(About an 11 minute read)
One morning, a few weeks after I’d met Becky, I decided to call her in the hopes of having a lively little phone chat.
“Hi Becky! It’s Paul! What a beautiful Saturday!”
“Hi Paul! I’m good, but I can’t talk right now. The kids and I are about to leave for Valley View Hot Springs. Would you like to come along?”
I’d never heard of the hot springs, but I had a policy back then of accepting invitations. Any kind of invitations, except — perhaps — to bank robbery. Bank robbery was where I drew the line — usually. So I told Becky I was in.
“Great, Paul! But let me first make sure it’s alright with Aaron and Leah.” Presently, I could hear her asking the kids, but I couldn’t hear their responses. Then Becky came back on the line.
“They want you to come with us, but on one condition: You have to keep your clothes on.”
“My clothes on? Why would I take them off?” I thought the kids were joking. I was about to say something goofy in response to the them when Becky said, “I forgot to tell you, Valley View is clothing optional. I’m going nude, but you should bring a swimsuit or shorts.”
I had never in my life been to a clothing optional resort. I hadn’t even gone skinny dipping in all my 38 years, and I certainly didn’t think of myself as the “type” to enjoy getting nude in public, whatever that “type” was. So I was secretly glad the kids had given me an excuse to wear something, bless their little candy-begging hearts!
Valley View Hot Springs turned out to be a rural place, twenty-five miles distant from the nearest city, and purposely kept as close to its natural state as any resort could possibly be kept. It wasn’t at all crowded the day we went, but there were enough people around that I noticed something rather peculiar: About a third to perhaps a half of the people were speaking in low voices, nearly whispering, as if in a cathedral or some other sacred space.
When I asked Becky why people were whispering, she whispered back that she didn’t know, but that it was common there. Then she speculated that it might be the natural beauty. “I think the people whispering might be respecting the spirits that live here.” She added.
I myself didn’t believe in spirits, but I had learned by then that Becky uses such words to describe something real. Maybe not real spirits, but something that’s nevertheless there, if you can only see it as well as she does. Once, for example, she told me that a mutual acquaintance of ours was “possessed by a bad spirit today”. I didn’t know what she meant until I ran into our acquaintance to discover she was in the pissiest mood I’d ever seen her. So when Becky told me Valley View was inhabited by spirits that people respected, I wondered what it was that people were respecting?
Becky wanted to go soak in the Upper Pool, which was the pool furthest up the mountainside that the resort is located on. We set out on a dirt trail to it, Becky in the lead, followed by Leah, then Aaron and I. Aaron was seven that year, and rather short, even for his age. About half way to our intended destination, we came to an obstacle. The trail suddenly took a sheer leap upwards of about three feet — too much for Aaron! After making several attempts to negotiate the slippery earth, he cried out after his mother and sister, “Go on! The pioneers must go on! Some will fall behind to perish, but the wagon train must go on! Remember me when you reach the promised land!”
I was quite impressed. Only seven? I hoisted him up on the ledge, both of us laughing.
The Upper Pool turned out to be occupied by a fair number of people. Becky, who hates crowds, turned us back down the trail to a couple lower pools. She then told the kids to go play in the lowest of them, while she and I would watch them from above. “Quietly! I don’t want to hear any noise!” She commanded. I looked forward to a peaceful afternoon soaking in a naturally warm pool in the midst of nature — and in my shorts.
It was about then Becky said, “You can take your shorts off, if you want. It doesn’t matter either way to me, but the kids won’t be bothered by it now — they’ve got their own pool.”
My younger brother says of me now and then that I am, “the calmest man under stress he’s ever known.” He says that about me because he’s only ever seen me caught in quicksand, about to slam into the back of a semi-truck in an auto accident, or in the process of losing my home, wife, and business within the course of a few short months. He’s never seen me under real stress. Unimaginable stress. Mind crippling stress! Had he seen me that day, moments after I took my shorts off, my brother would have taken back every good word he’s ever spoken about me and stress.
Why did I do it? Honestly, I didn’t anticipate the degree of embarrassment involved. Becky made it look easy, natural. So easy and natural that she made it look in comparison hard and unnatural to stay dressed. I thought, “It’s a little out of my comfort zone, but it looks fun.” But just three or so minutes later, I was thinking, “OMG! I’m blushing! I can feel my face on fire! Jesus! My arms are red! I’ve never blushed like this in my life! My chest is red! My chest! Do penises blush? Oh, I am so going to die if Becky asks me why my penis is red!”
