Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Cave sweat

Yesterday was another perfect island social gathering. It was the first Sunday that I had off all summer, so we went to Sauna Night. Instead of being at Allan’s, like it traditionally is, it had been moved to Tim F’s (not to be confused with Tim the Human, who is his friend) house, which was only about a mile away. First, however, we went over to Allan’s to hang out with him and his internet girlfriend, Holly. Allan is probably Jeff’s best friend, although neither one would likely admit it and Holly is fairly cool. Since she, too, is imported from the mainland, I find that I have a lot of perspectives in common with her. Although she works for Shearwater, I haven’t had a whole lot of opportunities to get to know her personally, so this time together was good. We talked about first periods and first bras. It’s an essential step with girlfriends, you know. I had put together cheesy potatoes at my house, then Jeff and I went over there to bake them. When my potatoes and Holly’s chai were ready, all four of us went over to Tim’s.

Tim’s house is entirely constructed of materials and methods that tread lightly on the earth. It has a timber frame and plaster walls. The insulation is shredded newspaper that’s been soaked in borax (to keep out the bugs) that is blown into the space between the walls with a high-powered blower. He has a small cast-iron gas-powered double burner that he salvaged and a wood-stove. Much of the furniture is made out of wood that he milled himself from logs on his property. He hasn’t processed them except to mill them into boards. They retain their natural edges and look really cool. His water all comes from the pond down the hill, so drinking water comes from a tank mounted on an old TV wall-mount that is installed on the post next to the sink. He has a similar outhouse set-up to Allan’s, meaning that there was a small building with a bench and a hole for solid waste, and you urinate outside wherever you want. The separation of the functions is so that the solid waste can be used for manure. The less liquid that gets collected in the 55-gallon plastic barrel, the easier it is to work with. (Don’t ask for details; that’s all I know.)

Down the hill from his house, where we parked and just in front of the pond, he has constructed a HUGE sauna. I didn’t go in it at first because it seemed like it was really full at the beginning of the party. It seemed to me that the number of people who showed up and then disappeared totaled at least 15 people and regardless of how many they told me would fit in the sauna, I just couldn’t get the image of a clown car full of sweaty, naked people out of my head. When we did eventually get ourselves up off the couch to be part of the second wave, I realized that I had been right to wait since there were people there that had never actually showed up at the house first; they just went straight into the sauna. The added bonus of waiting was that I ended up, for once in my life, with the cool people that I wanted to converse with, rather than the hippy-dippy strangers with whom I would had only been able to sit in companionable silence with. Jila and Scott, two guides with Shearwater that I really like, went down the hill with Jeff and I. Bridget, one of my favorite straight-talking women on the island, was still there and just a few other random people, included the woman who had substituted for Sarah (not Sukima) in my yoga class that morning. Both Bridget and Scott are extremely funny, so instead of the contemplative relaxing experience that I have gotten used to in Allan’s sauna and the sauna at Doe Bay, it was a rather rollicking, releasing experience.

Tim’s sauna is made out of ferro-cement that has been formed around big branches that curve to make a big dome frame. It’s very organic feeling and reminded me a little of the Native American mound at the Field Museum that we used to visit for interpretive programs when I was in Indian Princesses, especially since the few candles in Tim’s sauna seemed to replicate the lighting created by the simulated Native American fire that burned in the center of the lodge. Tim’s sauna, however, was smaller: probably 20 feet in diameter and probably only 7 or 8 feet tall at the top of the dome. On the same section of wall as the entrance (a heavy piece of canvas or leather; I’m not sure, it was dark) is the wood stove. It is built into the wall and the mouth of it that takes new wood actually opens out into the anteroom, where clothes are left and wood is kept dry. On the other ¾ of the wall is built a 4 foot deep curving bench. When the sauna is full, people sit two deep. By the time I got there, it was easy to lay back and breathe deep when necessary. It was very dark in the sauna, especially when one first enters it. One time, upon re-entering it, I called, “Jeffrey! Marco!” His “Polo” helped me find where to sit. The two candles cast only enough light to create shadows and to turn our bodies into silhouettes for each other. It was actually very beautiful and primal. All bodies are gorgeous in silhouette. I will now always picture this sauna when I think of Plato’s cave. The floor is flagstone and there is a shower in the middle of it. When you first turn the shower on to cool off, the water is warm because it has been sitting in the pipe above the stove. Then, the shower begins pulling the water from the pond and it is cold enough to leave you gasping as it hits your body’s core temperature spots: torso, back shoulders, lower back, head and neck. Since the shower was actually in the sauna, though, the extremities that weren’t actually under the stream of water warmed up almost immediately, so the discomfort of a prolonged cold shower was alleviated. Since the floor was stone, it was warm and most of the water that ran off of us went up into the air as steam. This made the sauna a totally different kind of heat from Allan’s sauna and the sauna at Doe Bay, which are made of cedar and create a very dry environment except when water is poured on the rocks. This wetness contributed to the rollicking atmosphere. In wooden saunas, you have to wait quietly while your body warms up and produces sweat to overcome the dryness. In this sauna, the ever-present steam condenses to one’s relatively cool body immediately upon entering, like water on a cool glass in summer. This condensation seems to encourage the body to sweat for itself immediately, so the time of meditation that usually takes place while waiting is completely skipped and the stage of spewing out toxins commences immediately. The spewing-out of toxins is often quite festive, don’t you think? If the cold shower isn’t quite enough to shock the system or if one starts to feel claustrophobic, the pond is just beyond the sauna. Actually just at the mouth of the anteroom is a rope swing hung from a 50 foot tall blasted tree. As I followed the other girls around to the side of the pond where the brush had been cleared to create a bank from which to enter the pond, I heard Scott say to the group of guys that were standing around the swing, “Well, they wouldn’t put it here if it weren’t legit on the other end, would they?” Keep in mind that it is completely dark out except for starlight and we of the second wave of sweaters had not cased the joint, so were wandering somewhat blindly, so Scott’s bravado was particularly stupid and therefore particularly funny. As the girls got around to the edge of the pond, we realized that since it is the middle of August and we have had very little rain this summer, the rope swing probably wasn’t legit at the other end, which made us laugh all the harder. As Jila and I swam in the cold, cold pond, she noticed the stars since it had been overcast all day. I pointed out that of course the stars came out, I was having a perfect island experience, wasn’t I? However, I could not shake the nagging feeling for the rest of the night that I had pond plants on me and maybe even a little bit between my cheeks, like sand in one’s swimsuit after a day at the beach when you’re a little kid.

So, after a little longer in the sauna, I stood around outside, looking at the stars while my body cooled off so I wouldn’t sweat into my clothes. We went back up to the house and I learned that my cheesy potatoes had been a hit. Apparently, what I considered to be a rather cop-out dish was actually considered a novelty and classic midwest cooking. I had used the potatoes that I’ve been getting from Rhonda week after week and cheddar and asiago cheese. Also, butter. The potatoes were Yukon Gold and some kind of purple potato with white flesh. Fanstastic. The asiago cheese fell to the bottom of the casserole dish and formed a crust since Allan’s oven has no consistency of temperature and actually got hotter after I put the casserole in and turned the knob down. Yummy, salty brown cheese. We hung around for a little while longer and then headed home. All in all, a satisfying island social experience.

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