Page devoted to excerpts from published works mentioning Stewart Mineral Springs, including one from a factional novel set there in part.
& Stewart Springs
Following excerpts are from Peter Caddy's 1995 autobiography, In Perfect Timing: Memoirs of a man for New Millennium, posthumously published (and presumably titled) by his widow. Simon and Shuster 454 pp. He lived from 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 from Peter Caddy mentioning 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 separated from Springs parcel by an earlier co-owner of the Springs) and sussed possibilities of purchasing the Springs, then tenuously on the 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 panned out. Maybe it was inability to meet asking price. Some believe it was the special celestial gift of first wife, Eileen (1917-2006), then divorced from Peter, combined with his regimenting leadership talent and the historic, rarefied times, that had enabled the miracle of Findhorn in the first place.
Now he was starting from scratch and the magic apparently wasn't there for a second act. Spotted by writer one day sitting sitting alone at Mt. Shasta's former Mt. Eddy Bagel Shop, he wore a forlorn, not-gonna-happen look.
For perhaps the most revealing and inspiring book ever written on Findhorn, check out Paul Hawkins's The Magic of Findhorn.
When Body Freedom
Returned to Stewart Springs
Following excerpt is from 2007 book, Strange Days Indeed: Memories of the Old World, by Stuart R. Ward.
Quasi-autobiographical, the factional novel is a time-warped visionary fantasy, in part on body acceptance and body freedom, which the natural seclusion of Stewart Springs and its tradition for radical purification and healing could easily foster.
Here fictionalized characterizations and names of Stewart Springs people are dropped, revealing real-life persons that some long-time visitors might remember. The reworked excerpt is essentially a true episode about Stewart Springs's shift, in 2000, from the traditional cloak-thy-bod-bub stance to a more enlightened one (until rudely quashed ...again...in late 2016).
The conversation in the former, smaller 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 a steep alpine canyon amid thick stands of pine and cedar, with rushing creek tumbling through, the place felt like another world.
Its quaint shingle-roofed bathhouse provided 15 mineral water tub rooms, a wood-fired sauna, and a generous sundeck. The creek served as a make-shift cold plunge for anyone willing to brave the often icy snow-melt waters, while providin 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 baths, they luxuriated relaxing in the sauna and unwinding amid the rugged serenity of the secluded alpine canyon.
Situated in a traditionally conservative ranching/farming/logging/tourist community, the place's standard policy had long been to keep one's physical personage covered everywhere beyond one's private tub room and shower stall. A brief nude creek plunge if you must but, with false modesty and deep convention reigning supreme, most kept sheets on even there. Any daring to actually skinnydip were expected to re-cover promptly on emerging from creek, no doubt to spare others the shock ever seeing an everyday naked human form in an un-commercial, non-exploitative way.
Long ago there'd been separate saunas for men and women -- called sweat rooms then -- where seated patrons were wrapped in wool blankets by the attendant to help induce profuse perspiration.
The quaint bathhouse, likely built in the teens or twenties, seemed to hold the homey if tight-wound regimented vestiges of some old-world health sanitarium. Most every visitor wore attendant-issued, dark-green half sheets; they'd become a seeming spa uniform. Whenever a new shipment of singles 50-50 blend sheets came in, the sound of rending cloth issued forth from the bathhouse's back laundry room. The suggestible might've sensed some ever-alert nurse Ratchet was busy at work close by and it would be inadvisable to depart from time-honored regimen in any way.
While the place in earlier times had gone informally clothing-optional under Goodpasture stewardship, merrily joining the wave of body liberation of the rarefied late '60s through early '70s period (that culminated in the national streak fever of 1974), under new owners it once again fell back on clothes-minded times.
Shortly after I stumbled onto the Springs, Mary Hildebrand launched her managership, taking the helm from her cousin Suzie Frank, partnered through both terms with mothers Pat and Cece, respectively, running the front desk by turn. It was a long-dedicated family management operation. The legal owner lived in the Bay Area and usually only visited briefly once a year to check on things and take reports and perhaps issue new directives.
