My conference roommate, Maine Writer, knew she was obligated to pose naked for my blog. The naked photo of my roommate is, after all, a blog tradition. This wasn’t her first rodeo. But she decided that she had had enough of the hurried photo shoots during which we moved generic furniture around in a futile effort to make a bland hotel room look like a Hollywood set. She wanted something more daring, more artistic, more natural – an outdoor shot. What’s more is that she had the means to achieve this: she had a rental car.
“Temperatures are going up over 100 degrees on Saturday,” I said to her. “Maybe we could find a swimming hole.” To be honest, I was more focused on the weather forecast than the naked photo shot. I’m not used to temperatures over 100 degrees. Besides, even though we were having a fantastic time at the conference, we relished the idea of time alone together, a rare commodity. We’ve both been busy this year — her being a famous writer, jetting about giving interviews and doing radio shows — and me with another kind of busy, teaching four classes every semester and revising my unpublished manuscript for the 94th time.
“I’m interviewing a geologist this afternoon,” she said. “I’ll ask him.”
So that’s how it came to be that on Saturday morning, after first walking to the Farmers’ Market to buy fresh, cold peaches and a basket of sun-ripened berries, we sneaked away in her rental car, following the automated voice of her phone, all of our hopes pinned on the location the geologist had typed in. I never even found out the name of the geologist, but Maine Writer seemed to have the utmost confidence in him.
We drove up hills of farmland, lovely mounds of green and gold, the low crops shimmering in the heat. I didn’t see anything that looked like a swimming hole, but Maine Writer drove on confidently, in the manner of – well, pretty much anyone younger than me, used to following a smartphone blindly into the future and quite possibly over a cliff. I clung to the vision of a muddy swimming hole, perhaps with a rope we could swing on, as the rental car took us farther and farther, higher and higher, past farms and fields and small towns. Then we took a sharp turn and the car plunged down into a canyon, an entirely different landscape.
It was the kind of canyon that I’ve seen on postcards and calendars and corny cards with inspirational sayings that make me want to puke. This was no muddy swimming hole. It was a river, a real river, deep and powerful, snaking its way through the steep hills and rocks. Maine Writer gave me a sideways triumphant grin as I stared at the magnificent scene.
“It’s official,” I said. “I love geologists.”
The smartphone led us to a dirt turn-off where we saw only one other vehicle, a pick-up truck that looked like it had weathered some rough times. As Maine Writer parked the car, I could see her hands tense on the steering wheel. A man stood at the river’s edge, holding a gun.
“He’s got a gun,” she said, just in case I hadn’t noticed.
I peered out through the windshield. It’s true that the man was holding a gun, but it was, at least, pointed in the other direction. It’s also true that he looked annoyed. Maine Writer, who had driven here so confidently, made no move to get out of the car.
“Let me just check out the situation,” I said and stepped into the blazing heat. Farther down on the river bank, I could see a teenage boy. Hand on hip, he was poking at some rocks, gun hanging at his side, his face turned away from the older man. I recognized that body language. It was the classic “What? I didn’t hear you tell me that it was time to leave” pose perfected by teenagers everywhere. Clearly, he was stalling. No wonder the older man was annoyed.
I got back into the car without talking to either of them. “They’re leaving,” I said to Maine Writer. “We just need to wait a couple of minutes.” Sure enough, the gruff older man finally got his teenage son to come back to the truck and they drove off in a cloud of dust, taking their guns with them, leaving us in that magnificent canyon all by ourselves. Within minutes we were scrambling up the rock outcropping.
Maine Writer stripped off all her clothes after my assurance that we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, and I’d warn her if I heard a passing car. “Take in the whole landscape,” Maine Writer kept saying. “I can just be a figure in the distance.” As I looked through the viewfinder of the camera, I could barely see her naked body. She looked like a bird or a deer or a seal, just another creature basking in the sun. The landscape was so big, and her human body was tiny in comparison.
I snapped quickly, as the heat rose from the rock and began soaking into my bones. Later, when we looked at the photos, I realized that I was so intent on making sure the landscape looked big in comparison to the humble human figure that I may have over-emphasized my point: the photos are the Where's Waldo of naked photos. But no matter. I was eager to get into that river.
“I’m sure we’ve got a good shot,” I yelled. “Let’s find a place to swim.” As Maine Writer scrambled, naked, down to the water’s edge, I picked up her clothes and followed.
That’s when we heard voices, just on the other side of the rock. Another car was parked next to ours in the parking lot, and a young couple had climbed onto the rock next to us. The young woman was wearing a bathing suit.
“Hey, there,” Maine Writer called to them, poking her head just above the rock that separated us. She’s really quite friendly to strangers who aren’t carrying guns.
“Is this a good place to swim?” she asked the young local woman. “And do you think it will bother anyone that we don’t have bathing suits?”
The local woman waved her arm. “Climb over that next rock, and you’ll find a little cove. It’s a perfect swimming spot.”
She was right. The cove had an overhanging ledge that provided us with both privacy and shade. Maine Writer stretched out on the rock while I stripped off my clothes. I went into the river first, just so I could demonstrate my beached-whale technique of climbing up the slippery rock, a technique I’ve perfected over years of swimming off islands up on the river.
“It’s just a little bit awkward,” I grunted to Maine Writer as I grasped dry rock with my fingertips and dragged my bare skin across the slimy seaweed, my breasts scraping against the rock.
We had a lovely hour, swimming and lounging naked on the rock, singing the praises of the geologist who was now my best friend even though I’d never met him. We took photos, caught up on all that was happening in our lives, and talked gleefully about how bad we felt for our friends back at the conference, who were attending sessions in windowless, air-conditioned rooms.
Finally, we decided, sadly, that it was time to go back to our conference, time to get back into the land of wifi and post pictures on facebook to make our friends jealous. When I stood up to take one last swim, I got a glimpse of the parking lot. It was completely filled with cars. Squinting into the sunlight, I saw families with coolers, couples with inner tubes, and whole gangs of teenagers.
“I guess we need to put our clothes back on,” said Maine Writer. I agreed, but I took one last swim anyhow. It was too hot to get back into the car without cooling my body down. Besides, I’m sure no one even noticed that I was naked as I swam along the rocks, cheerfully saying hello to anyone I saw.
“The kind of people who come to a swimming place like this – they are likely to be comfortable with the naked body,” Maine Writer said as I pulled myself back onto the rock. I pondered that truth as I pulled on my shirt, just before a teenage boy in a bathing suit came swimming around the rock, stopping to hang out with us for a minute as he waited for a friend who was swimming with him.
“Everything about this morning has been perfect,” I said as we walked back to the car. “Including our timing.”
Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.