News & Op-Eds
(For article on ownership change
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Banning Clothing-Optional Seriously Compromises
Springs' Healing Potential
Brings Body Acceptance,
Body Freedom Issues to Fore
by Stuart Ward
August 20, 2016
Updated often since. Some thoughts, like appeal to owners to change back policy, now abandoned and left as skeletons of former hope
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Honeymoon with new Stewart Springs owners -- first in 34 years -- ended light years ago for countless of place's most ardent fans, with game-changing decision to nix bathhouse nudity beyond private tubroom and shower, after 16 years of having clothing-optional zones.
Change was effective November 1, 2016, in doleful synchronicity of societal energies going uber-weird, exactly one week before t-rex snagged election.
Some were glad -- those not in any fuller alignment with dedicated purpose of any rural mineral springs resort worth its salt: profound spa purification, healing, and rejuvenation amid natural elements -- unhampered by interfering man-made cloth if one so chooses.
Also those who might've enjoyed mindful nudity in chill environment but found Stewart's scene so sketchy at times -- going so largely unsupported by unmindful management effectively allowing untoward behavior to creep in -- that they actually welcomed policy change.
Stunned Springs aficionados are certain there's critical need to re-think body-oppressive policy to one of newly focused intent, while fostering more workable, all-inclusive approach that accommodates fullest diversity of visitor lifestyles.
Shades of last century's ban on nudity, revisited. >
Signs rescued from trash in 2000 echo newly recycled body oppression
That is, if owners hope to avoid further alienating not-insubstantial portion of once-loyal Stewart Spring visitors for having banned place's key magical element in course of spa visits...mindful, simple body freedom, distinguishing place from your dime-a-dozen, clothes-minded spring resorts, effectively marching lock-step with society's entrenched conventional mindset and spiritual blindness.
For 17 years, sauna, outer deck, and cold-plunge area were all merrily clothing-optional. One had freedom to be mindfully nude, if preferred. But both uncovered and wrapped were fine.
Countless appreciated option, not only to better physically benefit by deeper contact with elements, but also to cultivate body acceptance and experience exhilaration of radical body freedom ...testing waters of public nudity after lifetime of spirit-crushing, body-discomforting, mandatory public cover-up amid Stewart's sheltered nature-rich environment. Others, long embracing simple nudity in appropriate places and weather conditions, reinforced chosen lifestyle, while doing Springs' spa blissfully unencumbered by unneeded covering.
Yet others, though taking pass on option, tacitly approved of it being made available for those who DID value such freedom to go au natural...so long as social climate remained respectful. Though there were times when a dense, sensory-deadening textile vibe seemed to dominate, and any clothes-free were viewed as kinky and shameless (in negative sense of word), and other times a few indeed went body-objectifying voyeur and exhibitionist route, as often as not nude and covered got along, more or less, in mutually tolerant co-existence.
So it was incredible shock for countless to realize Springs's 17-year policy of selective body freedom, so conducive to deep relaxation and healing, was suddenly overturned...without even bothering to seek feedback from longtime patrons, backbone supporters of place. Replaced with current, trey oppressive, mandatory cover policy, dire action was, as it turned out, early-warning harbinger to greater seismic shift of place a year later of evicting sweat lodge and tearing down love and prayer alter in spring-source gazebo.
The first sign was clear warning: heaven to hell in three seconds flat.
It was ostensibly to make place "more comfortable for all." Right. All body-alienated and bourgeois-minded on automatic pilot, unthinkingly locked into freedom-curtailing conventions, not wanting to be uncomfortably reminded of body-oppressed prison cell they've become so at home in that they've forgotten -- or don't care -- that they hold the key to getting freed from it...dully preferring being institutionalized and needlessly living in prison of cloth...even at times when going bare clearly makes more sense.
It seems people over long millennium have become so used to mandatory body covering, finding security and conforming comfort in it, that fear of losing it -- even when not needed for protection from elements or often still-strange and hostile world -- totally eclipses pronounced discomfort and restriction it creates, muting body's keen senses...even when in supportive environment that in nice weather naturally invites shedding needless cover...needless but for intolerant attitudes of perma-dressed.
"Owners can do whatever they want"
Eighty-something, longtime visitor Tom opined in somber resignation after ban that "The owners can do whatever they want." In most any other business operation, sure. But place is so exceptional, with dedicated, non-profit-in-spirit history of bohemian-leaning, genuinely health-minded culture, that 'owners' can really only do the right thing and be wise stewards, honoring place's sacred healing nature and supporting diverse culture of longtime core supporters who make up core visitor base of every authentic rural healing spa.
Anything else is foolish-steward fantasyland, betrayal of cruel indifference to legions of devastated, now-former supporters and beneficiaries, having turned backs on place's legacy of affordably providing unassuming, serious purification and healing to public at large.
Yes, it's complicated
No argument, public nudity is a profoundly complex, controversial and convoluted subject. Deep societal conditioning from infancy on teaches the physical body indecent, offensive, and/or too arousing to be revealed in everyday public. This ingrained mindset, in turn, affects respective comfort zones in mutually adverse ways whenever nude and clothed share space...if group energies aren't open-minded and positive and, in case of Springs, fostered by conscious, open-minded management.
"Being naked with others in a safe non-sexual environment provides a rare opportunity to quiet the negative voice about our bodies and stand simultaneously in our vulnerability and in our power, reclaiming for ourselves our own unique beauty and clarity that we are lovable exactly as we are...
...this nakedness, this baring of one's insides...this seeing into hearts of history...this risk calls us into ourselves, perhaps like never before."
-- Human Awareness Institute
Lose your clothes &
lose your woes
Apparent conclusion by new owners, as given purported feedback from various visitors via old management -- one apparently never really comfortable with body freedom, even place's modest, low-key kind -- was that far more visitors than not were likewise uncomfortable with it.
It's true that certain people, often out of simple culturally ingrained body modesty (in naturist circles sometimes called textiles or, less charitably, clothes-minded), said they didn't visit more often or at all because of it.
And the way things had gotten a bit seedy at times -- again, due to dismaying absence of pro-active management focus to assure safe and aware c/o environment -- in a way one couldn't blame them.
