While I was growing up, whenever it was time for a vacation, my mother usually would say “Hmmm… I know what sounds nice, Harbon Hot Springs!” I’d roll my eyes and think to myself Surprise!
Harbon is a naked hot springs, but no one looks more naked than I do, wrapped in enough clothes as if to welcome the Portland Oregon winter. As a preteen, I started bundling up, hoping to use this as a disappearing act, only drawing more attention to myself with my prudery.
Harbon is a place where men rub tanning oil on their entire naked body, and then enjoy chips and a tub of humus balanced on ones glistening thigh in the pool area, while in the background on a nearby lawn, people are doing naked yoga, their downward dog butts in the air. People begrudgingly cover their junk when entering the health food store, Movie Theater, and restaurant, but get creative with outfits; small cloths wrapped around the waist, and colorful sarongs abound!
A couple years ago, my mother and I tried to vacation together at the hot springs. I emphasize the word TRIED. It’s as if the more relaxed my mother got, the less relaxed I became. Whereas my mother would get up at the butt ass crack of dawn, and go sprinting up the mountain trail to frolic amongst her peers, and to watch the sunrise on the pool… my resentment grew every morning that my mother would try in vain to eject me from my lair. I slept in to avoid the inevitable visual feast of flesh that would await me. Once awake, I then spent most of the day in my full garb, wrapped in a towel, and asleep on a bench outside the health food store.
Sometimes I would wander off to what I pretended was a secret little water fall where a Buddha statue resides, and everything is shrouded in lush trees. The air tangles the tree branches together in windy shifts, the leaves lightly rattle over the rocks, and the place is tranquility. One of the trees looks explicitly like a vagina, its spindly roots encasing a cavernous darkness, and from there the water fall shoots out a continuous free flowing geyser. Not that I need to prove myself, but I am not the only one who notices the trees womanly attributes, it has been confirmed by my mother that the tree does indeed appear to be naked from the waist down. This place is supposed to be a healing and quiet place, and every so often it stays that way…
I sat there one time with my eyes closed, listening to the water rushing and quieting my mind… until I was startled by the sound of a women with clompedy feet making her way into my peaceful place.
“Whew, look at that tree! I think I’d like to climb up it!” the woman spoke to me, and I viewed her with the peevish glare of a feline. The woman had a long light brown ponytail, khaki shorts above the knee, and Velcro sandals. I quickly shut my eyes trying to feign a yoga pose with my legs crossed so the woman might take me for being in some sort of trance.
“I’d sure like to climb THAT!” the woman repeated at me, making sure I wasn’t missing out on any of the adventure that was about to take place.
“Oh, yeah…” I said looking up at the tree like the idea wouldn’t have occurred to me, but my eyes opened wide in a “be my guest” kind of way.
“I love coming here! It’s so quiet and relaxing isn’t it? What’s your name? I’m Evelyn.” Evelyn said to me, and I was forced to introduce myself, then listen to her work up the gusto to climb the small boulders, and scale up the vagina tree.
I tried to force my eyes shut again, tried to pretend I was minus the company, when I heard the loud rip of Velcro, and looked over to find Evelyn undoing her sandals, and then twinkling her toes into the small pool of water by the Buddha statue.
“Ooh, so nice and warm!” she enthused, while soaking her feet. Then Evelyn stood up and disrobed, until she was naked as the tree.
“Watch this!” she grabbed for my attention as she started climbing, every muscle visibly clenching as she hoisted her body up the rocks, legs spread immodestly, trying to find her footing. Let me be clear, I don’t have a problem with nudity, in fact I grew up with it being quite normal in my household, but this was more of an issue of craving a one on one relationship with nature. Evelyn was distracting me from my own isolation tank, and I desperately craved my own private Idaho.
“Ow!!!” Evelyn hollered, her bare feet being stubbed on loose rocks that I could hear tumbling down, loud ruckus as Evelyn stole my serene image of the “secret waterfall.” As it was, with Evelyn clawing at the trees sacred place, and repeatedly crying out in pain as she constantly lost her footing, I soon was forced by the universe to examine her bloody big toe. Nature had given the human her lashing, and I watched as Evelyn submerged her bleeding foot into the clear pool of water.
“But it was worth it!” she declared, as she stuck her wounded appendages back in her sandals, adjusted the Velcro, and walked away down the trail.
There are meditation beads available that you can wear around your neck, signifying that the person wearing them is unavailable for conversation, but I declined my mother’s suggestion in wearing them, imagining that while the talking may end, the staring would be enhanced. “Hark! There is the clothed cherub, wearing ‘don’t talk to me beads!’ The lady wishes to be left alone, yet I cannot seem to take my eyes off her bright red beads, and plagued soul!”
A man wanted to discuss my red hair, and my tattoos, which perplexed me, as I only wanted to be invisible and didn’t like talking to strange men, even if they weren’t wearing a loincloth and drinking kombucha. It’s kind of unbelievable sometimes, how not relaxing the most relaxing situations can be for me. I am the girl who got the worst panic attack of her life during the junior college class titled “Stress management.”
There was an air-conditioned café on the Harbon land, and I spent time there journaling and dreaming big about a career as a radio show host. The room was chilled and vacant, because people don’t come to hot springs to ignore the water and bundle up in sweaters inside an icebox. But, there I was mildly relaxed, alone at last. The walls had cartoonish little paintings of multi-colored hound dogs with titles such as “heart broken,” “healing journey,” and “be true to yourself.” When my mother found me, I shared with her my creative bounty of ideas, ideas that have never come to fruition, but that I lock away for someday.
