Floating in the Garden

fig treeMulberry and fig trees, heavy with shade and fruit, hung over the luminous turquoise pools as liquid light wrote sinuous patterns on the pool floor, the water and the bodies within. It was meditative bliss to float in the Warm Pool at  Harbin Hot Springs.

Harbin is a ‘take the waters’ resort in the hills north of Middletown, CA. You can find it by driving North through the Napa Valley, through the beautiful vineyard vistas and small towns north of the Bay Area.

What a beautiful place! in the apex of an increasingly steep valley the mountain gives forth her waters in a cool spring, a mineral spring and a very hot hot spring. There are a variety of pools from 113ºF/45ºC to the cold plunge at barely 60ºF/16ºC, with a full size lap pool that’s comfortably cool and a warm pool for silent soaking that’s big enough for dozens to share. There is an elven quality to the place, with lovely metalwork, tile, stone, gardens. There are cottages, dorm rooms, cabins and lodges as well as a campground. When you’re not soaking you can dance in the temple, stroll in the labyrinth, read in the library, snack in the cafe . And the dining hall serves delicious vegetarian food with a few fish & chicken options as well.

For Harbin pictures I refer you to their lovely web site, for the pools are clothing-optional and few opt for clothed bathing. There is a no-camera policy that forbids phones, iPads & iPods and computers in most areas of the resort, thankfully.  Really unplugging from technology is but a pleasant side effect. Harbin offers in impressive palette of bodywork with world class therapists, everything from reflexology to scalp massage, deep tissue and lymphatic massage to Watsu, a waterbourne treatment in addition to all its other restful qualities.

I’ve enjoyed naked swimming before in different settings. There is always a code: Growing up in Michigan skinny dipping always took place at night, since our cottages were crowded together at the river. At the Ithaca reservoir swimming itself was forbidden, so why not dispense with attire? Suited swimmers were greeted with suspicion.

Harbin Hot Springs takes great care to preserve the healing and peaceful experience, with three of the pools  dedicated to meditative and sacred space,  silence requested. It’s against the rules to proposition someone, so it’s not a cruising spot.

But I will say, as an artist, the people-watching is amazing. So many sizes, colors and ages, I wished for a painter’s day, when bathers would give permission to become inspiration for artwork. How I wanted to sketch and paint those figures in repose, surrounded by the Edenic beauty!

Was I self-conscious about stripping? A bit, at first. I was with friends whom I don’t often see, and hanging out naked with them brought us closer, faster. The trickiest part for me was shopping for spa-wear: what to wear when you’re not wearing anything! Sounds silly, but the linen big shirt I draped myself with, and the sarong I purchased, had to be just right.

In daily life I often feel like an outsider because I’m quite fat. At Harbin I experienced being a body amongst bodies, a goddess amongst gods and goddesses, connected and human, as if our differences, instead of being revealed had been shed like skin. We were in the garden, eating from the trees of life, and we did not notice our nakedness at all, except to feel that it was right and good. So mote it be.