Many Camps on Subject
But was it really a majority? Not just an influential vocal minority, including those reacting to egregiously-lax scene in total free-fall due to such lack of management support? Were writer -- formerly part of the furniture -- to hazard a guesstimate on breakdown of visitors' various camps on Stewart's former low-key nudity over c/o years, it'd be:
5-10% serious freebodies
25% casual/sometime nudists
30% neutral; usually covered but okay with simple nudity (i.e. non-sexual)
25% vaguely uncomfortable with it
5-10% oh my God! (obviously a perma-dressed deity)
If this is anywhere near actual situation, as writer believes it to be, then by adding neutrals to naturist camp, given scene isn't abused, those uncomfortable were indeed only over-influential vocal minority.
Maybe such clothes-minded visitors made enticing, vague, soon forgotten promises of booking big, long retreats, workshops, and events if body freedom were to be quashed.
Though some truly love place's atmosphere and amenities, they'd apparently lost touch with inner bohemian and were no more than remotely aware of core intent of place's founding 145 years ago in non-profit-in-spirit, love-of-service, dedication to simple and affordable radical cleansing, purification, and rejuvenation of body, mind and spirit, within welcome arms of nature.
Though of course founder Henry was no proponent of public nudity, nudism movement having only come to America in 1929, 15 years after his passing, some might well say it's a perfect fit with devotion he held to furthering natural purifying and healing by working in closer harmony with nature.
For even as bathing with clothes on interferes with thorough washing, so mandatory cover-up interferes with purifying, relaxing, and healing in spa -- a fact crystal clear to any and all seriously pursuing regimen...in contrast to mere tub soakers and those wanting to try something different, maybe cop casual decadent delight of "taking the waters", age-old leisurely pastime of coddled European royalty. (Some, it seems, get as much benefit via ego-boost going on Instagram to show envious stuck-in-city friends how they're luxuriating in fabulous rural spa near fabled Mt. Shasta.) Or could it be result of effort by outgoing manager projecting druthers, hoping to amp up lucrative longterm large-group stays by wooing upscale, perma-dressed clientele? Those coming more for long stays and retreat workshops in Conference Hall and A-Frame, but liking having option available to take mineral bath and sauna -- in conventional public-pool atmosphere, without shocking riff-raff lollygagging about in their birthday suits, thank you very much.
Or perhaps new owner intent is simply to purge place of bohemian-leaning energies altogether and overhaul operation in order to make it better fit for narrow-focused Pneuma Foundation's psychological shtick with its depressingly un-northern California lifestyle and mindset effectively serving as new template for desired, bourgeois-and-proud, or at least conventional-minded, visitorship.
"It's a Cover-Up!"
Some, brought up to be over-modest about body, haven't ever felt pulled to experiment and liberate selves from shackles of mandatory wraps by visiting places like free beaches and select rural mineral springs (developed or not).
So, of course, they tend to be uncomfortable around any real-world, participatory public nudity...vs. commercial, body-exploitative, spectator entertainment that world's flooded with. One must go through reality-shock portal, get beyond body commodifying, spectacle-spectator, alienating conditioning, before arriving at new comfort zone that rediscovers bliss of open body freedom long ago experienced as infants and toddlers.
It brings home uneasy feelings of acquiesced-to body suppression to see others no longer buying into age-old, culturally programmed body-shame and false-modesty, liberating selves, while they sheepishly remain shackled to cloth, slaves to body discomfort...acquiescing to one of biggest cover-ups -- both literally and figuratively -- in history.
Still accepting taught perma-linked equation of nudity = sex reinforced at every turn by manipulative advertisers, though beginning to flirt with healthier lifestyle, such persons have yet to understand notion of simple mindful nudity and profound healing and rejuvenation it can foster once breaking through negative conditioning towards bodies -- their own and others.
As sad result, by marching in lockstep with entrenched mandatory-cover brainwashing, they'll read voyeuristic and exhibitionist intent into anyone simply wanting to enjoy communing nature unwrapped and shame-free.
Wild in wilds
It merits constant repeating: with maximum purification and profound relaxation being deeper intent and focus of any mineral springs spa retreat/resort worth its salt, it's realized that mandatory covering all too easily interferes with and defeats process.
Anything compromising aim is like offering bread 50% organic. It's like saying "Indulge your soul, let the sacred waters, pure mountain air, radiant sunshine, and sauna heat cleanse, purify, and rejuvenate -- but keep your bod covered 'cause it's too offensive or distracting otherwise."
for what ails you
One of biggest disconnects in Pneuma's thinking in purported overarching goal of raising global consciousness is ignoring how now-Springs-banned full skin exposure to sunshine produces vitamin D, promoting production of serotonin that magically lifts one's mood with flood of feel-good endorphins...worlds easier and faster effecting positive change than anything...well, under the sun.
By instead catering to those pursuing conventional methods and mindsets seemingly relatively clueless about radical cleansing regimen with its profound body-spirit-mind reintegration focus, they short-circuit deeper purpose of Springs... and leave those most dedicated to optimal purifying and healing spa regimen out in the cold.
Place becomes just another bathhouse, albeit quaint charming one...a quasi-healing resort that, ironically, flirts with idea of healthy lifestyle and sings praises of place's healing benefits, yet forbids visitors to fully avail themselves of them.
It stops short of full-tilt purification and rejuvenation by caving in to society's entrenched conventional body shame and/or overreacting to those few misbehaving -- again, happening for want of any more aware, open-minded management -- instead place seemingly hoping to attract those merely toying with healthier lifestyles by singing praises of place's healing power, but not allowing visitors to fully avail -- it's a stuck record...
... an unfathomable, enforced masquerade, self-defeating for any and all seeking optimal deep-cleansing, healing, and rejuvenating in natural environment. One's left choking in all-too-familiar dust of antiquated morality and spirit-deadening conventionality, dumbfounded and brokenhearted over what's befallen the once-beloved almost-paradise.
No Nudes Good News?
Yes, in times past there were your occasional flagrant or low-key voyeurs and exhibitionists -- possibly even a dread public masturbater or two.
The last report, though, was such isolated incident (if indeed it ever really happened), that overwhelming majority of regular goers -- including writer -- were unaware of it ever having happened. But whether actual or management fabrication, it served as dandy excuse to spur draconian policy change.
No nudity, no problem.
While the kinky will always be attracted to places that allow public nudity, indulging prurient mindsets that can repulse and discomfort others, there's a simple, effective way to keep such egregious behavior from happening: by management gaining firm, focused handle on policy, as do sister northwestern mineral spring resorts Jackson Wellsprings, Wilbur, Orr, Harbin, Sierra, and Brietenbush.
