Page devoted to excerpts from published works about Stewart Mineral Springs -- three to date -- including one from factional novel set there in part.
& Stewart Springs
Following are excerpts from Briton Peter Caddy's 1995 autobiography, "In Perfect Timing: Memoirs of a man for New Millennium," posthumously published (and presumably titled) by widow. Simon and Shuster 454 pp. He lived 1917-1994.
At the beginning of 1981 I went on a three-month tour of the United States and Canada... The tour culminated with a networking conference that I organized for groups and communities on the West Coast, at Stewart Mineral Springs near Mt. Shasta in northern California...
Paula and I were married in the town of Mt. Shasta 5 June 1982, by a North American Indian and a Roman Catholic priest who became the President of our new Foundation, which we called Gathering of the Ways. It was our intention to start a spiritual community there. To begin with, our headquarters were at nearby Stewart Mineral Springs, an ancient place of healing power, where we held workshops for the many spiritual leaders that I had come to know in different fields...
The Findhorn Community had become legendary in California -- home to one of the best and worst expressions of the New Age - in the fifteen or so years since Paul Hawkins and others had first written about it... Therefore as one of its founders, I was assured of a warm welcome wherever I went, and there was never a shortage of lecture and workshop opportunities. I had a new family in Paula and Daniel; a larger 'family' of many, many friends, old and new, and a comfortable, spacious home in a superb and sunny clime which encouraged people to spend more time outdoors than inside, and seemed to make them friendlier and less inhibited. But try as I might I could never really feel truly at home in California. While the Americans and I shared a common language (most of the time!), there was a cultural gap that I simply could not bridge. It was hard enough to find a decent cup of tea! Perhaps the problem is best illustrated by recollections of my first tour of the United States in 1974, which included a visit to David Spangler and the Lorians. David had always enthused about Disneyland and one of his dreams was to take me there, so during my stay a large party of us set out in three cars to drive to Los Angeles. We spent the day at Disneyland, and I was appalled. For the first time I saw tourists en masse in their summer clothes which revealed their gross bodies and bulging bellies. I realized why the people were so obese when I searched for something to eat: it was the first I had been exposed to such a plethora of junk food, and the only refreshment I could find was wonderful fresh orange juice. The rest was white bread, hot dogs, donuts, candy, etc. -- everything to eat seemed to be man-made and artificial.
The birds and animals on display were all mechanical, though I did catch a sight of one live sparrow somewhere. I took a trip in a bogus submarine and saw artificial seaweed and plastic tropical fish, which was quite boring after having seen the real thing when diving in the Red Sea and the Great Barrier Reef off Australia. I could not understand why people came in their thousands to see all the artificiality, but then when I looked at the suburbs of California, everything seemed artificial. At the end of the day David came up with bright eyes and said, "Well, what did you think of it?" I remarked that I did enjoy the one live bird that I'd seen. Although I had been taught to see only the positive, that was the only positive thing I could find.
The longer I lived in California, however, the more I was able to find its 'sunnyside', the positive and often delightful aspects of its outgoing lifestyle, and I expected that I would spend the rest of my life based there; yet the doubts remained about whether I would ever truly fit it. In Mt Shasta there was a 'genuine' English pub 'The Spinners Arms' [earlier and since known as The Wayside Inn; editor played his one professional piano gig there in 1984], run by two expatriate Britons whose excellent menu offered such fare as steak-and-kidney puddings and Lancashire hotpots, and I must admit that it was more often than not my first choice when inviting visitors out to dinner...
Another excerpt on Peter Caddy & Springs
Further writings from Scotland's Findhorn co-founder Peter Caddy (1917-1994), excerpted from Bruce Walton's book Home of the Ancients.
During 1983-1984, Caddy at 66, as indicated above, hoped to establish a "New Findhorn" teaching center around Mount Shasta. Towards that end, he leased Elizabeth Wagner's Green Springs
House, located just outside Springs' gate entrance (ten acres permanently cut away from Springs parcel by earlier co-owner) and sussed possibilities of purchasing Springs, then tenuously on market.
"...As some of you know, I now reside in the Mount Shasta area, where I, and others, are called upon to focus the creation of a new centre of light. At this time, Earth trembles
with wars, and the threat of wars. Man seems more concerned with who has the right key to god than with God. Our vision for this centre is to provide a place which will draw people together to discover how we may make a significant contribution to a positive future for humanity.
"Shasta has long been recognized as one of the world's Energy Centres and as a place of spiritual inspiration. Our goal is to use the wisdom and knowledge of the many Centres of love and light...
