River Splash

Barely Making It

As I continue my telling my story, especially as the clock winds down on what I choose to declare a most excellent life, I often like to ‘slip into something less comfortable’.  Daring to be more edgy and brazen, it feels good to stir the waters, as they say. And stir the waters today we shall.

I am speaking of course about being naked.  Yes, naked.  Not just any kind of naked, but a special naked.  The kind of naked required to skinny dip.

In digging up my past, the first reference to this was on page 36 in Book VI of my journal collection where I wrote,  “My hot afternoon was free so I decided to go swimming since I had nothing on.”  Haha!  Did you catch that play on words?  I can be quite clever when uninhibited by clothing.   And so it came to pass that I would make a hobby out of jumping into rivers wearing only what nature provided.  It wasn’t really shameful public nudity, because—as Washington’s preeminent backroader— I have always been able to find a the perfect private pool to engage my passion.  Still shameful, you say?

It may be news to you, but this is a most sacred spiritual practice.  There are four things in life.  Only four:  Me, You, God and Nature.  Skinny dipping, even if it is unconventional and perhaps a bit risquė, covers three out of the four—Me, God, and Nature.  And three out of four ain’t bad.  Since it’s then only “You” that stands in my way of redemption and eternal salvation, I’m sure my path, enlightened and self-serving as it is, can take it from there.

Blissmarks and Johnny Spots

Back in the early days of the internet, when it was running on internal combustion engines, hydropower, and dial up connections, I became something of an early-adopter of desktop publishing.  Along with my backroad stories and newsletters about our quirky parties, I decided to create a photo diary listing the rivers I had ‘experienced’ (however briefly).  I titled this enigmatic and quaint display “River Splash.” 

Recently I tracked down the folder for what might have become my second book.  Tags of paper with snippets of clever wisdom fell out on the floor when I opened the file upside down.  There was a printout of the webpage I had run back in 2002.  Each entry was a small picture of the river, a short descriptive vignette of my shoreline visit on that (usually summer) day, and, on a sidebar, essential data such as the location of the swimming hole, the temperatures of the outside air, and of the water, which was usually cold and bracing.  Sometimes there were short relevant notes to remind me of the highlights of each particular spot.  For example:  “…pool directly under rail trestle”, “…hung swimming trunks on poison oak bush”, “…busload of kindergartners on far shore hurried by teacher back to parking lot”, and of course,  “…forgot towel, but remembered beer.”

I’ve brought this nonsense to several dozen bodies of water over the years.  With only a beach towel, sandals and breakaway hiking shorts, I have dared and documented streams, fjords, punch bowls and backwaters along with a number of lakes, ponds, and even an irrigation ditch.  I got into this skinny dip groove so much that I also wrote a song about it.  As you would expect, it’s a silly, clumsy, but frolicsome song.  A white boy blues tribute to the sacred art of dousing disrobed.  It goes like this here:

“If heaven is your goal you’d better gain control.  And get on down to the swimmin’ hole.  Wiggle out of your clothes and let your sins hang out.  A naked dash, a splash, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

Bottoms Up

Of course there must be a life lesson in all this childish behavior.  I had to work hard to find any deep thoughts in those shallow pools of the past, but here goes:  While I choose to be light-hearted about it, most folks prefer to consider the subject of eternity and what the hell happens after we are no longer here to be serious stuff.  Yet I maintain that enjoyment of, respect for, and immersing oneself in the awe of the natural world is the one sensory/emotional connection we have to the next life.  (If there is one, I will surely go there with tongue in cheek.)

“Let’s get high in the summertime in the sweet woods.  Feel the heat, it’s no time to be meek.  Get out of the mainstream and show ‘em what you got.  Drop ‘em all by a waterfall, a river, or a creek….”

So then:  Nature.  In all its shapes and sizes, powers and frailties. The visions, randomness, precision, smells, tastes, temperatures and colors.  The outdoors is a most worthy savior from our pathetic, cluttered, graffiti-scorched urban surroundings.  We can’t survive without a  deliberate connection, at least occasionally, to our elemental source.  Which brings me back to the odd obsession I’ve chosen for seeking temporary nirvana.  Assuming it’s a warm day and courage has replaced what little shame I have, a full immersion in clean clear wetness is a most ecstatic awakening.

“You’ll be splashing like an otter with a fish-eatin’ smile.  Naked as a jaybird, got your own special style.  There may be times you falter and you slip into sin.  Just take off your clothes, baptize yourself, and start over again…”

Epilogue: Ohanapecosh.

Only recently did two kids from Seattle chronicle this enterprise as I set out to do years ago.  If I have now convinced you of both the spirituality of nature and how simple—and cleansing—it is to transcend from the ordinary to the godly in just one splash, I recommend you order “Swimming Holes of Washington” by Anna Katz and Shane Robinson well in advance of next summer’s salvation season.  They say nothing about how to dress or not dress while enjoying the many benefits of the 58 no-fee, rocky-shored personal spa treatments featured in the book, but I’ll bet it occurred to them.

As it occurred to me last week on a final summer visit to the Ohanapecosh River at Mount Rainier, which is depicted in the book as perhaps the top swimming hole in the state.  As you can see in the accompanying photo which I took standing next to a sign that warned about steep slopes, dangerous rapids, hypothermia, blah, blah, blah….

What I saw were blue-eyed blue pools and gently swirling clear glacial waters surrounded by jump cliffs that wisely prevent second thoughts as you plunge into the soul-shaking icy water.  Go for it!  No better practice for living in the moment.