The Best Water for Skinny Dipping
5 writers walk into a campground.
This is either the set up for the worst joke ever, or the premise of a bloody B-movie where all the blondes die in ironic ways. I choose the latter, of course.
Actually, my retreat was much less gory than I expected it to be. Also, less dramatic. No insane police chases, no broken limbs. The worst thing that happened was that an insane Pekinese attacked me, probably because he smelled bacon on my legs. No, I’m not going to tell you why bacon was on my legs. That’s personal.
I did get to hang out with some cool ladies and hear some great stories. It is always so amazing to be around real story tellers. It is a visceral, primal need to disseminate information in the dying embers of a fire, preferably with dangerous levels of marshmallow sugar in your veins.
I would have liked to report to you that something crazy happened this weekend, but it was pretty much just a bunch of weirdies hanging out and telling stories. Nope, no craziness. Some of the girls gave themselves permanent marker tattoos. Most of us painted, some of us wrote. Jenny and I crossed a bridge that was literally torn down the next day. We sat under a smorgasbord of wasps nests and tried to uncover the mysteries of the universe. We made it about 15 minutes before the wasps looked angry and we decided we’d rather not end up in a missing person’s report.
Nope, no craziness…but there was the skinny-dipping.
We put off our naked-style swimming excursion for almost the whole weekend. Too hot, too cold, too light, too many people. Methought my Lady MacBethian camping buddies protested a leeeetle too much. I just kept my mouth shut. Probably because I was just as nervous about getting down to my fishy-white nude as the rest of them.
Finally, knowing that there were no more nights to participate in this probable disaster, we talked ourselves into taking the jiggly plunge. We had found a cute little swimming hole that was perfect for a midnight tryst. As dusk seeped into the campground, putting out the lights all around us, we chittered with excitement as we piled into Amber’s soccermobile.
The perfect circle of the moon wove over and under the mountain skyline as we trekked into unknown waters. We got to the bank, hastily undressed and squealed our way into Lake Cour D’ Alene. We giggled and gawped at the road just yards from where we swam. I wonder if someone will see us? Wouldn’t it be crazy if they saw us? I think that car is going to stop! Backs turned to the water, faces hopeful, my companions waited for the drama of exposure, anticipating the moment when the lights would turn down the short drive and expose them in harsh headlights. I did not wait.
I swam out into the deep water. It was just slightly cooler than bathwater, and it felt like satin against my flesh. I felt like I was in a great tub of silk, spreading the minute fibers over and under to keep myself afloat. The moon was now just a halo above the dark skyline of jutting pines. I laid back and pushed away from where the others stood, their voices fading into soft murmurs. I moved through the water like a slyph, quiet and pensive.
The stars peeked from a velvet panel of blue above me. I stopped, floating on my back, my bare skin reaching up as the universe reached down. Breathe in. Breathe out. The sounds of the lake were still, the living things sleeping in their dark berths. Light licked over the ripples on the water as I moved out into the temple of the night.
A large log, perhaps a pillar used to corral lumber or the beginnings of a dock at some point, appeared behind my left ear. It gleamed in the darkness, almost 20-feet tall. Rickety slats were nailed every 4 feet, creating a jagged ladder to the top. I looked at it carefully before swimming to it. Someone long ago had created this adventure for me. Did they know that I would answer this call? I was connected with him across time and space, this unknown pioneer of risk. How did he manage to nail the boards so high? What time had passed between his first jump and mine?
I pulled myself up, wrapping my legs around the bottom rung. The ancient nails groaned, and I had my first misgiving. I yanked my leg up and over the rung as quick as I could, hoping to climb faster than the step could pull away from its harbor. I managed to slam my calf against it in the process, the board creaking and complaining against my weight. I grasped for the next, lifting at the same time to climb up the steps. My arms were shaking now, and a single thought passed through my head.
Wow. This is actually very stupid.
My mind presented me with the Image of a screaming fall followed by a nail-laden downpour of wooden shrapnel.
Great. Now Kyle will have to explain to my mother why I died of naked tetanus.
Even if the wood didn’t kill me, the thick webs of water weeds would do the trick. I remembered Jenny telling us about creatures that would pull you down into these reeds, just for the fun of watching you drown. The thought, so silly and simple in the daylight, grew icy wings in the moonlight. My guts clenched and resisted the climb, even as my friends turned and began to cheer me on.
“Oh my gosh, she’s going to do it.”
“You go, girl!”
“Willow is so crazy.”
Up and up, I finally stood at the top of the rotting wood. The stars nodded from above and I could see far past the white bodies of my friends, far beyond the glaring headlights on the highway, up and over the mountains to where the moon hung in a circle like a trinket on the neck of God. My arms ached, and my breath came fast. I stood at the top, victoriously frightened. I jumped, flailing, into a moment of rushing air before the water swallowed me up.
It was a silly thing. Quick and stupid. The bash against the wood plank left a huge purple bruise on my calf to go along with the tiny teeth marks on my ankle. When I got home, Abigail told me that it looked like I’d been bitten by a shark. I guess that would have been a more dramatic story, and I suppose I could have told that one if I wanted to.
Sometimes the drama isn’t in the crazy things, though. Sometimes the real stories come from the real places, where we think the real things and say the real words. As a fiction writer, this is hard to admit. It is so much easier to create some fantastic series of events that boggles the minds and incites the imagination.
The truth is often more beautiful, more serene and more naked than that.