"For Summer 1984, we have joined with the staff and ownership of Stewart Mineral Springs -- a haven of healing and natural beauty. We will join like minded persons in creating a world that will work for us all. Programs will include a drive up Shasta, optional walks along the glorious Pacific Crest Trail, swimming in beautiful mountain lakes such as Lake Siskiyou with its deep blue waters and views of handy beaches, green forests, lovely wild flowers and mighty Mount Shasta towering above. "...Since leaving Findhorn in 1979, I have been preparing the foundations for a new community near Mt. Shasta, CA. This promises to be one of the most important planetary centres of the emerging age, one that will draw on its members' diverse background and training, weaving them together with a common vision of a future for humanity.
"The Gathering of the Ways, which I have founded with my wife, Paula, aims to demonstrate how we can build better lives and communities through cooperation and love. Our first step was our successful series of educational programs last summer (1983) at Stewart Mineral Springs, which has led us to the next step, acquiring a major property upon which to build the spiritual/scientific, educational/'healing/creative community we envision. In addition, we launched our second season of programs at Stewart Mineral Springs (1984)...
"...we look forward to personally welcoming you and others to experience the power of Mt. Shasta."
Alas, nothing ever panned out. Maybe it was inability to meet asking price. Some believe it was special celestial gift of first wife, Eileen (1917-2006), then divorced from Peter, combined with his regimenting leadership talent and historic, rarefied times, that enabled miracle of Findhorn in first place.
Now he was starting from scratch, and the magic wasn't there for a second act. Spotted one day sitting sitting alone at Mt. Shasta's former Mt. Eddy Bagel Shop, he wore forlorn, not-gonna-happen look. (Maybe it might've happened in another place. But people of Mt. Shasta region, each doing own thing and going deep within with mountain's powerful meditative influence, appear to seldom rally together for much of ANYthing.)
For perhaps most revealing and inspiring book ever written on Findhorn, check out Paul Hawkins's The Magic of Findhorn.
When Body Freedom (of sorts)
Returned to Stewart Springs
Following excerpt is from 2007 book, Strange Days Indeed: Memories of the Old World, by Stuart R. Ward
Quasi-autobiographical, factional novel is time-warped visionary fantasy, in part on body acceptance and radical body freedom Stewart Springs inspired.
Here fictionalized characterizations and names of Stewart Springs people are dropped, revealing real-life persons some long-time visitors might remember. Reworked excerpt is essentially true episode about Stewart Springs's shift in 2000 from traditional cloak-thy-bod stance to more enlightened one...so rudely quashed in late 2016
The conversation in old sauna actually happened.
In the '90s and double-aughts I felt pulled to Stewart Mineral Springs, a rural rustic resort a half-hour's drive across Shasta Valley from home. Nestled in steep alpine canyon amid thick stands of pine and cedar with rushing creek tumbling through, the place was another world.
Its quaint shingle-roofed bathhouse provided 15 mineral water tub rooms, a wood-fired sauna and generous sundeck. Creek served as make-shift cold plunge for anyone willing to brave often icy snow-melt waters while providing constant background healing white-noise water music throughout the grounds.
People came from far and wide to soak in Stewart's silica-rich waters. Beyond taking the waters, they luxuriated relaxing in the sauna and unwinding amid the rugged serenity of alpine canyon.
Situated in a traditionally conservative ranching/farming/logging/tourist community, place's standard policy had long been to keep one's physical personage covered everywhere beyond private tub room and shower. A brief nude creek plunge if you must, but with accustomed false modesty reigning supreme, most kept sheets on even there. Any daring to skinnydip were expected to re-cover promptly on emerging from creek, no doubt to spare others the unsettling experience of unexpectedly seeing an everyday naked human form in un-commercial, non-exploitative way. There'd once been separate saunas for men and women -- called sweat rooms then -- where seated patrons were wrapped in wool blankets by attendant to help induce profuse perspiration.
Quaint bathhouse, built in teens or twenties, seemed to hold homey but tight-wound regimented vestiges of some old-world health sanitarium. Most every visitor wore attendant-issued, dark-green half sheets; they'd become seeming spa uniform. Whenever a new shipment of singles 50-50 blend sheets came in, the sound of rending cloth issued forth from bathhouse's laundry room. The suggestible might've sensed ever-alert nurse Ratchet was close by and it would be inadvisable to depart from time-honored regimen in any way.
While place earlier had gone clothing-optional under Goodpasture ownership, merrily joining the wave of body liberation of the rarefied late '60s through early '70s (that culminated in national streak fever phenomenon of 1974), under new owners it once again fell back on clothes-minded times.
Shortly after I stumbled on the Springs, Mary Hildebrand launched her managership, taking over helm from her cousin Suzie Frank, partnered through both terms with mothers Pat and Ceci, respectively, running front desk by turn. It was a long-dedicated family-management operation. The owner lived far away and usually only visited briefly once a year to check on things and take reports and give new directives.
Soon a new little green sign with black lettering on the office wall announced:
Part serious, part zen riddle, part Mary's whack sense of humor, the sign actually led more than one to ask if it was okay to be naked in one's private tub room.