Soon a new little green sign with black lettering on the office wall appeared, announcing:
Seemingly 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 their own 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 to be nude around others for such signs to outrage me much for their body-repressive message. Still shackled to age-old body shame, even though longtime enthusiastic if guilt-ridden closet nudist, I'd just grumble "You believe that?" at the sign, like one slave complaining to another about how tight our shackles were.
In time I'd finally rebel and dare to bare with other scofflaw regulars inside the dim, mostly fire-view-stove 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 when disapproving gazes of various dutifully wrapped sauna-goers bored into me and others for brazenly breaking the house rules and making such shameless spectacle of ourselves. I'd feel my physical temple judged indecent, reinforcing a ridiculously negative body image I was at last on verge of shaking.
I found the discomfort experienced being quietly hassled by others for not keeping covered was far outweighed by the discomfort avoided in keeping on a clammy towel in a 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-Hallelujah-these-is-our-essential-human-selves" feelgoodness.
Inspired by writings of The Naturist Society I'd recently joined, I began nurturing a conviction the place should be clothing optional. Heck, the whole world for that matter...why not? But at least in a bloomin' bathhouse, for gosh shakes.
Even though I quietly rebelled as my body image improved, part of me still festered in a 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. This even though every now and then I could experience a fleeting mystical moment of awareness. sensing our individual bodies were but pieces of some divine puzzle, devised by the Creator, to make our eternal existence, well, a bit more interesting.
Then the day came one winter that marked a critical turning point 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, needing 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).
Suddenly, my small towel, a 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 my 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 body repression. She looked up my arm sleeve and in mock-excitement coo-ed, "Ooh, naked armpit!" I turned scarlet.
Now, some 40 years later, I was suddenly left flat-out naked before a roomful of people, not one shred of modesty-preserving cloth left 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 under the floor near the firewood stash and see if he'd teach me how to chirp.
I hastily retrieved my errant towel, re-wrapped my trunk and scurried over to a bench dizzy with mortification. It was a grand moment of reckoning. The sins of the hour had caught up with me for having so long idly, obsessively objectified others' bodies, a reflection of being so ridiculously alienated from my own and brainwashed by the now fading but still dominant body-objectifying American culture.
No one said anything. No nude police came. No inquisition down in a dungeon while getting whipped with a wet noodle. Not even a snicker. Just an eternity of blood-pounding silence.
I realized later that the incident, so shocking to my deep embrace of false modesty and warped sense of decency, served to bridge the yawning gap within that kept me from becoming any more integrated in my body, mind and spirit. It served as the catalyst to begin freeing me from feeling like a turtle without a shell whenever publicly out of clothes -- at least while in the relaxed environs and among kindred nature-loving spirits.
New tendrils of radical body acceptance began growing within on that day.
I'm sure most or all of those sitting around in the sauna were far more accepting of my body than its actual 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 the brief incident. Or care if they did. Maybe some were amused, or idly critiqued my physique. Although still time away from any more fully overcoming my objectifying habit -- so thoroughly had my super-impressionable sponge of a mind absorbed the idiotic male mindset of the 1950s growing up, one compounded by a pronounced, if inhibited, sensual nature -- the episode at last put me on the road to mend my errant ways while at the same time liberating myself some.
Over the years of visits to the Springs I'd learn to feel fully relaxed nude around like-minded others. I discovered that being publicly bare in relaxed natural and harmonious surroundings was grand therapy. It de-programmed an uber-skewered, body-phobic upbringing. I learned to feel at home in my body while at same time learn to accept everyone else's, and without becoming unduly excited, idly evaluative or repulsed -- all societal reaction for human bodies having been hidden away so long from one another except when commercially exploited, or one couldn't resist being exhibitionistic.
The experience of each trusting the other to be around naked without undue judgement, lust or untoward attention, helped open my heart in profound ways hard to describe. It's said mindful public nudity is essentially a physical statement of peace and love. It was like experiencing an original, innocent Garden of Eden consciousness.
