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Growing numbers think it's a good thing -- even crucial -- that various appropriate natural public and select private settings be designated clothing-optional -- especially rural mineral springs, most especially those in free-spirited northern California's nature-rich environ.

If not availing for themselves, then for others for whom it's either an integral part of chosen lifestyle or a chance to experiment and reclaim body acceptance after a lifetime of body suppression, false modesty, and other trips over one's biologic reality.

But the way things stood, Stewart Springs, though deep in nature, perhaps only provided half-way optimal conditions for visitors to make better peace with their earthly temples and further their personal spiritual evolution through more relaxed spa regimen that simple, conscious nudity fosters.

Bathhouse layout was

part of the problem

Nudity often felt tenuous around the edges at Stewart's during its last c/o run. The old manager, not attuned to the benefits of mindful radical body freedom, most probably dismissed it as a hopeless, distasteful situation that she was saddled with. She likely leaped at the excuse of some rare incident -- or, again, shamelessly made it up out of whole cloth -- to paint an alarming picture of massive visitor disapproval of the radical scene, naturally making new misinformed 'ownership' want to change the policy post-haste.  

Whatever in fact prompted the sorry change (before junking the spa altogether), bathhouse layout was a major culprit in the situation. Every other rural mineral springs resort in the northwest allowing some measure of clothing optional had dedicated zone in which to enjoy a liberated and blissful freebody state while purifying and rejuvenating if one so chose.

Not Stewarts. All under the same roof: bathing and sauna, employee break room, busy office, laundry room, housekeeping supply... So much going on, it was a constant uphill battle to get in -- and stay in -- any comfortable zen state, nude OR wrapped. Add  wound-up employees coming in to pour tea in the hallway and massage meets, along with the bathhouse attendant constantly scurrying about with armloads of modesty-preserving sheets and towels, clothed visitors picnicking on the sundeck, separated c/o zones between mandatory wrap-up, etc. and textile vibes always dominated the bathhouse.

It could leave those trying to enjoy a bit of super-relaxing body freedom over the course of their spa treatment feeling frustrated -- sometimes made to feel like exhibitionists by smug and judgmental 'textile chauvinists' remaining sensorily muted, bods armored in cloth, feet shod.

Whether or not lamentable bare-not policy is ever rethought, re-energized, and fine-tuned to re-accommodate much of former dedicated visitor base under future stewardship, no doubt there will likely always be those discontent with such a situation,  with efforts to accommodate different mindsets on issue striking newcomers as either oppressively restrictive or utterly shameless.

For some will always want the freedom to be nude without restriction in bathhouse compound, or at least have option available for self and others. They will forever grumble about enforced body shame if made to cover anywhere in spa compound -- especially on cold wintry days while in toasty 180 degree F. sauna, and on warm sunshiny days perfect for skinnydipping and sunbathing, and, regardless of season, having to cover up going from sauna to tub or sundeck and river.

Motto: "Lose your clothes and lose your woes."

Others, not yet rediscovering their inner nudist of un-self-conscious infant and toddler years, before socially programmed body shame eclipsed it, locking it up and seemingly throwing away key, will remain forever uncomfortable, or at least severely awkward, around any simple everyday nudity. Especially if rude behavior like mindless gawking and idle-amusement cheesecake/beefcake posing goes on for lack of any pro-active, chill management building positive, conscious c/o climate to prevent any such non-centered behavior.

At worst, one could feel forced to endure forever being around shamelessly naughty people, if not out-and-out deviants. Even with together c/o scene, same perma-threaders, though far fewer, would still balk at those with temerity of being out of uniform, as it were, boldly disobeying conventional regime's dominant cover-thy-shame edict, making seeming bold exhibitions of essential physical beings. Undoubtedly it served as uncomfortable reminder how much one's bought into society's systemic body alienation and shame.

Then again, how many such would bother to visit? People going to Harbin or Breitenbush know full-well before arriving how mindful nudity is sanctioned, practice well established. Stewart seemed to have only flirted with such bohemian atmosphere, and as a result had ongoing civil war between freebodies and perma-dressers, all loving place but at perpetual odds over proper way to enjoy it, in or out of uniform.

Latter sub-group might as well have a bumper sticker saying:

"Cover-up junkie and proud; you should be, too -- in fact, I insist."