Another sign, posted prominently on old heavy green sauna door, warned:
In my first year or two visiting I was too self-conscious being nude around others for such signs to outrage me much for its body-repressive message. Still shackled to age-old body shame even though longtime enthusiastic if guilt-ridden closet nudist, I'd only grumble "You believe that?" at the sign, like one slave complaining to another about how tight our manacles were.
Over time I'd finally rebel and dare to bare with other scofflaw regulars inside dim, fire-lit sauna chamber. That is, once safely seated and still as a statue on an upper bench. I'd sometimes be made to feel uncomfortable even then, disapproving gazes of certain dutifully wrapped sauna-goers boring into me and others for so brazenly breaking house rules and making shameless spectacle of themselves. I'd feel my physical temple judged indecent, reinforcing ridiculously negative body image I was at long last on verge of shaking off.
I found the discomfort experienced being quietly hassled by others for not keeping covered was far outweighed by discomfort avoided by keeping on a clammy towel in dim-super-heated room dedicated to making bodies sweat -- plus the exhilarating, liberating feeling of being socially naked that fostered building positive body acceptance and provided an indescribably delicious rush of I'm-okay-you're-okay feelgoodness.
Inspired by writings of The Naturist Society that I'd recently joined, I began nurturing a conviction that the place should be clothing optional. Heck, the whole world, for that matter...why not? But at least a bloomin' bathhouse, for gosh sakes.
Even though I quietly rebelled as my body image mindset changed, part of me still festered in warped mindset that objectified self and others. I still felt a numb disconnect between body, mind and spirit. Still bought into the illusion of separateness. But every now and then I experienced a fleeting mystic moment of awareness. sensing that our individual bodies were all but pieces of a divine puzzle devised by the Creator to make eternal existence more interesting.
Then the day came one winter that marked a critical turning point, one destined to reverse my alienated mindset. I was standing in the middle of a packed sauna, lit by the blazing fire-view stove in front of me, wanting to let my eyes adjust to the outer near-darkness before seeking an open perch without inadvertently sitting on anyone (as had been known to happen with others).
Suddenly, my small towel, mind of its own, slipped to the floor.
Once, in second grade, I'd gone to school wearing a short-sleeve shirt under my jacket. I hadn't picked it out to wear; I preferred keeping sheathed in long-sleeved shirts, gangling pipe-cleaner arms safe from scrutiny. My mom, maybe sensing an extreme body hang-up, insisted I wear it that day. Taking off my jacket for class and exposing limbs unaccountably left me feeling semi-naked even though many in the class were also in short sleeves. The girl next to me, who I had a mad crush on, teased me mercilessly, maybe also sensing my absurdly repressed body acceptance. She looked up my arm sleeve in mock-excitement and coo-ed, "Ooh, naked armpit!" I turned scarlet.
Now, some 40 years later, I was suddenly flat-out naked before a roomful of people. Not one shred of modesty-preserving cloth on.
It didn't matter that many others in the sauna were nude too; they were safely perched around the chamber's dark recesses and still as statues. A bright spotlight was on me: And now, ladies and gentlemen, in center stage for your delectation and amusement, behold the daring young man, revealing his undisguised nakedness...
I wanted to die, to melt into the floor ducking and join the cricket that took up residence there near the firewood stash and see if he'd teach me how to chirp. I hastily retrieved towel and re-wrapped my trunk and scurried over to a bench dizzy with mortification. It was a moment of reckoning. The sins of the hour had caught up with me for having so long idly, obsessively objectified women's bodies, no doubt in some way a reflection of having been alienated from my own.
No one said anything. No nude police came. No inquisition down in dungeon while whipped with wet noodle. Not even a snicker. Just an eternity of blood pounding silence.
I realized later that the incident, so shocking to my embracing false modesty, served to bridge the yawning gap within that kept me from becoming any more integrated in body, mind and spirit. It served as catalyst to begin freeing me from feeling like a turtle without a shell whenever publicly out of clothes -- at least while in relaxed environs and among kindred nature-loving spirits. New tendrils of body acceptance began growing on that day.
I'm sure most or all of those sitting around in the sauna had been far more accepting of my body than its owner, maybe even sensed my distress and silently assured me it was okay. Or were meditating or so zoned out they didn't even notice. Or care if they did. Maybe amused. Although still time away from any more fully overcoming an objectifying habit -- so thoroughly had super-impressionable sponge of a mind absorbed the idiotic male mindset of the 1950s growing up, compounded by a pronounced, if inhibited, sensual nature -- the episode put me on the road to at last mend my errant ways.
