Kathleen Meyer is the author of the bestselling outdoor guide How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art, widely embraced by the outdoor community, with more than 3 million copies sold, in eight languages. The 2020 Fourth Edition is now in stores. Kathleen's Rocky Mountain Wild West memoir, Barefoot Hearted: A Wild Life Among Wildlife, was published by Villard/Random House in 2001. With the misfortune of a pub date five days before 9/11, the hardcovers are available now only off her Web site (where you can find the synopsis and review blurbs). Long the nontraditional spirit and outdoor adventurer, Kathleen early on chose a life of rowing rapids and driving draft horses cross-country, viewing the landscape from an inflatable raft or the seat of a hundred-year-old wagon.
Born in Manhattan, the only child of a scientist and a librarian, Kathleen was raised on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. A water baby by nature, she acquired a passion as early as seven for racing the catboat-class sailboats Woodpussies. It all began near the New Jersey shore, on a mile-long peninsula jutting into the Shrewsbury River. The small neighborhood consisted of families from widely varied incomes—a diamond miner at one end, the Secretary of Labor at the other, and then Kathleen, madly mowing expansive lawns to pay for her annual sailing club membership. She crewed every summer into her teens on the boats of more affluent neighbors. Later in life, in California, at a time when she worked with troubled adolescents, she succumbed to purchasing a stray New Jersey Woodpussy—the one she’d never had in her youth—and soon set sail onto the unpredictable currents of San Francisco Bay. Forever the purist (in this case, no motor), her first day out found her, with a handsome male acquaintance on board, becalmed and drifting with the tide into both the dark of night and the Richmond freighter channel—no lights on her boat, no flashlight to shine on the sail. Trapped for those long hours of terror in the open cockpit of a thirteen-foot boat, she remembers it now as the first time she needed to know how, on earth, to elegantly finesse bodily excretions.
When a sophomore in high school, Kathleen moved with her parents, in an abrupt relocation across the country, to sprawling Los Angeles—a change that would leave an indelible mark on her sensibilities and as yet unimagined career as a writer. College years took her north to the Bay Area: Berkeley, San Francisco, and finally towns in Marin County, where she dallied for twenty-three years. She led wilderness trips for inner-city youth, and then, with a woman named Susan, started up a drywall taping company they dubbed (in lieu of the suggested Mud Hens) O’ Holy Mud. They became renown as women in the trades, and taped, among other places, the Grateful Dead digs, the room where Star Wars was written, and Melvin Belli’s San Francisco penthouse.
Kathleen’s days also remained full of the open air. She guided whitewater rafting trips all over the western U.S. and Canada and rolled across three Rocky Mountain states by horse and wagon. Her writing life sprang first from her river trips, in the era before backcountry regulations required the use of portable toilets and the practice of packing out human waste was just getting started. She aimed to ease the embarrassment and awkwardness that city folks experienced in trying to squat in the wild, as well as to save favorite beaches from assaults of soiled diapers and toilet paper, and to protect mountain streams from fecal pollution. Her instructive guidebook, How to Shit in the Woods, known as ‘’the backpackers bible’’ and now in its fourth iteration, grew from a collection of graceless, laughable worst-ordeal stories, many of them her own.
The author’s last relocation, from California to the rural town of Victor, Montana, supplied the grist for Barefoot Hearted. She likes to describe the move as “running away with the circus”—after meeting a rakish actor and horseshoer, a member of the Caravan Stage Company, a Canadian theater troupe, touring (then) by means of thirteen Clydesdales and five brightly painted gypsy wagons. Garbed in her white overalls, well-splattered with drywall mud, she had stopped at the Belli Deli in San Rafael to snag a midday sandwich when she spied an antique medicine wagon and two huge feathery-footed horses—the tent-theater’s promotional act—parked across the street. A tall Irishman’s unwinding from under one of the sturdy drafts sparked the meeting that lead to covered wagon journeys and, eventually, to setting up marginal housekeeping in a seventy-five-year-old dairy barn inhabited by an assortment of wild critters. Barefoot Hearted: A Wild Life Among Wildlife is the tale of this adventurous Western living, reflected poignantly against the author’s ponderings on the increasingly harried survival of wildlife as small towns everywhere go to sprawl.
Kathleen has been an environmental activist since 1973, focused for the most part on water politics, issues of urban sprawl, protecting wild rivers, and climate crisis (particularly stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline). She was the founding editor of Headwaters, the publication of Friends of the River. For many years, she served on the board of Environmental Traveling Companions, an NPO offering wilderness trips to special needs people, and is, currently, on the board of North Coast Rivers Alliance. Her travel essays have been included in the Travelers’ Tales anthologies A Woman’s Passion for Travel: More True Stories from a Woman’s World and Sand in My Bra: Funny Women Write from the Road. Her writing and photographs have also appeared in the Professional Farrier and Anvil Magazine. She makes her home with Patrick McCarron in an old, red, fairly-well-unrestored, dairy barn in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. Visit or contact her through her Web site: www.kathleeninthewoods.net.