Cordova Chronicles: Nature calls, from Paris to Pete Dahl

Pete Dahl Duck Hunters Association votes 2-0 to not install Uritrotttoirs

Decoys, coffee, and patience are key ingredients to a successful morning shoot at Pete Dahl. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times

Pete Dahl and Paris are about as far apart as you can get, but the two have an unexpected bond.

As every true sportsman knows, duck season on the Copper River Delta is right around the corner. Sept. 1 is circled on the calendar, and soon ducks and geese prepared in an enticing variety of ways will be appearing on local plates.

Yet it is not the famous duck pâté served on the banks of the Seine nor the savory ducks and gravy prepared at our duck shack on Pete Dahl Slough that connect cosmopolitan France and wildness Alaska.

Paris has installed Uritrottoirs in heavy traffic locations to combat public urination. The outdoor urinals create compost and are adorned with plants on top. Photo courtesy uritrottoir.com

The link is a French device that I still have trouble spelling properly, titled a Uritrottoir, and forget about trying to pronounce it.

It turns out that Parisians and Pete Dahlians share a common problem.

Outsmarting ducks demands patience, which often translates into sitting in a duck blind drinking cup after cup of coffee waiting for the Northern birds to show up.

Inevitably, they will – just when you can’t stand it any longer and have to step out to help raise the level of the pond a bit. In uncanny repetition, it is then that the biggest flight of widgeon ever to cross the Delta decide to attack your decoys.

I have made a lifetime study of this phenomena, and finally realized that it is likely not waterfowl deviously waiting hours for a hunter to make this blunder, but rather movement and the ripples on the pond that attract them.

Parisians, likely from partaking of too much wine, coffee or other beverages, evidently succumb to such similar yet often untimely urges for relief. Unfortunately, in many cases, unlike the pond directly in front of my duck blind, the famous Seine River or nearby restrooms are often not readily available. In a city of 2.2 million, this is a major problem.

Ah, leave it to the French. Frustrated with all the issues surrounding public urination, enter the Uritrottoir, which is making worldwide news.

An article from National Public Radio, by Merritt Kennedy, headlined “Nope, Those Aren’t Mailboxes: Paris Rolls Out Sidewalk Urinals”, provides details.

“In Paris, authorities are taking an unusual approach to combat the scourge of public urination:  Making urination even more public.”

“The devices are called “Uritrottoir”, which combine the words for urinal and pavement.  They’re not at all subtle. They’re bright red and in heavily trafficked areas – for example, next to the Seine near the Notre Dame Cathedral.”

The additions have appalled some residents, who describe them as “immodest and ugly.” City authorities defend them “to supplement existing toilets in heavily used areas where there are urine issues.”

The story adds that “some view the urinals as straightforwardly sexist, having been installed on the proposition that men cannot control themselves (from a bladder point of view).”

The article describes the function of the invention in detail.

“Men pee into the receptacle, which is filled with straw and other composting materials to keep odors down. That material eventually becomes compost that can be used to fertilize plants. On top of the Uritrottoir is a small flower garden to ‘beautify your public spaces.’ ”

Can’t you imagine picking out some beautiful fresh produce from a Paris street-side market labeled “fertilized by Parisians”?

The Guardian, a British newspaper always looking for cheeky ways to chide its cross-Channel neighbors, recently chimed in with a clever headline that included “Peeved in Paris”, while designers defend the product as “the urban ecological solution for civilizing ‘wild peeing.’ ”

Well, Pete Dahl certainly does not qualify as urban, nor does it yet have issues with complaints by the local populace regarding emergency urination.

In fact, at a recent gathering of the Pete Dahl Duck Hunters Association, the vote was a unanimous 2-0 not to install Uritrotttoirs at nearby duck blinds.

After all, that wild peeing is still a surefire way to bring the birds to the decoys and eventually the platter.

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Dick Shellhorn, author, reporter, ref and grandpa, can be reached at shorn@gci.net. Shellhorn was born and raised in Cordova, Alaska, and has lived there his entire life. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 40 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and third place in 2017.