  And of course, 230,000 families have lost a loved one, a terrible reality that a sizeable minority of Americans find easier to deny than grieve.  Today, however, I am not writing about the big Covid-19 issues.  Today, I am focused on one little tiny matter related to the pandemic and the vagaries of human behavior.

I live in the last town in the foothills before a 21-mile stretch that rises 2500 feet to the main entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park.  There are two gas stations in my little town and a handful of restaurants.  It’s a cute village with a mountain vibe, the kind of place that often shows up on “Best Small Town” lists.  There are only a handful of neighborhoods north of the main highway.  I live in one of those neighborhoods, a canyon with a single development of 72 houses.

Before the development was built, a dirt road snaked its way from the highway up to the red rock quarries that dot the mountains to our north.  A short stretch of the dirt road remains, only about 100 yards long, just east of my house.  It is so seldom used that the surrounding vegetation has narrowed it to a single lane.  The road is paved for about 100 feet just south of my house, before the pavement ends.  When I am sitting on my back patio looking out at the mountains, the paved and unpaved portions of the road are just 50 feet away.  Which makes what has happened since the start of the pandemic especially interesting.

People turn up the canyon road that goes by my home.  Once they get to the dirt road turnoff just south of the house, they hesitate before slowly turning right and inching down the short paved portion of road.  Then they pull over where the pavement ends.  The picture above is looking back at my house and patio from the spot where they stop.

After they pull over, the most peculiar thing happens.  These weary travelers get out of their vehicles, and with little to no attempt to hide themselves, they deposit liquid on the prairie grass not 50 feet from where I sit on the patio.  Then they get back in their vehicles, turn around and head back toward the highway.  They never see me.  Apparently, the slight elevation of the patio (and it is slight, 10 feet at most) does not invite an upward gaze.

I need you to understand the frequency of this remarkable species behavior.  It never happened before Covid-19.  It is an adaptation specifically related to the pandemic.  I have not observed this behavior once or twice.  I have seen it five times.  No fewer than five times this summer, while I was sitting on my patio, people relieved themselves at the edge of the dirt road just south from where I was sitting.  And yes, it was people of all genders.  If it happened that often while I was sitting there, how often did it happen when I was not on the patio?  Yeah, I’m not gonna think about that.

I know what drives the behavior.  I just do not understand the choice of location.  Because of Covid-19, no one wants to use the restrooms at the gas stations or restaurants in town.  And they know they have a long stretch before they get to the national park, so they turn north from the main highway and start looking for an opportunity.  I mean, they could drive a few miles further up into the mountains, where they would find plenty of dirt roads and no houses or people, but no.  They choose the place where the pavement meets the dirt road, not 50 feet from my house, and in full view of, I dunno, about seven other houses.

I’ve been tempted to ask, “Excuse me, but could you help me understand why you’ve chosen this spot?”  But I’m afraid my question might affect their concentration.  I know our canyon is a wildlife corridor.  We have mountain lions all year and bears in the summer and fall.  They come through the canyon on their way to the river.  Is there some primal instinct deep in human DNA that makes people think, “This is the spot to respond to nature’s call.”  I mean, there was bear scat in my yard this September, and a red fox regularly leaves gifts in my yard that the dog I occasionally watch considers to be an olfactory joy.  Maybe that’s it.  In the deep recesses of our reptilian brains, there is a voice that whispers, “When in a pandemic, this is the place.”

They come in old cars, new cars, SUVs and motorcycles.  They come with singular purpose.  I haven’t noticed if it’s affecting the vegetation or not.  I don’t really want to look.  When I’m out running with the dog, she wants to go over and check it out.  I tug on her leash and say, “Not today, Finn; we have our standards.”

I imagine the behavior will end when the pandemic ends.  I mean, surely it will, right?  There is a lot of strangeness in our world right now.  Will these changes be permanent?  Is this the beginning of the devolution of the species? With everything else going on, I do not give myself too much time to ponder this odd behavior.  I just look forward to its cessation.

And so it goes.