It's said Americans often appear simultaneously sex-obsessed and Puritanical towards nudity. There seems precious little room for socially normalizing it except at places like public free beaches, naturist resorts -- and enlightened rural mineral spring resorts, as Stewart's had been, of sorts. 

Breakdown on attitudes towards social nudity

Were writer to hazard educated guess on breakdown of Stewart visitors' attitudes towards social nudity, one based on 20 years of weekly+ visits, it'd be:

5-10% serious freebodies

35% casual/first-time/Sunday nudists

40-50% neutral; stay covered but ok with it IF scene's respectful

5-10% "oh my God!"

Again, writer attributes focus-switching decision to absentee owner possibly being fed exaggerations and misinformation by lingering manager. Never resonating with legion of freer spirits who championed progressive clothing-optional set-up, she pounced on sorry isolated incident -- or, again, shamelessly manufactured it -- to convince new owners (if they needed it) to junk policy post haste.

Clearly a misguided effort to try to make place more attractive to adamantly clothes-minded, more culturally refined (that is, deeper-pocketed) visitors. Mo money, mo bettah. Plus for those, both local and travelling, who though perhaps actually enjoy select nudity in better manager-supported environments, could find Stewart's latter-day c/o scene way too sketchy at times and so grudgingly approved of nudity ban.

The Naked Truth: for some, the place is a gold mine to be exploited or used as own private shangri-la, rather than invaluable healing realm to be cherished by all.

Possible positive side

to (now-moot) sorry situation?

Playing devil's advocate now, taking wild card of nudity out of situation could've possibly evened out social-energy field some -- if only on dampened, comfort-constricting, spirit-stifling, level.

More visitors, at least those used to always keeping covered in public and expecting others to as well, thank you very much, might've felt more inclined to visit. Also, well-meaning parents no longer having to feel concerned about children -- naturally biggest nudists of all -- being thrown off cultural brainwashing regimen for witnessing public nudity of grown-ups who 

should know better, and possibly become interest of stray pedophiles possibly attracted to place for want of positive intent by management and visitors. (To solve last concern and keep clientele diversified, hour-away Oregon's Jackson Wellsprings, before Covid, cover-required during daytime for family enjoyment, and becomes c/o (and adults only) after nightfall/ 8 p.m., whichever comes first.)

Granted, with textile modesty barriers in place, it slows or stops any possible over-excited pheromones from dancing mad fandangos that being publicly nude sometimes causes for sheer liberating feelgoodness of it all after lifetime of body suppression, plus prevailing hard-wired equation of nudity = sex. So it might've discouraged idle lustful fantasies and mindless objectification with resulting unease (vs. unease having to keep covered).

Also a few unfortunate and isolated incidents like, again, some old dufus reportedly jacking off on deck in 2016 that was supposedly last straw (if, again, it ever actually happened), sparking draconian ban. (Altho, as one male pointed out, women's abbreviated outfits, like thong bottoms, can actually distract and idly arouse more than outright simple nudity.)

At risk of repeating point (okay, that ship's sailed), such incidents could in no small part be attributed to former management seeming only to tolerate c/o, rather than work to build more conscious climate. No signage on former policy, either friendly or serious, was ever posted.

Ephemeral explanation of okay areas was always verbal by attendant and front desk -- as if putting anything in print would legitimize it too much as real and solidly-backed policy. Barring any more focused effort to elevate and reinforce awareness and enlightened nude etiquette, place was left wide-open for potential untoward behavior to creep in. This included, most commonly, open mindless bold gawking, some from distance using binoculars. Stewart Springs as peep show village: "low admission; come one, come all, just not on our deck, please.)" 

While some might at last feel free to give place a try with ban, they could just as well do so with owner establishing cover-up and clothing-optional days. There would remain potential awkwardness of clothed employees threading through re-established c/o zones of sauna, deck and plunge area, but that can be lived with like it had been last 16 years, perhaps this time lessened with more mindful intent infused in renewed policy (no pun intended but fitting word).

Even if renovating and moving office, laundry room, etc. elsewhere, there's further snag to making place fully self-serve compound like other c/o rural springs in wider area, one conducive to more chill freebody environ: place's powerful but limited supply of mineral water.