Countless others found it grand therapy as well. 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 the more freethinking people of the world at large. Individuals wanted the freedom -- or at least the option -- to shuck their wraps in select natural public places and harmonize with the elements and one another. We'd long enjoyed being nude in private -- alone, as couples, with family -- and it finally dawned on us that limiting it to that was ridiculous...at least while relaxing in natural surroundings that invited gaining a feeling of oneness with nature by shedding any unneeded coverings.
Souls were realizing how keenly we'd been made to feel uncomfortably self conscious, repressed, and guilt ridden over our essential physical vehicles.
Now 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 when the opportunity arose.
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. Its redwood walls darkened from decades of being baked and hosed down, had twin-level horseshoe-patterned benches on one side facing straight-across, twin-level benches on the other. The former intricate 2 X 6" floorboard pattern, echoing the perfect diamond mandala pattern of the bathhouse's lobby floor, was further conducive to relaxed meditation.
The fire-view wood stove's heat suffused the chamber with a magical radiance, enveloping us, the 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 grew over the restrictive cover-up policy putting a damper on things. For traditionally the sauna was where one got free of restrictive cloth, sweated out toxins, relaxed, wound down. (In Germany one could reportedly sometimes get into trouble for wearing anything in the sauna, even flip-flops.) Yet there we were, ordered to keep wrapped in our sweat-soaked, bacteria-infested sheets, towels or swimsuits in a room hot enough to slow-cook dinner -- and somehow be expected to enjoy it.
As said, the rebels among us were made to feel like textile-challenged outlaws for ignoring the posted admonition, no matter how mindful and low-key one tried to be. Whenever the heavy green door opened, bare sweaters scrambled to wrap up in a flurry of slapped wet towels and sheets lest it be the bathhouse attendant, who might report us to the manager, whereupon we'd risk censure and embarrassment, maybe even expulsion. The times it was only a fellow rebel entering someone almost invariably said, "Oh, it's only you" in mock dismissiveness, and the shameless scofflaws uncovered again amid chuckles.
Bespectacled attendant Linda, charged with keeping an eye on such troublesome visitors, periodically burst in to stoke the stove, knowing she'd likely catch some daring to break the house rule. Though her heart wasn't really 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 the hidebound tenets of Christian decency, I sometimes thought she imagined she was stoking the fires of Hell for shameless sinners.
Oddly enough, given the situation and society's fitfully becoming more accepting of mindful nudity in appropriate places, few if any ever complained to manager Mary about the silly comfort-crimping restriction.
Mary, an intense, plainspoken woman with an infamously volatile temper, was forever preoccupied with the endless demands of running a resort. Sundry everyday duties were complicated by dealing with constant pressure from absentee 'owner' Foggy to maximize profits on a starvation budget. This meant dealing with a fast turnover of an often unmotivated, bickering, minimum-wage staff that, predictably,
caused operations to get incredibly sketchy at times. This in turn created dissatisfied visitors to deal with -- all of which combined to make her always a whisper away from exploding. Often venting, she once swore a blue streak in the office over the phone while the door was open to the bathhouse; ears of shocked evening soakers were taken aback to hear such discouraging words by the manager herself, no less, in the place of ostensible healing and refuge.
Depending on her mood, then, we knew then that we'd either be made to feel funny for saying we wanted the freedom to get nude in appropriate places like the sauna and suffer her smirks and ribbing, or, if she was under extreme pressure, risk her displeasure and suffer a glare that could freeze water. It would imply we didn't like the way she was running things. She might flip out and insist we keep covered up in the creek too. As a result, the only complaints she received were about the shameless people flouting the rule...which in turn seemed to reinforce a perceived need to keep the 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 and delightful skinnydipping in the creek, it could feel divine in the sunshine. It might be glorious weather, sun pouring down like ambrosia and kissing the skin with gentle, magical radiance; soft breeze blowing, white-noise rushing of the creek inducing profound relaxation... And there we were, expected to keep shackled in clammy man-made cloth in fainthearted obeisance to some outdated morality, dully locked into the rigid conventions of acceptable social behavior from which no one would dare think of departing, lest experiencing censure.