Over years of visits to the Springs I learned to be relaxed nude around others. I found being publicly bare in relaxed natural and harmonious surroundings grand therapy indeed. It de-programmed an uber-skewered, body-phobic upbringing. I was fast learning to feel at home in my body while at same time learning to accept everyone else's and without becoming either unduly excited or repulsed -- both societal products of human bodies having been hidden away for so long from one another.
Each of us, trusting the other to be naked around without judgement, idle lust, or untoward attention, helped open my heart in a profound way hard to describe.
It's said mindful public nudity is essentially a physical statement of peace and love.
Countless others found it good therapy, too. Stewart Springs was poised for a nudist comeback, of sorts -- the way grocery stores were poised for a return to organic foods, city dwellers for an exodus from Babylon, Star Wars producers for another movie.
What was to unfold there reflected a happy surge in positive body acceptance among more freethinking people in the world at large. Individuals wanted the freedom -- or at least option -- to shuck wraps in select natural public places and harmonize with elements and one another. We'd long enjoyed being nude in private -- alone, as couples, with family -- and it dawned on many that limiting it to that was ridiculous...at least while in natural surroundings. People realized how much we'd been made to feel uncomfortably self conscious and guilt ridden over our essential physical beings.
We were caterpillars, slowly unraveling from cocoons on the installment plan. The more we transformed -- graceful colorful selves unfurling and taking flight -- the more we yearned to leave the dross of dress of the caterpillar world behind, if only for awhile.
The old dim-lit sauna [since enlarged] afforded a perfect healing atmosphere. The low-ceiling-ed, 10 x 16 foot, all-wood chamber was womb-like, redwood walls darkened from decades of baking and hosing down, with twin-level horseshoe-patterned benches on one side facing straight-across, twin-level benches on the other. The intricate 2 X 6" floorboard pattern echoing the perfect diamond mandala pattern of the bathhouse's lobby floor was further conducive to meditation.
The fire-view wood stove's heat suffused chamber with magical radiance, enveloping us, golden glow of flames and coals through stove's glass door fairly transfiguring nude forms no matter what shape into burnished living gods and goddesses.
Over time isolated idle grumblings had grown over restrictive cover-up policy putting a damper on things. For traditionally the sauna was where one got free of restrictive cloth, sweats out toxins, relaxed, wound down. Yet there we were, ordered to keep wrapped in sweat-soaked, bacteria-infested sheets, towels and swimsuits in a room hot enough to slow-cook dinner -- and expected to enjoy it?
As said, rebels among us were made to feel like textile-challenged outlaws for ignoring the posted admonition, no matter how mindful and low-key one was. Whenever the heavy green door opened, many scrambled to wrap in flurry of slapped wet towels and sheets lest it be bathhouse attendant, who might then report us to the manager. The times it was only a fellow rebel entering someone invariably said, "Oh, it's only you" in mock disgust, and shameless outlaws uncovered again amid chuckles.
Bespectacled attendant Linda, charged with keeping an eye on such troublesome scofflaws, periodically burst in to stoke stove knowing she'd likely catch some daring to break the house rule. Though her heart wasn't into reporting every policy violation, she was determined to keep the chamber a fiery 190 degrees F. Knowing her disapproval for the way we flouted hidebound tenets of Christian decency, I sometimes imagined she had some fantasy she was stoking the fires of Hell for shameless sinners.
Oddly enough given the situation, few if any complained to manager Mary about this comfort-crimping restriction.
Mary, an intense, plain spoken woman with an infamously volatile temper, was forever preoccupied with endless demands of running a resort. Sundry everyday duties were complicated by dealing with pressure from absentee owner to maximize profits on a starvation budget. This meant dealing with fast-turnover of often unmotivated, bickering minimum-wage staff that predictably caused operations to get incredibly sketchy at times, in turn creating dissatisfied visitors to deal with -- all of which could combine to make her forever a whisper away from exploding. Sometimes, venting, she'd swear a blue streak in the office over phone while door was open to bathhouse, ears of shocked soakers taken aback hearing such discouraging words in place of ostensible refuge from such.
Depending on her mood then, we knew then we'd either be made to feel funny saying we wanted more freedom to be nude and suffer her smirks and ribbings, or, if she was under extreme pressure, risk her grave displeasure and suffer a glare that could freeze water. It would imply we didn't like the way she was running things. She might react drastically and insist we keep sheets on in the creek too. As a result, the only complaints she received were about shameless people flouting the rule...which in turn seemed to reinforce perceived need to keep such oppressive policy in force.
Yet another sign -- this one larger and wooden, in big blocked black letters -- was posted on the sundeck railing. It pleaded:
If it felt grand being nude in the wood-fired sauna, it felt divine in the sunshine. It might be glorious weather, sun pouring down like ambrosia, kissing skin with gentle, magical radiance; soft breeze blowing, white-noise rushing of the creek fostering total relaxation... And there we were expected to keep shackled in clammy man-made cloth in fainthearted obeisance to quaint, outdated morality and false modesty, locked into rigid conventions of acceptable social behavior from which no even one dared think of departing.