Without attendant monitoring limited mineral water use, place could run out in no time. Some, left to own devices, might mindlessly drain and refill tub between rounds. Short of, say, installing some kind of meter with automatic shut-off to ration dispensing once given limit reached, sign 

coming on saying, "No more water for you!", bath attendant serves vital function. One's also needed to tend sauna's wood stove. (Alas, missed golden opportunity when building new sauna in 2006 to change stove to special in-wall kind fed from outside, eliminating need for attendant to enter sauna except perhaps to announce ready bath.)

Possibly now-quaint, century-long tradition at place of visitors being waited on can't easily change to soakers cooperatively helping selves, as all other popular regional rural springs have done. Especially with new no-nudity policy 

encouraging even more visits by those who aren't serious about intensive cleansing but like idea of hot bath with personal attentive fussing, just like at similarly-compromised, lah-de-dah city spas. Serious inertia prevails at place always having provided staff assistance and not being any more, "hey, help yourself, lazy gat, and keep prices down."

Clothing-Optional Days? (now-moot suggestion)

Many have treasured place over time who, for sundry reasons, were not into going au naturel. For them, radical policy change itself is no problem (though it being reflection of more buttoned-down scene might've been). Others who were initially put off by change, either grudgingly or gracefully accept more restrained body freedom -- as, indeed, most did last cover-up period, which started roughly 1980 after Goodpastures left, and lasted until place went clothing-optional in 2000.

One becomes philosophical about it, as in "This too shall pass." 

In time --especially if bathhouse changes made with future, appropriate steward(s) -- new more workable and all-inclusive compromise could be fine-tuned, like at other places. Some had suggested having clothing-optional days.

With policy well-advertised and well-posted, including prominent "Today is  a Clothing Optional Day" sign both outside and inside office and online, place could accommodate broadest Springs' visitor base. It'd let visitors know exact policy upfront rather than attendants wasting time and breath explaining to each newcomer "Ya can be naked here and here, but don't even think about it there." Likely, with current reality of so many clothed employees around and office being right there with clothed visitors entering lobby all the time, only formerly allowable zones -- sauna, outer deck and plunge area -- could again be c/o again.

Such compromise -- say, offering four clothing-optional days and three bare-not days, during peak season, if not instead returning to former policy of everyday nudity in such designated areas -- would prevent excluding any Springs fans from enjoying place according to druthers (so long as it fits schedule). For those who don't care one way or other, likely greatest number, they'd merrily continue visiting any day, no problema.

Even without changing layout, renewed accommodation of those valuing nude option by having clothing-optional days makes sense business-wise. And like Wilfred Brimley said, "It's the right thing to do."

As it stood, one was left with muffled feeling if one didn't coldplunge duly wrapped, or wear cloth preventing sun's healing rays from energizing entire body or, for some weird reason, just couldn't enjoy sweating in 180 degree sauna covered in clammy, constrictive, bacteria-breeding cloth... that if, instead, one longed to embrace nature's elements free of supplied man-made, pesticided cotton and coal-oil-based polyester cloth, or even own natural covering... well, sorry, it was simply unacceptable; indecent.

"Hope you understand our cover-up policy. Please bear with, wait, don't."

Stewart's has been that rare environ which for the first 16 years of new millennium it distinguished itself from the dominant body-phobic world at large, including majority of nation's mineral spring resorts. While a pity that policy was no better embraced by former owner and management, no better focused, energized, and gently but firmly enforced, even such as it was, Stewart's became low-key clothing-

optional oasis for untold thousands -- locally, nationally, and globally. Visitors could more thoroughly enjoy therapeutic benefits of place nude if they chose, embracing positive body acceptance and liberation amid tranquility of nature and kindred nature-loving spirits.

It's the hope and prayer of countless that under new future enlightened stewardship,a clothing-optional spa returns to Stewart Springs.

Ghost dancing? The impossible dream? Waiting for Godot? 

It's all up to enough Stewart Springs fans insisting otherwise.

More re-posted online review rants & raves

(and ceaseless commentary) in Part 2  of 3 here

see related News editorial. Also story, "When Body Freedom (of sorts) Returned to Stewart Springs" on Book Excerpts page. Also home page editorial

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