I meant to return from my weekend with a photo of naked women on top of a mountain.
The conditions were right. The weather was unseasonably warm. I was hiking with close female friends. By the time we reached the summit of the mountain, we were warmed-up and sweaty, ready to take off our clothes. The rock ledge we were standing on was in the shade, but the mountains in the distance were in full sun and I figured we could take a classic silhouette photo.
When I casually mentioned my idea, my friends looked at each other and then turned on me. "You have to pose too," said Quilt Artist.
I shrugged, handed my camera off to the nearest person, and started taking off my clothes. "Who's going to join me?"
Dark Curly Hair, who was now holding my camera, looked a bit alarmed. That's when I remembered that she hadn't come on our retreat last year. It's possible she wasn't quite prepared for the naked photo tradition. But she quickly grasped the key point — that taking the photo meant she could keep her clothes on. "Tell me which button to push."
Within seconds, I had left my clothes in a pile and was perched on a rock outcropping, with the lovely view in front of me. Gorgeous Eyes and Quilt Artist stripped off their clothes and joined me. "Face this way, " I instructed. "I don't show faces on my blog."
Denim Woman and Makes Bread yelled instructions from the rock where they were sitting.
"Do a yoga pose!"
"Put your arms around each other!"
"Act like you're looking at the view!"
"Why does Gorgeous Eyes have a hat on?"
We danced about on the ledge, the three of us in a row, shivering as the wind rose. It was late in the afternoon, and the sun had mostly moved past this ledge. Dark Curly Hair snapped a few shots, and we ran back to pull on our clothes. It wasn't until I was fully dressed and we were hiking back down the trail that I looked at the viewfinder of my camera to see the photos.
And here is what I saw: on the rock ledge, my two friends stood posed, their bodies dark, classic silhouettes against the foliage and sky. And the third figure, too, was posed against the mountains, my body another silhouette. Except for one thing.
You know how in corny movies, a single shaft of sun will come down from the sky — a prophetic streak of light pointing to the secret cave, the lost treasure, or the spot X on a map? I've never thought that that kind of thing happened in real life. But apparently, it does.
In this case the single shaft of light was directed right at my butt. Yes. My butt. Even in the little viewfinder, my rear end shone so white it seemed to glow, while the rest of my body was in dark silhouette. Yes, it's true that my butt is white compared to my tanned arms and legs, but this was ridiculous. When I showed my friends the camera, they laughed so hard we could barely make it down the trail. "Karma!" they kept yelling.
"You didn't notice that?" I asked Dark Curly Hair incredulously.
"It looked different in the viewfinder," she said. "And I followed your instructions EXACTLY."
At dinner that night, I put the photos on my laptop so we could all look at them, and each glimpse caused a fresh round of laughter. I haven't heard so many butt jokes since about first grade. "My cheeks are a bit sunburned," Gorgeous Eyes said, patting her face. "How about yours?"
The photo was ridiculous. It was hilarious. And there was no fucking way I was going to put it on my blog. When I could get my friends to stop laughing, I explained my dilemma, which I intended to make their dilemma. I needed ANOTHER NAKED PHOTO. I was not going to follow my friends' suggestion that I simply go with the title "Nice ass" and see how many hits I could get.
My friends know, collectively, very little about blogging — only a few of them have even seen my blog — but they understand the importance of tradition. And mostly, they wanted to please me. It's even possible they felt guilty about making me the butt of so many jokes. Besides, we had a reputation to uphold. We wanted to be known as the Wild Women, not the Mild Women.
So they set about granting my wishes, taking a naked photo in front of the fire. Two friends fiddled with the lighting: moving candles into the picture, moving a lamp onto the floor. And three obligingly stripped off their clothes. "Is this good enough? Want the panties off too?"
The resulting picture — a lovely old fireplace with women lounging at the hearth — looked like a Christmas photo. Well, except for two things. There are no stockings hanging at the hearth. And the women in the photo are naked.
"So how truthful are these photos?" a blog reader asked me in an email once. "Do you women really get naked all the time when men aren't around?"
I can't answer that question. Perhaps we really do lounge around the fire naked. Maybe we do, and maybe we don't. I'll never tell. What we do in the mountains stays in the mountains.
But even a completely staged photo is truthful in the way it expresses the intimacy within this group of friends. We aren't afraid to get naked with each other. We talk about our faults, our obsessions, our childhood demons. We share with each other our spiritual journeys, our struggles to be better people. These women are friends who aren't afraid to tell me what I don't want to hear. Even when it's jokes about how white my butt is.