April 27, 2016

Naked amidst the mud pots


“I’m your top model,” Maine Writer said to me. We were standing on the balcony of our hotel, and she was naked, of course. Conference roommates have to pose naked for my project: it’s a tradition. Maine Writer looked strong as she leaned against the balcony, ready to take on the world. I hated to burst her bubble, but it had to be done.

“Not exactly,” I said. “You’re tied with Quilt Artist and Dancing Woman.” Maine Writer looked at me, horrified.

“They’re hometown friends. We go on retreat every year,” I explained. “They’ve each posed for me seven times.” Actually, I was being kind. What I didn’t tell her is that Quilt Artist and Dancing Woman both posed in an eighth shot, a group picture that I called “Them Naked Women.” That was back in my days of innocence, before I realized that how I labelled photos on Flickr mattered. I’ve since discovered that all kinds of folks go searching the internet for naked women, often without the best intentions. Who knew? But it was a good learning experience. I learned how to block people on Flickr.

I had underestimated how competitive Maine Writer is. She pulled a dress over her naked body, not even bothering with the panties or bra she’d flung aside. “Come on,” she said, pulling on a pair of boots. “This photo shoot isn’t over.”

Luckily, we had rented a car. We spent the day driving along an earthquake fault. Whenever I saw a scene that I loved, we’d stop the car, and Maine Writer would strip off her dress. Like the hay bales we saw, for instance. It seemed incredible that anyone would be growing hay in the desert. So of course, we took a photo, with Maine Writer dashing behind the stack of a hay when we noticed how slowly the cars were going by.


We stopped a park to take a hike and noticed a bench conveniently placed on the trail, just in case anyone might want to pose for a naked picture without getting their butt dirty.

  Salty lake

By then Maine Writer was fully into the spirit of the project. She kept pointing out spots. “See that green water? The only color in this landscape.” She yanked off her dress and scrambled down the embankment, clouds of dust rising as she went.


The scenery was pretty fantastic. We climbed up a huge pile of dirt that Maine Writer said was a mud pot, formed from boiling water pushing mud up. At the top we looked down into a vast inland salt lake.

  Above the salt lake

 By the time we got back into the car, my face was red from the heat. I took a cloth from my camera bag, soaked it with water, and draped it on my head. I knew it looked ridiculous, but I didn’t care. Besides, we hadn’t seen anyone in hours.

By the Maine Writer was obsessed with finding weird geological features. She was following some kind of obscure road map, which she held in her lap as she drove. “It says there’s a field of mud pots,” she said excitedly.

We pulled off to the side of the road. I looked across at the mud puts. They seemed pretty unremarkable. They were, literally, just piles of mud. They weren’t even very tall. Where I come from, snowplows make piles of snow that are higher. But Maine Writer jumped from the car and went striding ahead, so I followed. The late afternoon light would be great for a photo, I thought.

As we approached the piles of mud, I started hearing sounds. First a bubbling noise, like the sound spaghetti sauce makes as it begins splattering all over the stove. Then hissing like a tea kettle. And a weird glumph like a small monster or sock puppet. I saw puddles crusted with salt, bubbles breaking through. These were active mud pots.

As I knelt on the ground to take a close-up photo, the mud was warm beneath my knees. “This would be a bad time for this crust of earth to collapse,” I thought to myself. I pictured myself falling into a pit of boiling mud. I’ve had nightmares like that. I moved away hurriedly, but it didn’t stop me from asking Maine Writer to pose on the edge. If you’re going to be my number one model, I explained, you have to be prepared to take some risk.

  Hissing mud

We survived the mud pots. And it was almost time for us to drive back into civilization. Maine Writer had already scoped out a Mexican restaurant for dinner, our last meal together before flying home to our respective homes. But we did make one last stop. Maine Writer wanted to take her photo at the very end of the fault line. And so we did.

Fault line

Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.

April 14, 2016

Naked in the snow

Naked Despite the Snow

When a long-time blogging friend sent me an email about a nature writing workshop within driving distance of my house, I decided to join her for the workshop. “You can come visit me,” I told LovesBooks. “And if the weather is warm, we can take a naked photo for my blog!” I just always assume that blogging friends are eager to pose. Who doesn’t love a good tradition?

The visit went as planned. LovesBooks flew to my part of the country and arrived in a rental car. Right away, we sat down to drink hot tea and talk non-stop. The next morning, I took her to Pretty Colour Lakes. I wanted her to see one of the places that I love.