More regular visitors and select first-timers, perhaps used to more full-tilt body freedom at sister regional springs like Harbin, Breitenbush and Jackson Wellsprings, grumbled among themselves about the situation...not as many as you'd think, but a handful found it more than a little mind-boggling that there was such an antiquated puritan mindset at a mineral springs operation nestled in the middle of nature...
...a place where it was only natural to want to amp up spa benefits and relaxation by enjoying it au naturel.
While as said, you could cold-plunge naked in the creek if you wanted, you had to cover up immediately on leaving the water. No shilly-shally, no dilly-dally. Only a few stolen moments to enjoy the pleasure of water and sun kissing bare skin before having to return to sweat-soaked cloth prison of green half-sheet or towel after emerging.
On one fine summer day perfect for sunbathing I witnessed a telling incident that perfectly summed up the weird situation. It revolved around a female acquaintance who'd known the place from more bohemian days of Goodpasture ownership. She was a published writer [last name Golden], whose spiritual work had earlier singly graced bathhouse's green lobby table for years. Perhaps unaware how restrictive things had gotten, she was blissfully sunning nude on an island rock near creek's edge after a cooling dip. Mermaid on a rock.
"Cover up! You've got to cover up!" suddenly screeched the bath attendant from sundeck above out of the blue, arms flailing like a mother hawk trying to frighten predator away from nest. Some sourpuss had no doubt complained about her wanton display at desk and dutiful attendant went on red alert.
The inadvertent scofflaw first turned and looked up at distressed modesty enforcer, then over at me with a blank, you gotta be kidding look. I could only offer a Gallic shrug as I was dutifully wrapped at the moment with tiny towel. She complied silently, not wanting to make a scene, but the incident undoubtedly fostered in her mind a growing conviction management was plumb nuts.
Interesting Sauna Talk
In the dim-lit sauna one day some of us regulars entertained wishful thinking on the subject:
"They should allow nudity in here so you can enjoy the heat directly and sweat freely," one man, nude, ventured as he crumpled dried white sage leaves on the wood stove's top.
"I'd rather have it be okay on the sundeck," said a woman on the far bench, doing yoga as best she could while wrapped in sheet. "The direct sun feels awesome."
"If I had to choose, I'd say we should be able to skinnydip in the creek and sun naked by the water afterwards," said another, wearing towel, sitting half-lotus on a high bench and coming out of a mini-meditation. "That's the most logical spot. "
It should be mentioned that talking in sauna was allowed back then so long as people spoke softly, not in street voice. (And no one requested silence, often gently, but sometimes rudely as in, "Hey, can't you guys talk outside? I'm trying to meditate here!") Singing and chanting uplifting songs were occasional treats. One time we were blessed to have a woman treat us to an exquisite, pitch-perfect rendering of the haunting Nat King Cole song Nature Boy that sent chills up the spine.
While the new, larger sauna could hold more and had its own charm, the old vintage one was far more intimate and womb-like -- and something of a time machine. For the chamber's darkened redwood walls were saturated with energies of countless thousands of visitors spanning long decades. It was a magical link to simpler times that invited quiet, intimate sharing.
While I'd never worked as an advocate for much of anything in my life before, something stirred in me that day. Long an enthusiastic if guilt-ridden closet nudist, I was now fast becoming a nudaholic, gaining fresh radical perspective. I'd become keenly aware how oppressive and neurotic our age-old compulsory-compulsive perma-dressed mindset was. And how, being super impressionable and ultra susceptible, I'd absorbed and magnified it to ridiculous levels growing up. As such a victim of body-alienated culture, there was perhaps a certain poetic justice in my eventually becoming a low-key body-freedom advocate for the place.
Inspired by liberating train of conversation, I asked, "Why not all three?"
2004 nude anti-war demonstration at San Francisco, CA's Ocean Beach
I was mindful of the extravagance of the statement.
"Oh, no," said the third quickly. "You don't want to rock the boat asking too much or they won't allow it anywhere."
"Yeah, that'll never happen," said the second with knowing certainty. "This place is just too conservative."
"I agree," said the first. "I don't want to have to see too much skin; the dim lighting in here is perfect."
"If we could have just one place, I say it should be the sundeck, where you can catch rays and get an all-over tan."
"Nah, around the creek's the logical spot; you're already naked from plunging."
"No, the sauna; it gets too uncomfortable in here otherwise."
Around it went. I grew dizzy. My idea was, obviously, an impossible dream, and duly dismissed out of hand.
As penny-ante as the discussion was, we'd at least brought matters out into the open, past unspoken thoughts of private nudists.
