The Rear End

Public Private

finding a secluded space in the middle of the city

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner |

I thought I was all by myself. Just me and the dark springtime water rushing along the banks. But a man came rambling from the trees, surely from the nearby bike path. Just some guy. He circled a huge elm tree – one of the ancients living next to the Eau Claire river, the ones keeping a tender watch over the current. He walked up and stood close to it. 

Then he unzipped his pants and took a nice, long leak. Onto the tree. As one does.

I don’t think the man ever saw me, and I’m pretty sure the elm tree didn’t care, but I felt  a smidgen perturbed. I thought I’d found a secluded spot amongst the late April buddings and the gushing river. I thought I’d found a place of calm and focused light. Or something like that.

And then some random dude was peeing all over a big tree. He finished his business (his urine business) and left as quickly as he showed up.

I had no right to expect privacy in that place. I was on public property. And after years of hunting with groups of burly northwards men, I’m certainly no stranger to peeing on trees. That said, I had walked there specifically to find solitude, and this bodily expulsion, while undeniably intimate, was not part of the plan.   

So what was the plan, exactly?

I could tell you what I was doing, but I’m taking a page from Prince’s playbook (may he rest in purple peace) and wrapping myself in a shroud of Fierce Mystique. Let me just add this: It was pretty boring.

I was doing private things, the likes of which I will not describe here, except to say these things were legal and moral and totally on the up-and-up. I could tell you what I was doing, but I’m taking a page from Prince’s playbook (may he rest in purple peace) and wrapping myself in a shroud of Fierce Mystique. Let me just add this: It was pretty boring.

But I wanted to be boring all by myself. I don’t blame the guy for peeing on the tree. If you have to go, you have to go, and at least he wasn’t peeing all over the bike path. He wanted privacy, too.

Luckily, Eau Claire is chock full of private places and quiet spots. Secret nooks and confidential crannies. Roads less traveled. Underutilized parks patiently waiting for your affection.

The City of Eau Claire is home to an impressive urban forest. I personally believe (and so should you) that our trees – of many sizes, shapes, and ages – are a defining asset of this community. We have pockets of wooded terrain all over the place, even downtown, and we’re so lucky to have them. 

You can easily find a place to be on your own. And then you can walk for a few minutes and be amongst The People. It’s great.

I guess I’m a somewhat private person. I’m kind of shy. But I’m willing to share personal stories with friends and start conversations with strangers.* Sometimes I like quiet spots. Like that day in the trees by the river. I had been looking for a place to feel unobserved. And unjudged. So I could concentrate. And that’s just what I found.

The guy peeing on the elm tree was no big deal. However, the guy taking a smoke break was a little bigger deal. It would appear my special spot was not so special. About 10 minutes after the urine incident, another random dude showed up, murmured a “hi” as he walked past by me, and settled into the crook of a nearby fallen tree. He proceeded to quietly smoke a cigarette and watch the river.

Like the first guy, I don’t blame this second guy for anything at all. He’d obviously been there before, and I was the one invading “his” spot. It felt weird and I felt self-conscious, but that’s my own stuff to deal with, not his. I finished up and, with a small wave, I left him to his solitude. I didn’t want to take that away from him.

Because that’s the other thing I appreciate about this city – in general, people are pretty kind to each other. And the next secluded spot isn’t too far down the path.

Journey Ahead

We all get old. In fact, some of us, right at this very moment, ARE old. V1's guide to challenges and opportunities of growing older in the Chippewa Valley. Presented by the ADRC of Eau Claire County