More regular visitors and select first-timers, perhaps used to more full-tilt body freedom at sister regional springs such as Harbin, Wilbur, Orr, Breitenbush and Jackson Wellsprings, grumbled among themselves about the situation...not as many as you might think, but a handful. They found it mind-boggling that there was such an antiquated puritan mindset at a mineral springs operation nestled in the middle of nature in the hinterlands of nearby, quasi countercultural-friendly City of Mount Shasta...
...a place where it was only natural to want to amp up the spa benefits and relaxation by enjoying it au naturel.
While, as said, you could cold-plunge nude in the creek if you wanted, you had to cover up immediately on leaving the water. No dawdling. No shilly shally. No dilly dally. Only a few stolen moments in which to enjoy the pleasure of water and sun kissing bare skin before having to return to one's sweat-soaked cloth prison of green half-sheet or towel.
On one fine summer day ideal for sunbathing I witnessed a 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 once 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 the creek's edge after a cooling dip, as she had always done in the place's former glory days.
Mermaid on a rock.
"Cover up! You've got to cover up!" suddenly screeched the bath attendant from the sundeck above out of the blue, arms flailing like a mother hawk trying to frighten off predators from her nest. Some sourpuss had no doubt complained about her wanton display to the desk and the dutiful attendant went on red alert.
Her inadvertent scofflaw, blissful state broken, she 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 with a tiny towel. She complied silently, not wanting to make a scene, but the incident no doubt reinforced her conviction management was nuts.
A Telling Sauna Conversation
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 some 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 cumbersome sheet. "The direct sunshine all over feels delicious."
"Well, if I had to choose, I'd say we should maybe be allowed to skinnydip in the creek and sunbathe bare by the water all we want," said a third, wearing towel and sitting half-lotus on a high bench, coming out of a mini-meditation. "That's the most logical spot. "
Here it should perhaps be mentioned that talking in the 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 day regulars were blessed to have a woman sing an exquisite, pitch-perfect rendering of the haunting 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 felt intimate and womb-like -- and was something of a time machine. The chamber's darkened redwood walls were saturated with energies of countless thousands, spanning decades. It was a magical link to simpler times that invited stillness and the occasional soft sharing of thoughts and feelings.
While I'd never worked as an advocate for much of anything my entire life, something stirred in me that day. Since joining the Naturist Society, I'd gained a fresh perspective. I'd become aware how oppressive and neurotic our age-old compulsory-compulsive perma-dressed mindset really was. And newly aware how much, 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 timidly stepping up to become a low-key body-freedom advocate for the place.
Inspired by the liberating train of conversation, I made bold to ask, "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 first. "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 absolute certainty. "This place is just too conservative."
"I agree," said the third. "I don't want to have to see too much skin anyhow; 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."
"No, 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. Obviously my idea was an impossible dream, 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 freebodies.
For, indeed, it appeared everyone and their uncle was a secret card-carrying nudist. Society's cover-up mindset was so draconian, many took a certain 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 the prevailing oppressive enforced-dress mindset, on however small a level, for the comfort- and sensory-crimping restriction it was -- many being convinced immersing in water wrapped in cloth was like bathing with your clothes on -- we were usually content to keep such 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 the rules changed. Society appeared to have a permanent body-phobic, clothes-minded neurosis: a person uncovered was not a complete or moral person. Can't change it. Mustn't try. Resistance is futile.
In our neck of the woods, anyhow.
< Spencer Tunick art installation in Mexico, circa 2006. Some of event's 6,000 participants
Maybe regulars didn't want to rock the boat. They knew the place was off-kilter in ways but wanted to enjoy it as much as possible just as it was and not raise a fuss. Not too unlike, say, a shabby-looking car for sale cheap that ran just fine and 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 any pressing need to try to liberalize the policy. 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 lovemaking.