Becky, though, had pulled a book out of her backpack and was now laying in the pool, her head propped up on a bank, and engrossed in reading, totally ignoring me. Mercifully, I might not have even been there so far as she was concerned.
Becky and I had met perhaps a month or six weeks before, and we were quite rapidly developing a brother/sister friendship. Neither one of us seemed sexually interested in the other, a fact I found comforting because I was just two years out from my second marriage, which had been to an exceptionally cruel woman. At the time, I tended to run faster than lightening from any woman who seriously hinted at our becoming sexually intimate. I wanted no repeats of being pieced through my chest by the intense suffering and loneliness that only comes from making your bed with someone who fundamentally rejects you as a person. But Becky was as reassuringly asexual towards me as she was free spirited towards life itself.
But for the next couple hours I wasn’t thinking of that, not even thinking about Becky so much as I was self-consciously thinking about myself. I felt the eyes of everyone who came and went on the nearby trail. I dreaded that someone — or, worse, some group — would arrive to share our pool. And I poured over in my churning mind every detail of my body, questioning whether my body met the standards for being “acceptable”.
At some point though, it simply occurred to me that I was being an idiot. That is, I had the sudden insight that all my present troubles came from my not accepting myself just as I was.
I don’t recall it was easy, but over the next few minutes I somehow managed to shift gears from feverishly judging myself to calmly accepting myself. About then, I began noticing things, things that had escaped me while I’d been so concerned with me. The breeze through the pines sounded like a river, insects were chirping, the sunlight dappled the pebbles on the floor of our pool, there were dust devils crossing the fields in the valley below us, and Becky was asleep. When had she fallen asleep? I didn’t know. I only noticed it after I quit thinking so much about myself.
A couple weeks after that first trip, I was invited on another trip to Valley View by Joe (A quite remarkable eighteen year old friend whom I’ve written about here). Soon after that, the invitations from Joe, or from others in his group, became fairly frequent. I never asked to go along, but I didn’t need to. For reasons of their own, that group of 15 to 22 year old men and women had adopted me, and had made it a habit to include me in many of their numerous road trips to Valley View, or to other destinations. So, I became an old hand at going nude in public. I learned that speaking in a low voice or even whispering at Valley View was just as common as Becky said it was. And I also learned more about acceptance from those trips than I’d ever learned before in my life.
A few years ago, a friend of mine, a Christian minister, told me that she and her husband had visited a nudist resort. It was a new experience for both of them, and she said the experience was a bit overwhelming. “But not overwhelming for why you might think, Paul. I never expected such acceptance from people. The nudists at the resort were more accepting of themselves and each other than my congregation is on a Sunday after services. Paul, it was as if they were practicing Christian love. Practicing it!”
By the time she told me that I had already formed my own impression that nudists were remarkably accepting of both themselves and others. I wasn’t quite ready to testify to it before Congress — and I still am not — but acceptance has usually seemed thick in the air at the resorts I’ve been to. And most of the people I’ve gone with to those resorts have at one time or another mentioned it. Naturally, I have cooked up an idea or two about it all.
As I see it, going nude in public is comfortable to the degree that you accept yourself as you are. But so far as I can see, it’s not really possible to completely accept yourself while still being judgmental and non-accepting of others. You can’t give up one without giving up both. And if that’s true, then it might explain why nudists tend to be much more accepting of both themselves and others than, say, the typical congregation after a Sunday service. Moreover, I’ve come to wonder whether it’s those feelings of acceptance and being accepted that make so many people at Valley View think to speak in whispers, as if in a sacred place. Are those feelings of acceptance the spirits Becky talked about? My guess is that’s what she was getting at.
But what do you think? Am I sniffing down the right trail here, barking up the right tree, sticking my nose in the appropriate crotch? Or should I get out my bong and indulge in more Colorado weed while re-thinking the whole thing? Please feel free to offer your advice, guidance, opinions, observations, wisdom, and, of course, generous cash rewards!
Hat Tip to Quinn, who blogs at “When Do I Get the Manuel“, and who inspired this post with a post of her own, Stripping Off in Suwa, Japan. If you are not familiar with Quinn’s writing, you would be doing yourself a favor to click over to her post and become acquainted with some of the best, most engaging writing that I’ve come across on a blog in the past ten years. I know. I know. You’re thinking, “She’s not some decrepit old fart from Colorado telling us boring stories of his flaming embarrassments and shamelessly hounding us with his alarming theories about nudity, so how can she be that good?” Trust me, she is: She’s going to spoil you!