The more everyone -- management, staff and repeat visitors -- work to establish and reinforce positive and aware climate of acceptable nude behavior, the more an honorable air of mutually respectful, elevated energy emerges. Thus prevented are most untoward, sundry voyeurism and exhibitionism from ever gaining foothold.
Over time, clothing-optional becomes relative non-issue it deserves to be.
Positive pro-active efforts are so much easier and more effective than negative reactive ones. Alas, it's latter that Springs leaned towards in times past, having no better mandate from former owner...and little or no progressive-thinking management or empowered staff. Without developing firm focus on reason for allowing such modest simple nudity in first place and deciding what constitutes appropriate behavior, exhibitionism and voyeurism, even if only on low-key level, can all too easily take over, filling vacuum created by absence of any more mindful management. How wonky, reactionary, and authoritarian was years ago posting weird sign on door, "No yoga in sauna"? If some did what could be viewed as suggestive yoga positions nude in sauna, it was probably more in reaction to management never establishing conscious nude ethics that encouraged becoming mindfully one with nature and one another...not perpetuate illusion of separatism.
So some, people being people, sometimes idly amused selves by going for diversionary cheap thrills, perhaps in part to idly arouse opposite sex but just as likely to shock various fully-wrapped patrons who, one could tell by storm clouds over their heads, seemed to disapprove of ANY public nudity. In a way, such dubious behavior was a bit like dancers flaunting graceful mobility in front of (self-)crippled others. Scene could at times become a low-key civil war between those accepting humankind's biologic reality and those adamantly determined to remain alienated from it, including their own.
So scene at times became one of new-age cheese-cake posing, as it were...women idly enjoying rush of ever-ready-to-oblige riveted male attention in lieu of no cooler scene encouraging transcendent being...along with men striking own calculated beef-cake poses and movements to arouse captive female or gay audience...all overly self-conscious, sexualized, objectified nudity, all due to clueless management forever preoccupied with maxing profits and dealing with looming medical death sentence, rather than serving ideals of any progressive-minded healing resort. Perhaps there was never any more fine-tuned clothing-optional policy intent in year 2000, when introduced most recently, because of sudden dying of late, then-manager Mary H.'s mother, Pat, who'd worked front desk a dozen years, alternating with Pat's sister CeeCee. (read their story in Something about Mary) It left Mary too devastated to be concerned about much of anything. She had kept no-nudity policy enforced much in deference to her, as she was uncomfortable with it. It almost seemed decision to finally liberalize policy was more like, "Oh hell, get starkers if you want; I don't care. Happy now?" There wasn't much, if any, focused positive intent with carefully spelled-out policy or signs anchoring scene on aware level. There was one admittedly lame sign on passage from inner to outer sundeck, advising "Caution: you may encounter nudity beyond this point", writer ordered from The Naturist Society, along with routed wood "Clothing Optional" sign for sauna door. But that was it.
Springs literature never spelled things out clearly, beyond blanket statement on website how Springs was "a clothing-optional facility." Exact policy, with okay c/o zones, was always left to be verbally relayed by bath attendant's often-rushed spiel to newcomers. Attendants, themselves mostly unschooled in nudist protocol and ethics, seemed either embarrassed, reluctant, or titillated relaying such info.
So what evolved was essentially a nude quasi anarchy which, depending on times and group energy de jour, could make for anything from magical Garden of Eden innocence to overly self-conscious, tiresome, manipulative woo-hoo, look-at-me-I'm-starkers-baby-feast-your-eyes!" tripping out.
Again, too often there seemed to be battle for dominance between freebodies and textiles for proper dress/undress code, too weird for words...which would've been funny if it weren't so pitiful.
Stewart Springs, again, never developed focused mindful policy of other springs that are crucial for successful, safe-atmosphere clothing-optional operation.
Result was so sketchy at times, perhaps new ownership -- on advise of profit-obsessed old management, hoping we'd either self-regulate or self-destruct -- didn't get connection (or didn't want to) between simple nudity and maximum spa benefit.
New ownership would've then concluded there was dire need to push re-set button and ban nudity outright...they totally agreed with vision: rid place of modest-spending countercultural elements -- including sweat lodge -- clear the way for attracting either more upscale, clothes-minded crowd or viable-culture challenged mainstream...either target group better suiting control-minded, button-downed druthers of Pneuma Foundation and setting proper tone for ensconcing outfit's world headquarters.
"There are few nudities as objectionable
as the naked truth" --Agnes Repplier
Simple nudity as profound tool for aiding reintegration of body-mind-spirit on higher level was rejected out of hand. This lent serious doubts as to true intent of outfit.
Is biggest concern indeed offering genuine healing -- profound reintegration of body-mind-spirit through mindful spa experience -- or merely perpetuating organization's quasi-new-age psychological shtick and providing a bit of decadent "taking the waters" on the side to paying public in order to defray ownership costs, along with lodgings?
Regressive clothing-optional ban is trying to put genie back in bottle. It can't be done...not without putting severe damper on magical healing spirit of Stewart Springs that thousands of awakened and awakening have come to know and cherish over the decades.
If over-reaction was what actually caused drastic about-face, it's punishing the multitudes for trespasses of the few (again, assuming incident even DID occur and wasn't just product of management's Machiavellian imagination). Earlier manager team, daughters of former absentee owner, were likewise unfamiliar with basic c/o ethos and unable to elevate and fine-tune policy to reflect authentic mineral spring culture, though they at least did have a more live-and-let-live attitude.
After they had sauna rebuilt and enlarged in 2005, the 'Clothing Optional' sign that had long been over door of old sauna mysteriously disappeared, eventually resurfacing on wall of employee break room, good for idle laugh.
Sign put out of service without a thought was itself a sign of times: place, in seeming ignorance, had zero interest ever building solid, intention-backed, enlightened c/o policy. Management seemed to simply blindly hope for the best with things left to own devices.
So result at times was something akin to nude anarchy and chaos, a situation that lead to its banishment by new ownership, who very possibly thought it was the natural result whenever naked people got together, regardless. New ownership seemed either ignorant of or indifferent to c/o ethics, which can elevate scene to socially responsible, mutually comfortable one, whether one opted to bare or not, right intent being there to make it work.
As said elsewhere, it was long hoped new owners, on studying situation more carefully, would realize this simple fact...that, rather than retreating into former ways of mandated body shame, they would embrace opportunity to at last hammer out and fine-tune a fair-minded body-friendly policy...