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 from toddlerhood on 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 and an over-sheltered upbringing, 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 horrors. Not beyond trepidaciously wearing a little peace sign button my college girlfriend gave me. Not knowing any 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. I was an anti-red-diaper baby, product of a rabid anti-communist upbringing. Just days before my birth in San Francisco at the tail end of the 1940s, the then-Soviet Union had tested its first atomic bomb AND China went communist. I drank in my dad's resulting seething ocean of far-right paranoia and saber-rattling fever with my first breath and duly magnified it internally, becoming a veritable basket case of inhibition growing up.
By college, being super-impressionable and getting contact highs from the staggering late-sixties' Haight-Ashbury phenomenon unfolding a mile away from both home and the City College campus, it finally dawned on me how much I'd been brainwashed. With the dramatic new consciousness flooding the region within and without, I quickly got over thinking of angry war protesters and the sometimes outlandish hippie counterculture as a bunch of dirty pinko commies out to destroy the nation. I would even over time fitfully became something of a hippie myself, increasingly disenchanted with mainstream culture's essential "Have a bad day," and "Life's a bitch," anti-life mindset.
I dared smoke cannabis for the first time in a friend's basement the very night Richard Nixon -- actually a one-time political crony of my father -- first got elected president. (Looking back, it was amazingly apropos.) But I was still basically a timid soul, morphing at a glacially slow speed over the decades, leisurely deprogramming from a father's far-right mind-set and the social era's oppressive brainwashing.
So now, in the late 90s, a growing awareness of how people's personal body freedom, not least of which my own, was being systematically suppressed had at long last pushed me beyond outward acquiescence to the status quo, and specifically at the Springs. Emboldened for knowing a viable body liberation movement was afoot, I therefore decided to risk hell and high water -- lowkeyly of course -- by pushing to change the Springs' clothes-minded bathhouse policy.
Walter Mitty springs into action.
"The world's not
ready for it"
One day, girding my 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 distinct impression she'd somehow rather be driving a truck, coaching a football team or riding the rodeo circuit than running any Let's-get-in-touch-with-our-inner-divine spa retreat. Even so, she managed the place with a ride-'em-cowgirl enthusiasm, having a razor-sharp, on-top-of-things grasp of management that many appreciated and some were more than a little in awe of. The woman thrived on super-engaged operations managing.
She knew me as a budding nudenik and mostly tolerated me, if warily. While she wasn't rigorous about enforcing the no-nudity policy unless someone complained, she wasn't about to take down the signs and change policy either.
Confusion reigned supreme.
A business major before dropping out of Berkeley in 1970 after two weeks -- times were too wild and momentous for me to want to spend them in any ivory tower -- I tried appealing to her business sense: "Mary, I understand how you want to make guests feel comfortable. Maybe there was a time when most preferred keeping covered and felt uneasy being around those who didn't. But those days are fading fast. You know it's just a vocal minority raising a fuss now. 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. You'll lose business."
She cocked her head, fixed eyes on mine 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'd seem to take some keen perverse delight shooting down my suggestions like they were so many ducks in an arcade game.
But then, to my great surprise, she went on to say she agreed...then added "The world's not ready for it yet." As I learned later, she was something of a de facto body freedom advocate, having once been arrested for driving bare breasted around Reno (albeit drunk at the time). She admitted to keeping the cover-up policy mostly in deference to her mom, Pat, who'd run the front office forever, along with older sister, Cece. A kinder lady you never met, but Pat was uncomfortable with the notion of public nudity, pure and simple. (In startling contrast, legend had it her older sister Cece was the nude model for the risque painting that for decades graced the wall inside City of Mt. Shasta's Vets Club tavern; how's that for sibling contrast?)
Tragically, in 2000 Pat suddenly fell ill with a rare blood disease and crossed over within a few short months.
Her passing, however, seemed to clear the way for changing the 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.
