Monday, May 7, 2012


I wanted to tell you about the time Mike heated water for my bath on a camping trip.  It was not a trivial event.  This was our first canoe trip without a whole crew of Explorer Scouts.  It was ironic that we'd just moved to Washington state and that, on that first trip, we went back to the Adirondacks.  That place felt like home to Mike, since he'd been a camp counselor at Sabbattis for years.  Oh, I'd been up to Sabbattis often enough for Explorer Post trips that I loved the place too.  We'd even planned to retire there, in a cabin by a lake. 

Enough other people had had the same idea and the first two days of our trip was disappointing.  Being just outside the park boundaries, the lakes were packed with cabins.  I had trouble finding a place to pee, the lawns were so obvious and the cabins built so closely together.  We didn't see anyone around, but it still felt as though eyes could be behind every window.  I don't like being part of any one's picture postcard, especially when I'm peeing. 

Eventually, we found some privacy as we entered the park and finally we were truly alone.  I remember a secluded campsite on the third or fourth night, not visible from the water. It felt like an island, but I'm not certain of that after all these years.  How one part of my memory can be so vague and another part so visceral is beyond me. 

The only other things I remember from the trip were the slightly creepy pitcher plants and the motor boat that circled us on Saranac Lake, with his huge wake on all sides.  We struggled to keep from pitching over.  What an ass!

The only reason I remember that particular campsite is that I was feeling kind of scummy and had decided it was warm enough to wash my hair.

I planned to do my usual, take the piddle bucket to get water from the lake, walk about a hundred feet away from the lakeside to a quiet place, and bathe.  The rule was to wash at least that far from the water so the lake didn't start getting soapy from overuse.  Then the wash water traveled through the dirt, a natural filter, back down to the lake.  What the hell is a piddle bucket, you ask?  Sorry.  We camped with a collapsible bucket that was supposed to stand upright after you filled it with water, something like a reverse dry bag.  This was a great idea until we realized that, after one of us had hauled a full bucket from the lake to the campsite, the bucket, as if it had a contrary mind, waited until you turned away and then began to pour out the water you'd just carried.  We kept using the piddle bucket because we didn't have anything better to use that was lightweight.  The weight of things mattered on these trips, because we might have as many as six portages every day and some of them were a few miles long.  Imagine how careful we were packing our gear, knowing that we'd have to carry everything including the canoe between lakes. My favorite photo of myself is when I was strong enough to carry that canoe.  I never did get strong enough to carry the canoe and my backpack at the same time.

Piddle bucket, Camp Suds, and bandanna in hand, I went down to get some water.  I passed through camp to go search out my grotto for a nice bath.  Mike had the Peak I going with water on to boil.

"Want some hot water for your bath?" he asked.

"Do we have enough fuel?"  It was pretty important not to run out of fuel for cooking on these trips, but I had no idea how to gauge how much fuel to pack or how we were managing what we had left.

"Sure!" he said. " Why don't you take your bath here so I don't have to carry it?"  It never occurred to me that this was an option, especially when I was used to traveling with a dozen teenage Scouts.  I had even gotten used to washing with my bathing suit mostly on for fear of being inappropriate.  Ha!  In camp!  I was going to be naked in the middle of camp!  I felt like I was breaking some kind of rule, but Mike and I were the only ones around. 

My hair was long, half way down my butt for this washing and I was still small, so I know it was before Mike and I were married.  I cut my hair after our wedding ceremony but before our honeymoon three months later.  Poor Mike was so sad when I did this.  It took a lot of water to wash this much hair.

I felt strange, taking my clothes off in the middle of camp.  It was all very erotic. I used a little water from the piddle bucket to get my hair wet, then closed my eyes against the Camp Suds and began to lather up.  I started with my hair and washed all the way to my toes, working quickly in the chill.  There wasn't much use in washing my feet since they'd be filthy from portaging soon, but it felt good to have clean feet anyway, even for just a little while.  

A slight breeze felt like feathers on my skin.  Todd had mixed his hot water with my cold and stood there next to me, ready to pour, but my eyes were still closed against the soap.  I could hear him breathing.  I stopped and stood waiting.

"You ready?" he asked.


And he poured that warm water gently over my head while I stood and turned, trying to rinse the soap from my hair, from my face, from my body, from places he couldn't see.  That warm water was such a luxury out in the woods on a six day trek.  It brought tears to my eyes, though Mike couldn't see them from the water he was pouring over me.  In my memory, he helped to dry me off with fluffy towels, but neither of us would have packed towels, weight was so limited.  I must have air dried, using my wet bandanna to sluice off any water that I could. 

I can still remember the warmth of the water.  Bathing in the fresh air had always been my favorite part of a canoe trip, but until then, it had always been with cold water, refreshing, but, well, cold.  I could only afford to bathe when the weather was warm enough that I'd dry warm.  Hypothermia is a big deal out in the woods.  That bath was the sweetest moment of the entire trip, the best bath I ever had, with the warm water and the cool breeze playing over my skin.

Thank you for listening, jb

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