...one focused with on-the-ball determination to gently, firmly enforce equitable policy, creating safe c/o environment...thus ending ridiculous sometime civil war between freebodies and bare-notters. Such hope was nurtured before realizing they seemed on same page as old manager in lack of appreciation and understanding -- if not indifference, fear, and outright moral condemnation -- of bohemian lifestyle and free-spirited ways of place's now-disenfranchised supporters.
Nude, not Crude
Stating obvious, any who experience c/o relaxation, getting instantly hooked on heady sense of freedom and enhanced body comfort it fosters, know it's impossible to get truly comfortable and sweat freely in sauna when made to stay wrapped in cumbersome, sensory-deadening, bacteria-breeding cloth...or receive fullest dose of beneficial solar rays while sunbathing...or enjoy most effective hydrotherapy, with gratifying sense of letting it all go, in coldplunge.
To freethinkers and any bohemian-friendly, what's REALLY crude and shameful is having to block therapeutic potential of elements, being forced to wear man-made cloth only to appease those still hung up in spirit-stifling, false-modesty mindset -- or so offended by any abusing former policy, they dismissed trying to cultivate respectful and appropriate clothing-optional climate as impossible dream. Why even try? Thinking goes that individual body freedom has been too suppressed over the ages to EVER normalize everyday public nudity outside of naturist resorts, even in peaceful natural environs.
Might decision involve something more? Perhaps belief nudity detracts from disciplined spiritual practice -- similar to it being verboten in former grounds sweat lodge, for instance. In contrast, though, in Wiccan spiritual practice group lightwork is sometimes done skyclad, or nude, allowing body to get in closer harmony with elements and gain optimal physical comfort, thus increasing potential for enhanced attunement, with resulting amped-up mind-body-spirit integration. So that argument's a relative wash.
Can it perhaps be religious upbringing, teaching body is indecent for power to incite lustful thoughts and behavior or repulsion, and thus detract from spiritual focus and good behavior? Admittedly this can indeed be the case so long as society continues age-old, un-bareable mindset, with blackout of non-commercial public nudity and pro-active efforts to foster mindful nudity in appropriate places...like select waterfronts and rural mineral springs, creating peaceful dolphin islands of paradise amid sea of sharkskin suits (for surreal analogy).
The phenomenal growth of events like Burning Man, San Francisco's Bare-to-Breakers stroll, World Naked Bike Day, plus dawning popularity of thong swimsuits, legitimizing at least semi-nudity, show society's fears on matter have been fitfully easing. By making more places like Stewart's progressive exceptions to still-dominant perma-dress conditioning, personal, age-old physical oppression fades away that much sooner.
For Garden of Eden consciousness is fitfully re-emerging on planet. Stewart's was until recently helping lead the way, even with intent no better focused.
Can Body Freedom Bell Be Unrung?
Time will tell how freebody ban will fly, especially during nicest weather begging to be enjoyed au naturel.
Can Stewart Springs's body-freedom bell be un-rung...without dire consequence?
It was chiming merrily since start of new millennium. Can place really go back to former over-modest and body-phobic ways of last century and still continue doing brisk business as ostensibly serious rural healing resort in long run?
But in so trying, it's now at serious risk of becoming yet another muted, self-defeating, commonplace commercialized spring resort (albeit still charming).
In process, again, it callously betrayed once-loyal customer base without blinking an eye. One visitor from Harbin before its fire said if such a policy change were to happen there, visitor volume would drop in half overnight.
Indeed, former locals day at Stewart's -- often bursting the seams with visitors -- turned into instant ghost town after policy change. Writer's convinced local's day after 17 years was changed from Thursday to Monday as calculated first step to disenfranchise and discombobulate bohemian-friendly locals and remind them a new sheriff was in town: "Check your nude attitude in office (or else) to help make things more comfortable for everyone. Thanks for your cooperation -- tell your friends!"
True, compared to other popular clothing-optional rural Northwest mineral spring resorts, like Breitenbush and Orr, on radical body freedom scale Stewart Springs was always pretty tenuous and tame. Barring mentioned nude down-dog yoga posturing in sauna or rare ecstatic nude dance on sundeck, nudity was mostly limited to still sauna perching, sunbathing, and low-key skinnydipping.
But many long visited in no small part for place being one of select few on West Coast allowing any measure of body freedom. It's where many, including writer, made dramatic breakthroughs in personal body acceptance and liberation.
We've since lost heart in droves.
Many regional residents who did so much over decades to support place have thrown in now-required towel (or sheet, sarong or swimsuit -- at least one still has that choice) -- and given up on place. One might go elsewhere, like nearby Ashland's Jackson Wellsprings (clothing-optional after 8 p.m. or nightfall, whichever comes first; adults only), even though longer drive and happening only after nightfall precludes getting any all-over tan. see springs comparison
Others might continue coming and conform, never having been too concerned about clothing-optional one way or another in first place; or mourn body freedom lost while suffering mandatory cover-up, perhaps adopting a patient, "This too shall pass" frame of mind...or quietly stage rebellion to test policy resolve whenever possible, seeing it as too oppressive and silly to be taken seriously, willing to court reprimand or expulsion if caught.
Yet others, finding current scene intolerable but unable to easily get to other springs, and having no heart for rebelling and losing peaceful center in process, now, sadly, go without.
As result of current inappropriate ownership focus, health and freedom-minded lifestyles of hundreds of locals and regionals -- plus thousands more on national and global level -- have been compromised.
Many repeat visitors from far beyond area and overseas only familiar with Stewart's -- this website's viewed by Chinese, Czechs, Spaniards, Japanese, Canadians, Russians, Germans, British and French -- are no doubt stunned too, some thinking they've nowhere to go now to enjoy accustomed free-spirited, Euro-style spa resort experience while touring U.S.'s West Coast. (Harbin's re-opened now, but some have always preferred Stewart's more intimate scale, natural setting, and lack of former's Bay-Area influenced, sometimes bold and lascivious air.)
Of course, permitted body freedom was only one component of Stewart Springs experience. But it was a vital one, linchpin that for everyone open-minded enhanced all others -- place's spectacular depth in nature, rare vortex energy, and historic rustic ambiance -- to profound, almost supernatural levels.
One would've naturally assumed owners would've wanted to keep loyal long-term support base intact.
