It is June 28th, 2017.
This morning I saw the blackest tufted black squirrel I’ve ever seen, and probably the biggest. He was a 3-D silhouette, running in that gorgeous, weightless stop motion way they do— freezing randomly every few paces. He was the only thing moving in the scene, so the world stopped with him.
I love all seasons, but my body loves summer best, when at last there is chi to spare, and I need not bear the added weight of winter’s swathings. Of course, I prefer, whenever possible to be free of clothes— or at least barefoot, no matter the dress code. I remember even padding around barefoot at Ardent Production House in the 1980’s, delighting or vexing my associates with my blackened soles.
Given this preference, I have inevitably attracted friends over the years with similar penchant, some more identified with it than others; some quite closeted, others just cautious. The caution is understandable. We live in a sexually repressed culture, warped under the weight of our vestigial victorian and religious codes; and we can not always control the responses of others to nudity.
I’m amused by what unique and poignant tapestries of neurosis we all are, especially around this matter. I’ve been spending some time with one of my naturist friends this week, camping in high country remote enough to promote freedom from clothes. My friend—we’ll call him Cliff—has made a hobby, if not a mission, of living nude. He follows the sun in an RV (designed for Alaskan camping), which he can keep warm enough to be nude near year round.
This morning, having slept in my own unheated van and spent the morning doing my practices outside, I was acclimated to the cooler temps outside. He had the heat on in his kitchen as he sat in his altogethers eating breakfast. I find such conditions stuffy and confining, and, since it had warmed up considerably outside, wondered aloud if it was warm enough to retire the heating for the day. He playfully protested that his feet were cold. I reminded him about this ingenious technology they have now, comes in pairs; they are called socks. But I understood, so I went outside, where I always prefer to be, because I can breathe.
We are both reaching, in our way, for a sense of freedom and ease, conditions that reduce our perception of confinement, discomfort or agitation. That recipe evolves differently for each human being.
Like a number of my friends, I also have a dislike for sunscreen but concede to its necessity and use it. It feels that some part of this animal “can’t breathe” when the skin is slathered with that protective film. Every one of us has subtle sensibilities such as these, and each of us concedes to overriding them in some matters and defies doing so in others.
I’ve been listening to Temple Grandin’s The Autistic Brain on these travels, and what I hear further supports my suspicion that the “Neuro-Typical” is a vanishing breed— at least in the circles I walk in. So many of us seem to be on the “sensory processing disorder” spectrum somewhere these days (granted, and gratefully, the very high functioning end). Perhaps because we are an overstimulated world wearing thin.
It’s increasingly obvious that each of us perceives and responds differently; and that is a call for compassion. We simply can’t assume that there is an exclusive right and normal way to see, do, and know things, to interpret and negotiate what we still call a consensus reality. There is less and less room—on the planet and in our shared psychic space— for these myopic habits of mind.
Cliff and I have been exploring the surrounds from our camp spot near the foot of Shavano, Tabeguache and Antero peaks as they cluster to the west. I drink in the Alpine Eden, silent but far from soundless, in the company of cicada filled Aspens, sighing pines, and a perfectly gurgling stream. Mountains adorn the horizon in all directions. We have seen only two parties of people since arriving, though we hear the occasional vehicle rumbling at inscrutable distance somewhere in the woods. Sometimes we hear cattle lowing, and we encountered a few on our first hike as we walked along a fence line trail; they appeared as if the rare human voice signaled food and were puzzled to find me standing in their drinking stream. There is enough crisply desiccated dung about to feed a sacred fire for many years.
This is a blessed home on the range.
I left Shirley and Jim’s in Indian Hills, Colorado, late morning on Sunday (the 25th), in perfect timing so that Cliffs’s text to determine my location reached me just before I exited cell phone range. Retracing my path along Hwy 285, I flowed along in a steady current of traffic to match the one passing opposite me. Still, I arrived at our meeting place in Salida nearly a half-hour ahead of ETA, and pulled in just as Cliff was arriving in his rig. We filled our pantry with provisions and climbed out of the valley and above Poncha Springs. It was a beautiful drive, though I grew cranky as I exceeded my comfortable driving and sun exposure limits and breathed in the thick dust Cliff’s camper chuffed up as I followed him at 5-15 mph for the tedious last 7.2 miles along dry and occasionally rutted roads.
That night when I hit the sack, the sack hit back with clouds of dust exploding into the air.
Once liberated from the car, though, it didn’t take long to appreciate the journey’s reward. I longingly eyed the campground we had passed with a beautiful, aspen-trunk teepee skeleton, which glowed with the aura of past ceremony. But we parked in a cul-de-sac farther on; here Cliff felt less visible from the road, free to live au naturel as he does.
Aside from voracious flies, we have had no visitors in camp. A lone deer glimpsed me from the meadow across the stream on my first morning’s meditation, but his curiosity could not override healthy instinct, and after some neck-craning and intent peering toward where I sat in the back of the van (hatch open and swathed in a bright red sleeping bag), he turned and launched into that inimitable bounce-bounding gallop they use to make quick distance and clear the understory of saplings, creeping juniper, and wild rose. Here everything is amplified; I heard him looking at me and opened my eyes to receive the gift of his brief visit. And as I type I fancy I can hear the sun reflecting off the quaking aspen leaves.
We have set out on our daily hike near 10:30 am, usually starting the hike unclothed and enjoying the celebratory caress of the mountain breeze, then after an hour, I’d bow to Sol and don my t-shirt and shorts for the remaining ramble. Both of us have been impressed with how much better our bodies hold up, even at this altitude, walking on the soft earth of summer grass and pine-fall. I have not experienced the kind of pain and fatigue I’d become habituated to in paved and populated places. I only just required the first ibuprofen and early nap after an educational 30-minute stroll up the road before breakfast this morning wearing my hard-soled Birkenstocks. Good to know.
Although historically I’ve had a pretty good sense of direction, and GPS seemed like cheating, these most recent hikes with Cliff’s GPS tracking device changes the experience; similar to hiking nude, it offers a sense of freedom a person might never have even known she was missing, until she experiences it. The part of the brain always tracking the sun and slant of the hill, dropping mental bread-crumbs, is now present to the full Wander; no worrying about retracing one’s steps, though I still enjoy meeting landmarks passed before like old friends.
It got me musing how this is the perfect time (of year, and of human history) to live like this, if you have the equipment. Cliff has a rig that can go where he wants. He has his bed, bath and kitchen with him. He has solar power and WIFI (even T.V.!). He can wander without worry about getting lost (unless the GPS malfunctions), and be remote without being entirely and unhealthily isolated. This has great appeal to my inner Edward Abbey! It is the life my father dreamed of, and one I thought I might make for myself.
I could stay here far longer, but this morning, we set off for Valley View Hot Springs.
But not before I had a beatific meditation in the aforementioned teepee. Sitting in that vaulted space, encircled by aspen trunks, with the piercing sun beaming over the horizon through the space between them, I could feel the power of being the mirror and conduit between earth and heaven, and daughter of both. I could feel what man built Cathedrals to inspire. The upward reach of heart and consciousness, of Earth itself, into vast, teeming and intelligent space.
And I bring that here to the healing waters …and far noisier, populated surrounds of Valley View.