For, indeed, it appeared everyone and their uncle was a secret card-carrying nudist...of sorts. Society's cover-up mindset was so draconian that many took keen conspiratorial delight in being naked places we shouldn't , or thought we shouldn't be naked. Although we might feel bold and daring, empowered for rebelling against prevailing oppressive enforced-dress mindset on however small a level for the comfort- and sensory-crimping restriction it was -- many convinced immersing in water wrapped in cloth was like trying to bathe with your clothes on -- we were usually content to keep our personal rebellions private.
No matter how much we savored the experience and felt it natural, free, and right, no one it seemed thought to do anything to try to get old rules changed. Society appeared to have a permanent body-phobic, clothes-minded neurosis: A person uncovered was not a complete person. Can't change it. Why try? Resistance is futile.
In our neck of the woods, anyhow.
< Spencer Tunick art installation in Mexico, circa 2006. Some of 6,000 participants
Maybe regulars didn't want to rock the boat. They knew the place was strangely off-kilter in ways, but wanted to enjoy it as much as possible as is, without raising a fuss -- not too unlike, say, a shabby-looking car for sale cheap that ran just fine, not wanting to try lowering the price for fear of jinxing the deal.
Maybe, too, it was because forbidden fruit tasted sweeter the way things were that we didn't feel need to try to get policy changed. The normal compulsory-dress condition of our lives was made bearable by the condition creating a veritable tsunami of pleasurable excited feelings whenever one did get naked in mixed-gender company, as it was almost invariably a prelude to love making.
So we'd tweaked ourselves into accepting things the way they were. For most, the always-clothed habit was so deeply etched in the brain since toddlerhood that we accepted clothes as permanent extensions of our bodies whenever in public. And, much like the mainstream meat-and-dairy dietary habit, it was absurd to think things ever would - or ever should - change.
Having delicate sensibilities, I always avoided unpleasantries and gnarly confrontations. I'd never gotten involved in social protest, not even during the Viet Nam War, though all too mindful of its horror. Not beyond trepidaciously wearing a little peace sign button, anyhow, that my college girlfriend had given me. Knowing no better, I pinned it on upside-down and it took a classmate to drolly point out my faux pas.
Even that was a gutsy move on my part. For I was an anti-red-diaper baby, product of rabid anti-communist upbringing. Days before my birth in San Francisco at tail end of 1940s, then-Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb and China went communist. I drank in my dad's resulting seething ocean of far-right paranoia and war-mongering outrage with my first breath and duly magnified it internally, becoming something of a basket case growing up.
By college, though, being super-impressionable and getting contact high from staggering late-sixties' Haight-Ashbury phenomenon unfolding a short mile away from City campus, it dawned on me that I'd been royally brainwashed. With dramatic new consciousness flooding the region everywhere, within and without, I quickly got over thinking angry war protesters and outlandish hippie counterculture as a bunch of dirty pinko commies out to destroy the nation. I would even fitfully became something of a hippie myself over time, increasingly disenchanted with mainstream culture's essentially "Have a bad day," anti-life mindset. I dared smoke cannabis for the first time in a friend's basement the very night Richard Nixon, one-time political crony of my father, got first elected president. (Looking back, doing so then was amazingly in synch.) That said, I was still basically a timid soul morphing at glacially slow speed over decades, leisurely deprogramming from parents' far-right and times' societal brainwashing.
Now, growing awareness how people's personal body freedom, not least of which my own, was being systematically suppressed at long last pushed me beyond outward acquiescence to the status quo. Emboldened knowing a viable body liberation movement was afoot, I decided to risk hell and high water by lowkeyly pushing for change in bathhouse policy. Walter Mitty springs into action.
"The world's not ready for it"
One day in the late 90s, girding loins and steeling nerve like a gladiator psyching for battle, I approached manager Mary enthroned at her front office desk.
A short, generally upbeat, whip-smart, devil-may-care woman, she could give the decided impression she'd rather be driving a truck, coaching a football team, or riding the rodeo circuit than running some Let's-get-in-touch-with-our-inner-divine retreat. Even so, she managed the place with a ride-'em-cowgirl enthusiasm, having a sharp, on-top-of-things grasp of management many appreciated and some were more than a little in awe of. The woman thrived on super-engaged operations managing. see Something about Mary
She knew me as a budding nudenik and mostly tolerated me, if warily. She wasn't rigorous about enforcing the no-nudity policy unless someone complained, but wasn't about to take down the signs either and change policy. Confusion reigned supreme.
As I was a business major before dropping out of Berkeley in 1970 after two weeks -- times were too wild and momentous to want to spend even one minute in spirit-deadening ivory tower -- I tried appealing to her business sense: "Mary, I understand how you want to make guests feel welcome here. Maybe there was a time when most everyone preferred keeping covered and were uncomfortable around those who didn't. But those days are gone. You know it's just a vocal minority raising a fuss. More people than not want at least the option to enjoy the spa experience nude -- if not for themselves, then for others. You don't offer them that here, they'll go elsewhere."