“I want to have a radio talk show called ‘Can I talk yet?’ each week I would present one of my own neurotic conundrums, and people would call in to give ME advice!”
“I’m just glad you are having fun.” My mother said. I may have still been sitting pent up in my many veils, but at least I had an activity.
Eventually I did take my top off, giving my girls refuge from their under wire cage. I decided on day three that I needed to just try at least to benefit from my vacation. Back in the day, my bra went flying off during grrl band shows with little encouragement, but that felt different somehow than trying to relax at a hot springs with strangers, and my mother not far away.
My favorite place as a child was at what’s called the Cold-Cold Pool, which is basically a large bathtub outside, that can fit five people comfortably, and nine people uncomfortably. It is a no talking zone, signs posted with the word “shhh” every which way.
I woke up early, maybe 7 am, just to have a chance of getting some time alone at the Cold-Cold Pool. I wore a pair of shorts, and looked both ways before removing my t-shirt and throwing it on a wooden bench; I then submerged myself into the pool, free from company. I am not a morning person, but the ice-cold water was enlivening. The pool is surrounded by forest, and sometimes the deer walk right up to you like you are snow white, or the goddess Diana. It is magical, and the deer have grown ballsy from years of safety among the human’s, who are generous with the mulberry trees that shed fruit all over the concrete ground surrounding the pools. There is an old stone carved plaque of a woman head with flowers in her hair, that I named “Cast a Spella” when I was four years old, that is perched by the Cold-cold pool, and I feel a moment of nostalgia, as my body goes from nervous to numb in the chill.
7am turned to 7:15, which is apparently waking hour for many people. A naked man entered the pool, and I turned towards the forest edge, just to keep myself separate. Then a young man and woman who appeared in love, wriggled into the pool, and cuddled up in a corner, as a woman with a loose bun on top of her head also entered the tub, immediately letting out the loudest sigh I have ever heard. I had tried to not look at anyone’s faces, just keep everyone as in descript as possible, but the sound that echoed throughout the space, practically making ripples in the water, made me look at her. She was gleeful, a look of contentment playing in her smile lines, as her eyes fluttered, as if she was being possessed. I scrunched my shoulders tensely towards my ears as I heard her deeply inhale, preparing to give it her all.
“UHHHHH!” she let it all hang out her throat once again, and I viewed a long- haired man bow his head, in approval.
Were we in a contest for who is most relaxed?
If we were, this woman seemed determined to be the clear winner. It was as if she needed the entire world to know that she was just SO relaxed, it felt forced, all the intense moaning.
“UUUHNNN! UHHH! WOO!” the orgasmic sounds continued. The lone man seemed to feel liberated by the woman’s contagious cacophony, adding in a shudder inducing “OOH-WAAAAH!” to the wingding of leisure. I felt tempted to point out the many “shhh silence” signs, as being as loud as possible without talking seemed to be the day’s rebellion.
If these people were on my radio talk show, and I was receiving advice, their moans of ecstasy would be translated into a lesson in letting go to fully enjoy the moment, the Cold-cold pool, the deer, the mulberry trees, the nakedness of it all.
Some might say I am too sensitive to others vibes, some might just say I’m too sensitive, and you know what? It’s true, I am sensitive, and I felt like the sounds would swallow me down into a whirlpool, like everyone’s relaxing moment would force me down an eddy and like they would stomp on my face to emerge as the champions of repose.
“UUUUUHHHHH AHHHH!” the woman continued, as she stood up to leave the pool, which was apparently as satisfying as being in it. I felt relieved, like maybe there might be room for me to lose myself in silence. I accidentally watched as she walked her tanned body very slowly, savoring each step, towards the small staircase that led to the Hot-Hot Pool. She stepped down the first step, and as her feet found the second step, she stalled, suddenly inhaling a plethora of air and then she let out the loudest longest wail yet…
“UHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” she said, her body trembling from head to butt, and then down to her happy feet.
Really? No really, walking down the steps is that relaxing?!
Later when I relayed this story to my mother, she entered my talk show with opposition.
“Those are the sounds some people make when they are in the process of relaxing! The temperatures are so extreme in those pools, that if that is what comes out of their mouth then it’s normal!” my mother explained, her face sharing a note of pity for me, as she wished someday I would know that feeling.
“You don’t get it, it was like it wasn’t enough for her to just be relaxed, no! She needed to be the MOST relaxed!” I mean, really?
“Oh, Rhiannon it is a wonderful feeling to let go that much… to feel free in the middle of nature.” My mother tried to shed light on the situation, and I considered her input.
“I truly want to learn to let go more, really I do!” I said, and then I added “But what really annoyed me, was that final step on the staircase, there is no way walking down that step was that much of a release for her, if that is what it means to be genuinely relaxed, then I might as well quit now! Because I will never be that relaxed. In fact I refuse to be that relaxed!”
If I had a choice, I’d choose quiet places with room to not over think things, woods you get lost in, and water that is louder than the sounds of human beings letting go. I want the kind of relaxation, that isn’t fought for over the barrage of others seemingly better at oneness. You have been listening to Can I talk yet? Live on KANGST radio, where you get to give me advice! The lines are now open.