She must've run the idea of allowing the sauna to be clothing-optional through 'owner' Foggy and he tentatively approved, maybe thinking to allow skinnykipping and nude sunbathing as well if the initial change was well received. Her attitude became basically a casual, "Okay, get nekkid in the sauna 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 indifference by most -- the outer sundeck and creek area indeed soon become freebody zones as well. People could once again enjoy sweating nude, soaking in the rays without a stitch, and skinnydipping to their hearts' content.
The bathhouse had once again come to feel more like...a bathhouse.
Looking back, I realized that the time was so ripe for such radical change that the oppressive policy might've been lifted soon anyhow, even without my little campaign.
But I like to think my efforts maybe helped hasten the day.
Lest anyone doubt such signs ever existed, here they are, rescued from the trash and preserved for posterity. Andy, who wired the new sauna's electrical, dubbed the collection "The Stewart Springs Museum of Shame."
Skinny on Now-Scrapped,
Schizophrenic Nood Policy
The policy for 17 free-spirited years was to cover up in Stewart Springs bathhouse hallways and on the inner sundeck, with the option to go bare in sauna, outer sundeck, and around the creek plunge area.
Then, effective 11-1-2016, nudity outside one's private tubroom and shower became verboten once more. The decision had been made by the new 'ownership' earlier that year and announced matter-of-factly, in incredibly tiny print on the sundeck door, without having ever sought even one speck of feedback from the place's longtime faithful visitorship.
The ban was resurrected, to some people's way of thinking, like some cast-off, broken-down relic, unearthed at the town dump of antiquated morals, scraped off to do more dubious service. (See News.)
It's true that the old c/o policy was sometimes breached. Bold exhibitionists and blithe spirits alike felt the restriction too lame for words and so eminently worthy of flouting.
More often, though, it was done by those who'd simply lost track of which zones were verboten. Especially after frying one's brains in the sauna and having gotten into such a comfortable freebody zone that wrapping up to leave and head for cold plunge, shower or tub, or vice versa, felt counter-intuitive and even schizophrenic.
The brain constantly switched gears between "okay nude here" and "not-okay nude here," with the body following suit or unsuit. It made for a weird feeling, perhaps not too unlike some speed dressing/undressing model during a fast-paced fashion show. But it was also one that regulars quickly adapted to and newcomers soon got the hang of as simply the way things were.
The fact there was at times a sketchy clothing-optional climate went directly to management never fully 'getting' it and so never really approving or supporting it. The managing couple after the Foggy sister team (which followed Mary's departure) was forced to accept the c/o policy because the absentee 'owner' concluded it was great for business.
If management lacked a clear understanding, appreciation and approval of how a simple mindful nudity option amped the effectiveness and enjoyment of their spa visit, then the resulting policy, basically unsupported, could -- and sometimes did -- have chaotic consequences.
It was their being so clueless about the low-key, bohemian spa culture that led the way for creating a self-fulfilling prophesy: since permitting even modest spa nudity can be so inherently rife with controversy, it's best to keep it banned for the sake of decency and comfort of the so-called 'moral' majority.
Other springs that embrace simple mindful nudity don't have the same problem because it's so integrated into the alternative-culture spirit of each place. People uncomfortable with public nudity realize this and simply opt to either go elsewhere or eventually get back in touch with the repressed inner nudist -- or at least suffer others to do so.
That said, Stewart Springs is in a traditionally conservative region -- no Harbin a zip away from the Bay Area with the region's light years more liberal lifestyles. Its patrons could still be a bit scandalized at the notion of anything more than discreet, mostly-stationary nudity like sunbathing, sauna-ing in a dark chamber, or skinnydipping. The idea of, say, nude volleyball, ecstatic dance, and what some at Stewart's saw as suggestive yoga postures when done bare -- still shocked conventional sensibilities. While the past sentiment lived on, it had faded enough to allow the modicum of low-key body freedom the place enjoyed from 2000 through 2016.
Of course there was another issue keeping more unfettered body freedom from becoming better 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 were coming in all the time. It naturally would've been 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 states.