Policy change struck legion of bohemian-friendly as unpleasantly surreal, a roundly undesirable alternate reality, way too restrictive to want to even TRY to conform to.
On off-chance new owners were not intentionally trying to alienate customer base, perhaps they were simply unaware how such action would create firestorm of adverse reaction from so many of former faithfuls in course of converting place to suit super-structured, buttoned-down, quasi-new-age shtick. Thinking might've been that, in seller's market that it is, business would naturally continue to thrive by tapping boundless mainstream/upscale market and grow despite -- or even because of -- radical shift in operation that, after all, was only upsetting a few local kinky malcontents, who they didn't really want as patrons in first place anyway.
But, if so, at what cost to former profound quality of overall visitor experience?
If more upscale or mainstream client base doesn't manifest, new owners might find selves between rock and hard place, having rid place of once-loyal bohemian support base but never attracting enough more mainstream visitors...maybe not even clients gung-ho on Pneuma's convoluted formula for achieving enlightenment through long pricey workshops, retreats, and two-year certification programs.
And even if they DO gain viable traction, any new customer base built on destruction of free-spirited culture forever brands place as spirit-crushing, rank commercial sell-out, utterly self-defeating its purported overarching aim to raise global consciousness.
Ownership's board of directors reportedly had wanted to make policy change a half year sooner, in summer of 2016. According to outgoing manager (veracity at times more than bit suspect), they were persuaded to hold off until November. If true, maybe it was only in consideration of long-standing bookings placed before owner change, wanting to avoid massive cancellations and livid bohemian-minded bookers showing up unaware of drastic policy change.
Maybe, too, thinking was there'd be a riot of protest if day visitors long accustomed to nudity option on sultry 90-degree summer days were suddenly told, "You've got to cover up now; sorry, no more nudity. Please understand and cooperate with us." Yeah, that would've worked. Easier to spring it when too cold for going bare outdoors for any but bravehearts making accustomed heroic icy plunge in 30 degree F. creek.
They reportedly couldn't be persuaded to allow even one clothing-optional day a week to accommodate legion of more freespirited, those long-term fans -- local, national, and international -- who had so long supported and esteemed place and definitely preferred enjoying it au natural.
Again, new policy was supposedly triggered over shock of doubtful story of some visitor playing with self on deck in 2016. On off-chance that true, outgoing manager no doubt saw golden opportunity to sound red alert to new absentee owners, prompting draconian ban. An alternate explanation circulating among staff was that new ownership group itself -- or wives -- who had frequented place for retreats over the years, had always been uncomfortable with place's public nudity. And so maybe manager fabricated story out of whole cloth on the fly just to make getting rid of naked people an absolute slam dunk.
However it came down, it's sad...and more than tad ironic in light of how Pneuma's transpersonal psychology branch has historic roots in human potential movement, with its successful guided nude group-therapy workshops in 1960s, held in such places as Esalan at Big Sur, CA (feature story famously made in Life magazine).
Getting renewed in
Stewart Springs has had long history of flip-flopping on policy over the decades. Verboten until Goodpastures took helm in '70s, it was again banned during first half of Foggy's ownership in '80s and '90s except for brief, chaste nude dip in water with immediate re-wrap on emerging. Then mandatory cover-up policy magically vanished in 2000...almost as if to celebrate new millennium with new-found enlightened transparency and boldness of spirit (see When Body Freedom returned to Stewart Springs), and wouldn't make unwelcome reappearance until late 2016. It allowed nudity in sauna, outer deck and creek coldplunge area, while requiring covering in halls, lobby, and front sundeck. It was compromise hammered out to try accommodating everyone's lifestyle as best possible. Though at times unwieldy, it worked, more-or-less, making place all-inclusive of varying visitor backgrounds and, many would agree, overall place became a far more healing and rejuvenating resort for it. see History To bare or not to bare...
Granted, c/o or not c/o is ticklish call for any rural mineral springs resort.
Does one provide place where people in perma-dressed world have rare option to at last get free of unnecessary coverings in natural sheltered environment and enjoy enhanced state of being among kindred spirits while more effectively cleansing and purifying, in process regaining/reinforcing positive body acceptance, lost as toddlers? But at the risk of such radical departure from deep-entrenched social norm potentially causing unsavory scenes and misbehavior if not keeping judicious and forthright handle on it?
Or does one try to avoid ever causing discomfort by the many either in denial of human biologic reality or who simply prefer to keep covered out of modesty and/or to avoid unwanted attention, and insist it's not unreasonable to demand that EVERYONE else keep covered too -- even during much of spa regimen, even in bohemian stronghold of northern California out in middle of nature on 90 degree days begging to be enjoyed with skinnydipping and nude sun bathing?
It can be a thorny call either way if not handled sensitively with open-mind.
If opting for latter and banning nudity, obviously ignored is extreme discomfort it causes would-be freebodies, those almost always more sensorily in tune with own bodies than numbed-out perma-dressed and foot-shod, suddenly forced to keep wrapped in constrictive, man-made, sensory-dampening cloth that prevents fullest attunement to natural elements, expediting and enhancing spa regimen's purification and rejuvenation process.
Of course, Stewart Springs was, on one level, neither fish nor fowl. Though it was c/o many years, it never became a full-fledged c/o resort that merrily joined others in regional sisterhood of rural springs. This was at least in part due to lack of any planned freebody zone, as place had long tradition of perma-wrapped mindset, clothed visitors and workers walking by tubrooms and into sauna and out onto deck, and clueless bath attendants lacking informed support by management, when c/o WAS tenuously allowed.
That said, for what it's worth, naturist philosophy holds that the right of those to be mindfully nude in appropriate environments outweighs the right of those made uncomfortable being around such nudity.
While no rational thinker can credibly deny the healing process in spa resort -- upscale or rustic -- unfolds more easily when partakers are free of textile restraint (after all, again, who bathes with their clothes on?), such places can still feel the need to ban nudity and kow-tow to prevailing age-old body alienation. They cling to threadbare cultural or religious beliefs, clueless how to allow such body freedom in enlightened, fair-minded way, possibly fearful that business volume would drop off cliff if allowing it, plus be condemned by community's morality police, maybe even ownership's associates, family and friends.
Again, ever since 2000 Stewart Springs had wobbled between two camps. Effort was to try accommodating everyone -- Sunday nudists, dyed-in-the-wool freebodies, textile junkies, and nude-phobics alike -- as fairly as possible. Both would-be nudists and bare-notters were often left grumbling around edges over awkward checkerboard of "Okay here, not okay there" zones.