“My Dad used to come here when he was a kid,” I told her as we walked the cedar-lined paths. “He rode in the rumble seat of a Model T Ford, and he’d fall asleep on the way home.” LovesBooks understands the way stories get embedded in a landscape. So I knew she’d appreciate this lake where I’ve been walking since before I was born. It was the perfect place for her to pose for my blog. There was just one problem.

It was snowing. Yes, snow in April! Such is the climate I live in. We both muttered darkly as we walked around the lake. I had already packed away my mittens, and my hands were cold. We stopped near Dead Man’s Point, the place where local teenagers go skinny dipping even though the sign strictly forbids swimming.

“I love the roots of the cedar trees,” LovesBooks said. She walked out to the edge of the lake and looked across at the snow falling into the blue-green water. Then she shrugged. “Oh, okay.” And she began stripping off her clothes. Honestly, I hadn’t even asked. It was all her idea. Within minutes, she was naked, even down to the bare feet.

With cold fingers, I fumbled with my camera. I clicked a few photos and called out, “Just move a little to your right. I want your silhouette against the water.” That’s when we heard chatter and footsteps. A whole group of people, dressed warmly in winter coats, came tramping along the trail. LovesBooks looked startled. She quickly stepped to the edge of the water and crouched near a tree, laughing. I kept taking photos.

“It’s a little cold for swimming,” a man called out to me, grinning. “But don’t worry, we’re going right on by.”

“It’s .... an art project,” I said lamely. I was still fully dressed, of course. But LovesBooks had started to shiver. Time to put her clothes back on, go home for some tea, and then drive to the nature writers’ workshop, where I’d talk about Project Naked with a bunch of strangers because really, if writing about the naked body isn’t nature writing, than I don’t know what is.

Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.

April 07, 2016

Skater Girl poses

Skater Girl

I’m at conference party where everyone is jammed into a hotel suite drinking booze and squinting at each other’s name tags in the dim light. Several male friends start making promises about how they are going to pose naked for my blog. They are going to pose together, a male buddy naked scene, preferably with fishing poles. Their banter gets ridiculous as they start inviting everyone at the party to pose with them. Of course, the guys know they’re safe because it’s night time — no natural light for a photo — and I’ve got this rule that anyone posing for a photo has to be sober.

A young woman stands next to Tall Editor. I noticed her right away when she came in because she was carrying a skateboard, not a typical mode of transportation at an academic conference. While the men are conversing loudly about whose turn it is to pose, Skater Girl says quietly, “I’ll do it.”

That’s how these naked photo sessions come about. Often I’ve got any number of drunken friends PROMISING to pose for me. But their plans are always too unrealistic. “I’ll get up at dawn and we can take the picture at the hotel pool,” a certain red-haired editor said to me. I know he meant it too. But I wasn’t surprised to wake up in the morning and find a text that he’d sent at 4 am, admitting that the dawn time slot was a bit ambitious as he hadn’t yet gone to bed.

I knew that a photo of Skater Girl was my best bet. When I met her at the book fair in the cold light of day, she was still willing to pose. The only problem was finding a secluded spot. We were too far from my hotel, and the warm sunshine meant that every outdoor place was crowded. I turned to Tall Editor, who was staying at the hotel close by. “Hey, can we borrow the key to your room?” He handed it over without a word.

A naked photo shoot always leads to conversations about body image. As we walked over to the hotel, we talked about the ways that women are pressured to wear clothes that are uncomfortable and shoes that are crippling. When I mentioned high heels, a pet peeve, Skater Girl laughed. “Yeah, I need shoes I can jump onto a skateboard with.”

The hotel room itself was pretty unremarkable. The little loveseat next to the window was the only spot with any kind of natural light. Skater Girl pointed to this funny little stuffed animal balanced on the cushion, and I speculated as to which of the two men sharing the room might have brought him along. They are both fathers so it could have been either.

Talking about our bodies led, as if often does, to a conversation about place. Skater Girl grew up in a dry, arid climate. But she’d visited the northeast, where I’m from. “All those lakes,” she said. “All that water. It feels like rolling in money.”

As we walked back to the conference bookfair, she told me about a raft trip she’d taken through the Grand Canyon. “That’s where I learned to be comfortable with nudity.” As we talked, I kept thinking about how good my body feels when I'm swimming in icy cold water or lying on a sun-warmed rock to get warm, how great those outdoor experiences make my body feel. Then we walked back into the frenetic conference scene, where thousands of attendees were racing about under artificial light, checking their phones for text messages.

Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.