She tilted her head and fixed eyes on me with her signature gremlin grin and said, "Ya think?"
At first I concluded I was wasting my breath. When I'd begin work-trading there not long after, she seemed to take keen delight shooting down my suggestions like so many ducks in an arcade game.
To my great surprise, she went on to say she agreed...but then added, "the world's not ready for it." As I learned later, she was a de facto body freedom advocate, having once been arrested driving bare breasted around Reno (albeit drunk at the time). She admitted keeping the cover-up policy mostly in deference to her mom, Pat, who'd run the front office forever along with older sister Ceci. A kinder lady you never met, but Pat was uncomfortable with the idea of public nudity, pure and simple. (In startling contrast, legend had it that older sister Ceci was the nude model for risque painting that for decades graced the wall inside City of Mt. Shasta's Vets Club tavern.)
Tragically, Pat suddenly fell ill with a rare blood disease and crossed over in early 2000. (see Something about Mary) Her passing, however, seemed to clear the way for changing bathhouse policy. This was, in part, because Mary was so devastated by her loss -- and possibly feared she'd inherited the same incurable blood disease -- that she didn't seem to care much about anything anymore beyond Raiders games. Her attitude was basically, "Okay, get nekkid if you want, I don't care. Happy now?"
Before long, a new routed, rainbow lettered wood sign I'd ordered from a naturist artisan and traded for two saunas, graced the old green sauna door. It read, simply
Victory! Guests and day visitors could once again get nekked as jays in the sauna, sweating away unfettered if they so chose. On the heels of that restriction lifting -- met with apparent approval or seeming neutral indifference by most -- the outer sundeck and creek area soon become freebody zones as well. People could once again enjoy sweating nude, soak in the rays directly, and skinnydip to their heart's content.
The bathhouse had once again come to feel more like...a bathhouse.
Looking back, I realized that the time was ripe for such dramatic changes. The oppressive policy likely would've likely lifted soon anyway, even without my little campaign.
But I'd like to think the efforts hastened the day.
Lest anyone doubt such signs ever existed, here they are, rescued from trash and preserved for posterity. Andy, who wired new sauna's electrical, dubbed collection "The Stewart Springs Museum of Shame."
Skinny on Now-Scrapped,
Schizophrenic Nood Policy
Policy for 17 free-spirited years was to cover up in Stewart Springs bathhouse hallways and on inner
sundeck, with option to be nude in sauna, outer sundeck, and around creek plunge area.
Then, effective 11-1-2016, nudity outside private tubroom and shower suddenly became verboten once more. The decision was made by new ownership earlier that year and announced matter-of-factly in small print on door, without having sought one bit of feedback from faithful visitors. Ban was resurrected, to some people's way of thinking, like some cast-off broken-down relic unearthed at town dump of antiquated morals and scraped off to do more dubious service. (See News.) It's true that old c/o policy was sometimes breached
by bold exhibitionists and blithe spirits who felt restriction too lame for words and worthy of flouting.
More often though, it was by those who'd simply lost track of which zones were verboten. Especially after frying brains in sauna and getting into such a comfortable freebody
zone that wrapping up to leave sauna and head for cold plunge, shower or tub, or vice versa, felt counter-intuitive and downright schizophrenic. The brain constantly switched gears between "okay nude" and "not-okay nude," with body following suit -- or unsuit. It made for one weird feeling, like some speed dressing/undressing model in fashion review. But it was also one that regulars quickly adapted to, and newcomers soon got the hang of as simply being the way things were.
The very fact there was at times a sketchy clothing-optional climate went directly to management following Mary never fully approving of it or 'getting' it. Managing couple after Foggy sister team was forced to accept c/o policy because absentee owner seemed to conclude it was doing wonders in helping boost business volume. If management lacked clear understanding, appreciation, and approval of how simple mindful nudity option can amp effectiveness and enjoyment of spa visit, then resulting policy, basically unsupported, could have chaotic consequences.
It was their being so clueless about low-key, bohemian spa culture that led the way for creating a self-fulfilling prophesy: since permitting even modest spa nudity will always be inherently rife with problems, it's best to keep it banned for sake of decency and comfort of believed majority.
Other springs that embrace simple mindful nudity don't have same problem because it's so integrated into alternative-culture spirit of place. People uncomfortable with public nudity realize this and simply opt to go elsewhere, or perhaps at last get back in touch with inner innocent child...or at least suffer others to do so, that they might more fully enjoy and benefit by place.