But it seemed most doable compromise, given layout of bathhouse and diversity of visitor lifestyles. And would've worked better with active mindful support of management, rather than hands-off, indifferent passive suffering of distasteful policy feeling saddled with, natural result for Springs never having been any more a full-on clothing-optional resort, like wider region's (estranged) sister springs.
Going to extreme of No Nudity...PERIOD created torrent of adverse reaction by what owners may not realize (or perhaps do, but don't give a flying leap about) is significant portion of place's devotees and its off-season backbone support...
...one, again, that included many comfortable with clothing-option even though passing on option themselves. They no doubt sensed that body freedom, besides creating far more relaxed atmosphere conducive to deep purification, letting go, and rejuvenation, enabled individuals to develop more positive body acceptance and experience physical liberation after lifetime of suppression, thereby enabling fast-tracking the re-integration of body, mind and spirit on higher levels.
No longer accommodating far-flung base of nude-opting visitors marks a dumbfoundingly lamentable turn of events, worst since Stewart Springs closed gates to general public for years in mid 80s, for want of business and right management.
Its former policy, though at times awkward and seemingly arbitrary, again, enabled untold thousands the world over to maximize healing benefits of spa regimen while gaining/reinforcing measure of positive body acceptance and body liberation. No one was left out...except perhaps duly freaking champions of false modesty, dues-paying members of Keep It All Hid Society, and in extreme cases your gymnophobiac who fears nudity...their own and that of others.
It can't be stressed enough: having option to be mindfully clothesfree, alone or among others, amid harmony of nature during relaxing spa regimen is a rare, therapeutic, often liberating experience that had set Stewart's apart...
...one eminently support-worthy in our neurotically perma-dressed world. Besides resulting in life-changing liberation from body shame and enabling re-integrating one's spiritual path on higher levels, it also allowed those long into bodyfreedom to pursue higher spiritual focus while becoming blissfully one with healing elements.
Changing Room Chaos?
One wrinkle in changing policy maybe not considered is place's ridiculously tiny changing room. It's long served as co-ed -- not well, but served. It's impossibly small and narrow space, with side bank of cubbies and two curtained nooks in back. There could arise incredible log-jams during peak season with change...if, that is, volume ever rebounds.
On busy days there could be over half dozen visitors wanting to change at once plus others wanting to access stashed belongings. Currently no practical places for separate men's and women's changing rooms exist in bathhouse, short of sacrificing employee break room, lately unused deck juice bar, or a current tubroom. As things stand, chaos and frustration, making for unsettling energy -- decidedly un-conducive to meditative calm desired in place ostensibly dedicated to purifying, healing and relaxing -- would result should owners not relent and work out more reasonable, realistic, doable c/o compromise. (Or, with massive de-facto boycott of place, no problema.)
(Before policy liberalized, two current tub rooms, #2 and 3, were changing rooms -- no tubs then -- spaces with actual doors, far better accommodating changers, while also preserving privacy by gender.)
Would You Bathe
with Your Clothes On?
Another matter: dress code at creek's cold plunge. Unless people are, at very least, allowed to uncover and briefly skinnydip, as they did formerly, even during otherwise no-nudity years, pure misery is result. It's too weird expecting visitors to awkwardly keep on wet sheet, towel, or sarong and walk around in drenched cloth, crimping ability to cleanse, heal and rejuvenate. In colder weather it's torture.
Then there's the safety concern. One's coming out of coldplunge in winter with sheet on and navigating often slippery stone steps is made more difficult and accident-prone, encumbered with suddenly heavy, more binding, drenched cloth that one suddenly becomes preoccupied with lest some dread wardrobe malfunction occur. It detracts crucial focus from avoiding missteps or losing traction on rocks and suffering real mishap.
Even though nudity was banned before 2000 under Foggy, exception was made for plunging, making current policy most restrictive in almost half a century.
Tyranny of Cloth
What better way is there to integrate physical, psychological and spiritual sides of individual on higher level -- one of supposed primary aims of new owners' affiliate, Inkarri -- than by experiencing precious mindful body freedom during spa therapy in delightfully natural environs?
Again, in our depressingly overdressed world being even briefly liberated from mandatory cover-up and tyranny of cloth at places like mineral springs can work wonders. It allows easy potential for dramatic breakthroughs in positive body acceptance and physical liberation, enabling advancing one's spiritual journey to higher levels by feeling happier in one's skin.
Strike New Compromise
Because we are still in such dominant, cover-up-obsessed world, many feel that the only realistic and fair solution, to avoid excluding anyone's druthers, is to strike viable compromise...
...a fair balance for visitors of either inclination. Such thinking, of course, assumes, perhaps erroneously, that owners hope to broaden diversity of customer base rather than narrow it to more conventional-minded mainstream, or possibly even privatize grounds. (If latter is case, some might well be open to mindful nudity, but want their own private playground in which to indulge it, away from great unwashed masses -- (who will be even more unwashed if plans of any stripe manage to ever gain serious long-term traction).
Granted, checkerboard of clothing optional zones could be cumbersome and confusing and appear totally arbitrary. It was trey weird having to wrap up to go few feet from tub to sauna, lest one appear to be streaking in between. It distracted from easy flow. But, given condensed bathhouse set-up and diverse visitorship, it was possibly best compromise, and may yet remain so under new owners should they miraculously have change of heart...or, under future appropriate new owners, arriving like cavalry TO Fort Stewart to rescue place from perdition of hide-bound morality and inappropriate intent.
Launch Clothing Optional Days?
Sister mineral springs Jackson Wellsprings, outside Ashland, OR, faced same issue. They resolved it by making hours from evening on clothing-optional and adults only. This works well for them, since they're open til midnight to serve much larger nearby population.
At Stewarts, often closing at 6 or 7 p.m., it wouldn't, but having certain days clothing optional would. Say, maybe two days clothing-optional off-season, three days during peak season? Wouldn't that be fair-minded solution to make? (update: All this, again, assumed owners were interested in running mineral springs resort for benefit of general public, but evidence is growing that they're not.)
Website would clearly state policy and details and sign outside front office -- maybe inside front gate as well -- informing visitors: "Today is a Clothing Optional Day." Either that or re-establish clothing-optional zones, but this time with focused intent and oversight.