Compounding the situation, the structure also housed an employee break room, massage meets, housekeeping supply, and laundry room. And bathhouse tours sometimes given to prospects not sure they wanted to drop coin without first seeing what they'd be getting -- in part the reason it was also thought best to keep the front sundeck, visible through lobby windows, a no-bare zone and thus avoid any impression the place was maybe some sort of nudist camp. Also, those finished spa-ing and back in street clothes often liked to linger in the lobby, on its vintage custom-made wooden benches and out on sundeck where the clothed seemed to compete with the nude for who was following the proper dress code and who wasn't.
Not-far-off Jackson Well Springs, in northern Ashland, OR, (click menu's Other Regional Springs) successfully adopted a similar compromise to accommodate both nudist and bare-notter sensibilities, being adults-only clothing-optional after 8 p.m. or nightfall, in its case throughout the entire bathhouse and pool compound.
Yet another complication: the clothed and shod bath attendant was always working the place, threading through, preparing tubs, re-stocking tub rooms with towels and half sheets, refilling water dispenser and tea water, stoking the sauna's wood stove, giving tours... This, rather than the place being a self-serve scene 99% free of any clothed staff in their midst, as is the case at most every other popular rural mineral resort in the Northwest.
Brave nude world?
The situation often served to remind one it's a clothed world after all. Enough people, at times, preferred keeping wrapped up in sheets or swimsuits at Stewart's that freebodies could feel self-conscious if being the only naked person or one of a very few, appearing as it did to challenge the age-old, dominant textile paradigm ("Shameless exhibitionist") vs. at places like Harbin, where body freedom ruled so much that one might easily feel unduly self-conscious in a swimsuit ("What's that person hiding?"). In our state of freebody evolution, clothed and dressed people still tended to mix like oil and water -- beyond strip clubs and risque revues -- except at free beaches, naturist resorts, rainbow gatherings, Burning Man, World Naked Bike Day...and rural mineral springs, set up with an intentional chill freebody environs.
The former no-nudity policy -- in force once again, before scrapping the spa operation entirely -- was complex reflection of a world whose humans have
Ashland, Oregon anti-war statement, circa 2003 >
been taught to be neurotically self-conscious about their basic biologic reality.
Body freedom is fitfully making inroads in reversing body shame; the world is, now, perhaps showing the first glimmers of a Garden of Eden consciousness.
But to at least some of those numbly comfortable with mandatory cover-up in public, no matter where, even amid the tranquil glad tidings of nature, one being given option to go starkers is still seen as socially unacceptable, a sure reflection of shamelessly eroding moral values and a breakdown of civilized behavior.
To others, more open-minded yet perhaps still working through body-repressive issues or simply being more genuinely modest, the feeling was that each visitor should have the option. The site-conditional Springs policy appeared a most sensible compromise at the time, given the circumstances. Yet to freer spirits and those in the active stage of breaking through long body-comfort suppression, seeking more unfettered body liberation in places like Harbin, Breitenbush and Orr offer -- those who on nicest days perhaps want to get naked and stay naked: "lose your clothes and lose your woes" -- the policy was half-baked and triggered an intense disdain for society's seemingly permanently warped mindset on the issue.
True, having to navigate the checkerboard of "Okay naked here, not okay there, okay here, not okay there" while trying to unwind at Stewart's could at first feel too weird for words. But then, amazingly adaptable as humans are, it became second nature, to repeat visitors at least. They went on automatic pilot with it, on board with the spirit of compromise in dealing with the perennially delicate issue.
The checkerboard policy perhaps served as a perfect reflection of the irrational mindset humanity is working through towards making peace with physical being on our blessed if loopy planet.
The ban would, no doubt, be lifted by the place's now envisioned future appropriate steward. That is, if envisioned by enough yo keep the place from forever fading away into oblivion, left only a fond memory.
The naked truth: the future of Stewart Springs in salvaging its time-honored place as an extraordinary healing retreat may well depend on enough fans envisioning the current holders throwing in the towel and a future steward, or group of supporters, stepping into the picture and resurrecting the once and future beloved realm.
An Independent Stewart Springs watchdog, tribute & blog site since 2011