That said, Stewart Springs is in a traditionally conservative region -- no Harbin a zip away from Bay Area with region's light years more-liberal lifestyles. Its patrons could still be bit scandalized at notion of anything more than discreet, mostly-stationary nudity like sunbathing, and skinnydipping, sauna-ing in dark chamber. The idea of, say, nude volleyball, ecstatic dance, and what some saw as suggestive yoga postures when done nude -- still shocked conventional sensibilities. While past
sentiment lived on, it had faded enough to allow modicum of low-key body freedom that place enjoyed from 2000 through 2016.
Of course, there's another issue keeping
more unfettered body freedom from becoming established at Stewart Springs.
Besides cold weather, that is.
The office/gift shop is close to the bathhouse -- scratch that, it's in the bathhouse. People fresh off the highway are coming in all the time. It'd naturally be too unsettling -- for both groups -- to have newcomers walk from always-clothed office-gift shop into lobbyful of naked and semi-naked
people zoning out in heat-induced stupors and mindless bliss.
Compounding situation, structure also houses employee break room, massage meets, housekeeping supply, and laundry room. And bathhouse tours sometimes given to prospects not sure they want to drop coin without first seeing what they'll be getting -- in part reason it was also thought
best to keep front sundeck, visible through lobby windows, a no-bare zone and avoid impression place was some kind of nudist camp in which wearing clothes was not allowed. Also, those finished and back in street clothes often liked to linger in the lobby on its vintage custom-made wooden benches and out on sundeck, clothed sometimes seeming to compete with nude for proper dress code.
Not-far-off Jackson Well Springs in Ashland, OR, (see other regional springs) successfully adopted similar compromise to accommodate both nudist and bare-notter sensibilities, being clothing-optional after 8 p.m. or nightfall, whichever comes first, in its case throughout entire bathhouse/pool compound. Yet another
complication: clothed and shod bath attendant is always working place, threading through preparing tubs, re-stocking tub rooms with towels and half sheets, refilling water dispenser and tea water, and stoking sauna's wood stove. This, rather than place being self-serve scene, 99% free of clothed staff in midst as is case at most every other popular rural mineral resort in Northwest.
Brave nude world?
Situation often serves to remind one it's a clothed world after all. Enough people at times preferred keeping wrapped in sheets or swimsuits at Stewart's that freebodies could feel self-conscious if only naked person appearing to challenge dominant textile paradigm ("Shameless exhibitionist") vs. at places like Harbin, where body freedom rules so much one can feel uncomfortably self-conscious in a swimsuit ("What's that person hiding?"). In our state of freebody evolution, clothed and dressed people still tend to mix like oil and water -- beyond strip clubs and risque revues, that is -- except at free beaches, naturist resorts, rainbow gatherings, Burning Man, World Naked Bike Day... and rural mineral springs set up with intentional chill freebody environ.
The former no-nudity policy -- now in force again -- is complex reflection of world
Ashland, Oregon anti-war statement, circa 2003
whose humans have been long taught to be neurotically self-conscious about basic biologic reality.
Body freedom is fitfully making inroads reversing and world regaining semblance of Garden of Eden consciousness. It's a three steps forward to two back pace.
Stewart's has obviously recently taken two giant steps back.
To at least some of those numbly comfortable with mandatory cover-up in public no matter where, even amid tranquil glad tidings of nature, one being given option to be starkers is seen as socially unacceptable, a sure reflection of eroding moral values, etc.
To others, more open-minded but still working through body-repressive issues or naturally modest, feeling is each visitor should have clothing option. Site-conditional Springs policy appeared most sensible compromise. To freer spirits seeking more unfettered body liberation like Harbin, Breitenbush and Orr offer -- those who an nicest days want to get naked and stay naked: "lose your clothes and lose your woes" -- policy was aggravating, triggering disdain for society's oppressive mindset.
True, having to navigate checkerboard of "Okay naked here, not okay there, okay here, not okay there" while trying to unwind at Stewart's could at first be too weird for words. But then, amazingly adaptable as humans are, it became second nature -- to repeat visitors at least, going on automatic pilot as it were, on board with spirit of compromise in dealing with perennially delicate issue.
The checkerboard policy also possibly served as a perfect reflection of irrational mindset humanity is working through towards making peace with physical being on our blessed if loopy planet.
Recent draconian decision to return to ways of old millennium will hopefully come to be viewed as ill-advised. May time prove that a more inclusive policy best accommodates all mineral springs aficionados, whether preferring mindful low-key nude use of amenities or keeping covered...everyone's free choice.
Ban must be earnestly rethought by current or, better yet, future, more appropriate ownership. That is, if place isn't to forever fade away, devolving into yet another watered-down mineral springs flirting with mediocrity, caving in to prudish outdated morality and society's body alienation, in process drastically reducing place's great potential to purify, heal, and rejuvenate.
Many fans believe that the future of Stewart Springs as a genuine healing resort absolutely depends on it.
See News Also sidebar on Rants & Raves page (scroll 2/5ths down - 2017 SMS Facebook rant excerpts are also posted)