Had new owners grasped merit in establishing more inclusive and enlightened policy rather than trying to make place over to lah-de-dah, upscale hideaway for own wonky new-age-y shtick, pricing out and lifestyling out most current fans, Stewart's might've finally integrated and fine-tuned its
policy and at last joined sister springs, making mindful-nudity option relative non-issue.
As it stands, it appears it will take fans boycotting en mass, spreading word how owners, either willfully or ignorantly, no matter, destroyed decades-old progressive culture that had so long served general public with their misguided intent to make place over to suit own private-minded schemes and buttoned-down, dismally conventional lifestyles. Then owners will either have miraculous change of heart or more likely, if dependent on patrons who now stay away in protest, ultimately give up and put place back on market.
And even if they DO manage to build up some solid new customer base, they in time will be made keenly aware of Mount Everest of bad karma they've created, and to redeem themselves chalk it up to experience, let go of place and seek out more appropriate stewards...thus assuring ultimate positive place in realm's legacy.
If every true fan of place visualizes such a progressive-minded angel(s) liberating Mineral Springs, place becoming at long last a non-profit healing and rejuvenating retreat for progressive-minded, nature-loving peoples everywhere...
...then Stewart Springs might regain and build on former global reputation as rare, quirky bohemian healing spa in wilds at top of Golden State, resonating with Mount Shasta, a timeless river running through it.
Writer Ward served as SMS volunteer assistant manager 2000-2002 under Mary H.; also maintained cold plunge 14 years, often freebody. He's self-published works covering body acceptance and body freedom, inspired by own experiences at Springs
First in 34 Years
by Stu Ward
August 1, 2016
December 2017 note: Eighteen months after penning this, writer realized had wool pulled over eyes. Naively thought new ownership was going to make everything right once 12-year old manager Rowena P., lingering vestige of 34-year profit-driven Foggy ownership reign, was at last out of picture. Didn't realize they were apparently more or less on same page. They seemed to resonate with her wonky vision of "Refining the Culture" and working to either mainstream or upgrade visitor base to try to net bigger profits, build more conventional clientele, reflecting own buttoned-down lifestyles to support place doubling as far-flung outfit's world headquarters...maybe even eventually privatize it outright for their groups' exclusive use and select patrons, shutting gates to public after 144 years.
In any event, they made it abundantly clear they really don't want to deal with bohemian-minded and alternative-culture energies, which -- duh -- ALWAYS gravitate to alternative-healing spas like Stewart's.
Rather than update article, writer let it stand with only a few updates, like clothing-optional ban that took effect three months after first posting. It's testament to how easily one can be snookered when taking people's intentions at face value via their own literature.
Some 34 years after last owner, John Foggy, essentially inherited springs from previous owner after investment loan default and did best he could with healing retreat with which he at times seemed to have little resonance beyond place being offbeat income generator, Stewart Mineral Springs sold to new owners January 19, 2016. In happy contrast, new ownership, though also absentee, is involved in spiritual field. Members of Inkarri Cultural Association, affiliated with Pneuma Foundation turned onto place years ago during repeat workshop retreats. They'd stayed at various mineral spring resorts in wider region, always looking for one to call home base.
Among other things, they're into Inca shamanism and providing support to Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and Q'ero Nation in Peru. Their Pneuma System "seeks to integrate spiritual, psychological, and physical aspects of the individual" and "centers on transpersonal experience as a powerful method leading to inner transformation." Aim: "...to deepen our experience of the Sacred, both within and without of ourselves and thus learn to live our life with increasingly deeper awareness and clarity."
Sounds like a good fit. To further quote site:
"Inkarri is a Quechua word that means morning sun, a symbol of spiritual awakening at the dawn of a new era. The word Inkarri also alludes to an Incan myth, where the son of the Sun, an enlightened being, will come in the future to assist humanity and restore harmony on the planet. This correlates with other mythologies and prophesies within many cultures, such as the Tibetan culture, which makes reference to the Buddha Maitreya as the Buddha of the Future."
Founder of California's popular Cafe Gratitude restaurant chain, Mathew Engelhart, was briefly new co-owner, but since sold interest. (One can only wonder why...) Owner formed corporation with board of directors, each member having financial stake.
(On weird side note, for legal purposes Stewart Mineral Springs is now on record as Golden Eagle Resort. Last owner didn't legally register name Stewart Mineral Springs in time and someone else snagged it and has been holding name ransom ever since. Was easier re-naming place if only for legal purposes than pay extortionate fee to buy it back. Apparently some concern in Bay Area weirdly touted itself as Stewart Mineral Springs; hopefully few were mislead into thinking place had actually branched or changed locations -- as if it could.)
While living even more distant -- as far away as L.A., Mexico, even South America (and one thought former owner location in S.F. was a far piece) -- new ownership will no doubt over time work to prioritize projects and shape policies for management to fulfill that reflect evolving hopes and aspirations for place, once they become better acquainted with its history and traditions.
One of Inkarri's stated goals is "To promote profound personal transformation". Since recently banned optional mindful nudity during spa regimen can so easily and dramatically promote this, it's hoped that any day new owners will connect dots, reconsider, and let management bring Springs back into resonance with former glory as down-home, spiritually-grounded rustic healing retreat...one liberal-minded enough to permit modest measure of mindful nudity...one that the dedicated Stewart family manifested and ran for nearly 80 years, from 1876 to 1954, though not clothing-optional; and Goodpasture family ownership through 1970s and Foggy ownership's last 16 years, from 2000 through 2016, when happily it was. see history
Co-manager couple Ted and Rowena held ten-year contract with former owner Foggy that expired at end of 2016. New, younger management was groomed by outgoing general manager Rowena and have now nominally taken helm. [later note: She decided to stay on to work in background management capacity, coordinating visitor groups and in fact remaining senior business manager; her lingering involvement continued to shape and enforce new policies as directed by new ownership, mostly by remote, through November 2017].
On sad note, husband and co-manager Ted passed away late October 2015, at age 65. Obit He'd been diagnosed with late-stage liver disease around beginning of tenure in 2006. He dedicated remaining years to evolving Springs infrastructure, initiating many notable improvements and repairs visible throughout grounds. Firm believer in Spring water's healing properties, regular soakings very likely extended his life many years before liver failure finally claimed him.
