The Naked And The Red
So I don’t have a problem with getting naked. Even in vaguely public places…well, sort of. I mean, as alert readers of this blog might recall, I’ve gone skinny dipping in locales from Charlotte County, Florida to the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. Swimming nekkid as the day you were born in the salty sea under the moon’s soft gaze is a flat-out gorgeous experience and definitely a step up from the motel pools I used to creep into at 4 a.m. with my miscreant college buddies. Though now that I think about it, that was pretty fun, too.
So when my friend Cindy Ross, an unbelievably magnificent woman who has hiked and biked the most far-flung locales across the globe with her equally dazzling family, mentioned to me we’d be taking our sauna this evening utterly unclothed, I didn’t precisely flip out. But I did pause, stumbling a bit over my words as I responded, “Oh…uh…okaaaaaaaay.”
Because Cindy lives on top of Hawk Mountain, a splendid, wild place renowned worldwide for the raptor sanctuary that calls it home. Because her family’s sauna (which they built, like their log cabin home, themselves) is more or less in the middle of the woods. Because not only Cindy and me and her husband Todd would be in that sauna, but so would be three men I’d never met before. And while getting naked and sweaty and turning beet red in front of strangers might have a vague Caligula-like appeal to some, the idea of it didn’t exactly excite me.
But Cindy, who apparently has faced these sorts of concerns before, explained that we’d be plunked down in the dark. There’d be no light in the sauna. Nobody would be able to see anything, not even my mascara dripping off my jaw or my-way white skin turning blotchy as a freshly printed newspaper left in the rain. This was profoundly reassuring. So was meeting the three fellows who’d be joining us, all long-time friends of Cindy and Todd’s. Not one of them looked like they’d without warning whip a giant, S.W.A.T.-worthy flashlight out in the sauna and beam it in my direction.
So after dinner (shish kabobs cooked outside, over an open fire, natch) and a glass of wine, I followed Cindy into the sauna. We disrobed in the little front room, which was dim, though not pitch-black, and stepped into what pretty much felt like what I imagine the surface of the sun might feel like. It was HOT in that little room. I don’t know the exact temperature – I think Cindy said usually Todd gets the fire going high enough it can get up to 190 degrees in there, though mercifully it wasn’t quite that toasty that night – but it was the kind of epic hot that makes it necessary for you to remind yourself to breath. And also that chances are, your hair probably won’t spontaneously burst into flames.
After a while the guys came in and Cindy was right, none of us could see a thing. But even if we could, I wouldn’t have cared. At all. Bono could have walked into that sauna and even if it was lit up like the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree not only would I not have glanced at him, I wouldn’t have even sucked in my tummy. I was far too intent on talking myself into staying just one more minute in that Hades-like inferno – and then one more minute more. And another. Until Cindy, in a gesture of kindness – or perhaps just sanity – declared “I gotta get out of here.”
So I stood up, grabbed the towel I’d been sitting on and followed her out the door, through the dressing chamber and into the forest. The outdoor shower was a few steps away and Cindy and I took turns rinsing the perspiration off our quickly-cooling skin, squealing with pleasure as the stars beamed down upon us their impassive light. We wrapped our towels around ourselves and retired to the long bench that runs along the outside of one of the sauna. And as I sat there I realized I felt…amazing. I wasn’t exhausted, wasn’t headachy – conditions that sometimes occurred when I used a sauna or steam room. I was bright-eyed and energized. I felt…healthy, if that makes sense. Clean and clear.
And after awhile I returned to the sauna. In fact, I returned to the sauna twice. And while I know that thermotherapy is immensely beneficial – removing toxins from the body, aiding sore muscles and joints, increasing circulation, improving sleep and more – I think the setting was also responsible for making me feel as damn fine as I did that night. The secluded spot in the forest, the funky outdoor shower, this incredible couple and their welcoming friends – and getting naked with every single one of them. Pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone. Sometimes I forget that in the end, that’s what it’s about. And who knows? Maybe next time Bono’ll be next to me in the sauna.