To former owner John Foggy's everlasting credit, he saw wisdom in keeping rustic charm of place intact, thus making it unique among northwest mineral springs resorts, delighting visitors with its quaint summer camp feeling...and was liberal-minded enough to allow clothing-optional in second half of ownership.That he sometimes let place's upkeep slide distressingly is now ancient history, forgiven especially since he plowed so much back in during final years.
Fly in Ointment
Word from old manager is new owners are basically happy with the way place is. They're reportedly open to fine-tuning operation through management and staff directives based on popular visitor feedback.
Alas, this included many supposedly complaining to outgoing manager how much they were turned off by since-scrapped clothing-optional policy. Based on what's suspected exaggerated, or even outright fabricated, report of isolated incident of old man publicly jacking off on sundeck in 2016, owners decided to end 16-year tradition of body freedom at Springs. Cover-up is now required everywhere outside tubroom and shower stalls. (see above editorial; also home-page story, editorial sidebar and SMS Facebook feedback in Rants & Raves)
Barring this one not-so-little wrinkle for those treasuring place's Euro-style tradition of permitting simple nudity in appropriate areas for maximum spa benefit and enjoyment, Stewart Springs, after one long, uber-strange trip, now appears in more appropriate hands. Two indications: First thing owners did was raise everyone's wages (albeit raising admission to cover). And they committed to pouring every cent of profit during first two years back into place. Among other things, this enabled new manager Josh W. to get a decent heavy-duty work truck for place.
If new ownership in time relents, appreciating how clothing-optional ban holds back place's deeper transformative potential for visitors, then new management, with support of staff and so-minded regulars, can work to elevate c/o policy to more conscious, respectable one, prompting dutiful compliance by visitors. In time c/o could become relative non-issue, as it is at other popular regional rural spring resorts.
Then Springs might at long last be freed to soar like an eagle to lofty new heights as extraordinary healing and rejuvenation center and workshop retreat.
Whatever side of c/o issue visitors fall in on, all who revere place no doubt wish ownership well in new stewardship.
March 20, 2015
With sporadic on-going work-trade efforts, creek coldplunge, new tarp liner installed, gaining needed depth - now up to four feet or so off stone steps in.
Just in time for spring equinox.
March 8, 2015
New Clawfoot Tub
Bathtub room 7 next to sauna, offline for month or two, now back online with new clawfoot.
March 1, 2015
Sauna Wood Refinished
During annual work session last Monday thru Thursday, caretaker Russell sanded off old finish of sauna's floor, benches, wall and ceiling and re-coated with linseed oil, made from flax seed. While oil coating is natural, it still makes for fumes that any chemically sensitive (like writer, who it made nauseous after while) might react to until it's finished outgassing.
Original coating, applied when new sauna built, used woefully inappropriate, toxic outdoor deck coating, which noxious outgassing left anyone at all sensitive gagging. Some were unable to use sauna for over month or two without getting headaches or becoming nauseous.
New finish makes wood bit darker, lending more womb-like atmosphere to sauna. Can't resist: new finish makes sauna more...Finnish.
February 21, 2015
New cold plunge maintainer
Frequent visitor Mario of Lake Shastina has taken on chilly job of rebuilding Springs' cold plunge from moi. Plunge is distressed since big rainstorm created creek rampage that severely damaged it. Breached rock wall is once again repaired -- challenging six hour labor -- making it once again safe to dip in the creek. Mario wears wet suit to stay relatively warm in 43 degree waters.
Work-trader, he could always use help. Challenge now, as always, is to deepen creek floor by removing rock and gravel, slow process, as well as heighten rock wall, to try to bring plunge back to at least waist depth, rather than current knee depth that can make easy plunging a bit iffy.
The deal for workers: one free bath for every earnest hour of work. See operations manager Josh if interested.
Writer had to step down after over-ambitious rock moving resulted in hernia. started first, recent cold plunge pool in 1999 and built it up and maintained it 14 years as labor of love.
December 17, 2014
Work Traders Needed to Repair Cold Plunge
Heavy rains and resulting flooding of creek last week threatened to destroy the cold-plunge dam. Water level was almost up to base of angel on the island. While dam managed to hold, it did wash away top layer of rocks that covered now exposed brown and blue tarps and, worse, filled up so much of plunge with rocks and gravel depth is under knee height, making immersing a bit more laborious.
Once writer's longtime bailiwick, health issues no longer permit lifting heavy rocks. New work traders with strong backs -- and maybe wetsuits, including booties and gloves, for working in 46 degree water -- are needed to repair plunge to former depth.
Deal: one free bath/two saunas for every hour of work. if you know of someone that might be, spread the word. Contact Josh for details.
Sept. 21, 2014
Weed Fire Aid
The Springs, along with other local motels, helped ease a tragic situation created by the nearby Weed's fire disaster by comping all its unrented accommodations for Weed's suddenly homeless.
The office desk accepted donations to help one single mom of four who lost her home in the hard-hit Angel Valley neighborhood on north side of town.
Mendera, indefatigable builder, crosses over
who dedicated last two years of his life making substantial improvements to Springs he loved, left us April 2nd, 2013. Work was inspired by belief region was possibly site of original garden of Eden.
many accomplishments, usually done along with dedicated Mexican work crew led by foreman Jesus, were
re-building car bridge, building new twin bathhouse showers, replacing
bathhouse floor, enlarging conference hall deck, replacing A-frame upper
deck, zenning out landscape all around bathhouse, building new foot
bridge across creek below conference hall...
last -- and in some ways greatest -- service was saving the day when late 2012 deluge's aftermath (see below), changed creek flow and threatened bathhouse
and stairway. He directed earth-moving equipment to shore up banks plus had placed huge foundation boulders for new cold plunge.
Such ceaseless work efforts built up improvement momentum that continues apace with current groundskeepers.
His presence is missed.
Old Creek Plunge
A late autumn rainstorm sent a raging torrent down the creek and wiped out old cold plunge of 14 years, threatening to take bathhouse stairway as well but for emergency efforts.
Creek island accessed by plank bridge was partly washed away as well. Its angel statue, however, weathered deluge unscathed. The walking plank itself was retrieved far downstream by four workers hoisting and toting heavy sodden timber a hundred yards and wrestling back into place working in near-freezing waters.
New plunge was hastily built by work traders and help of Jesus's crew the following spring and summer. Unfortunately, rooted rocks on plunge bottom couldn't be budged, making for trickier footing once in water. On plus side, it's just as deep as old one, and steps leading in built by Kierra have never been so zen.