I'm sitting in the middle of the Californian Desert right now, about five miles East of Holtville. We are parked in an arid clearing among dried out shrubs. Yep, a desert. This place used to be under water; the Gulf of California - The Sea of Cortez - stretched so far North that it was believed that California was an island until as recently as the 1600s. Evidence of this is all around us, in the form of tiny, sun bleached sea shells. How long ago were their inhabitants dried up? Must everything come to an end?
Listen, for I have a story to tell you about the amazing day I had today:
This morning, after our newly restarted ritual of daily sun salutations and a quick workout, Braden and I wound through the desert and down a dusty path along a reservoir canal to the tranquil oasis that is Holtville Hot Springs. Today was our fourth soak in the scorching pool, surrounded by palm trees and old hippies that we've come to consider our friends. Our visits to the hot springs and our engagement with these middle aged sages of the rubber tramp world have been a welcome reprieve from the pomp and glamour of the Californian coast. On the coast, men and women with bodies belonging in the halls of Mount Olympus stroll the beach in the latest beachwear fashions and the hottest shades. Have they oiled themselves up before coming to the beach? Possibly, but if so, how do they manage to keep the sand from sticking to their bodies? Magic, I think.
This morning at the hot springs we arrived to an empty pool, a solitary hippie in a leopard print Speedo with the body of what may used to have been an Adonis lay prone in a small patch of sun that shone through the palm leaves above. In great shape for a man who appeared to be older than sixty, he was clean shaven but with long, flowing hair, his skin was the colour of ochre from basking in the sun and had the appearance of a well worn leather couch. We see him here every time we come for a soak, silent and stoic. Today, he spoke. Actually, he not only spoke, but introduced himself to us by showing Braden a video he took of himself doing a front flip into the hot pool (which is about five feet deep and perhaps 100ft squared). Duly prompted, Braden suggested that I take a video of him cannon-balling into the clear, hot water. Our happy hippy friend (whose name we never found out), insisted that he would also cannonball into the pool with Braden. A perfectly timed jump left me catching the two men, both slight, one taller than the other, hitting the water from two directions at nearly the same time. An Instagram post, for sure.
Inevitably, other soakers showed up, one by one with their towels and water bottles. Some faces we've seen before, others new to the scene, none of them with the body of an Adonis, many of them never having had the body of an Adonis, but do you know, all of them immensely happy and comfortable in their skin. As these middle aged - some even in their twilight years - water worshipers arrived, rinsing their bodies in the hot spring fed showers before dipping slowly their aching joints into the soothing bath a calmness fell over the oasis. It occurred to me - a truth I've always known but am reminded of at times like these - that as young people many of us obsess over our bodies, namely our imperfections; but that soon, with age and wisdom, that obsession disappears as we become comfortable with ourselves. We accept our bodies, our minds, our opinions, and our limitations with a grace that was never there before. We are perfectly imperfect, and eventually become perfectly happy to be just that. Today, I couldn't help it, I became wrapped up in this mindset. Instead of judging other people's bodies, assuming their level of activity or their diets by the way they look (not a pretty admission, but a truthful one), I embraced what I saw before me and marveled at the bodies of my fellow travellers. Before me, a myriad of wonderful shapes and sizes, and the amazing capacity of the human body to take us from infancy to the grave with the ability to love, hug, swim, dance, and - of course - soak. I allowed myself, for the day, to be content with the fact that my hips and thighs are slightly larger now than they were when we left, that my breasts are a little lower on my torso than they were when a decade ago, that I am shorter than I'd like to be. It was fucking great. I'm not advocating resistance to exercise, or an unhealthy diet. I will always strive for hard work and healthy habits. Tomorrow, or maybe a week from now, I will forget how I felt this morning and go back to hating my thighs or my boobs, but I must admit, in the present, it feels damn good to be content.
Besides their acceptance of flaws and bodily foibles, the aging hippies that visit Holtville Hot Springs are warm and friendly. Smiling, engaging everyone in conversation, happy to share advice, and happy to quietly listen to the adventures of others. Our own happy hippy of the leopard print Speedo took it upon himself to be our gracious host. Scaling fences and clambering up a plywood table he handily plucked a bunch of berries from the nearest palm. As we discovered with great delight, these were the tiniest dates we've ever seen. Smaller than a blueberry, and made up of 90% pit, the little palm fruits tasted like brown sugar, and there was enough to go around the growing crowd of outstretched hands.
Disappearing briefly to take the table back to where it belongs, our jungle clad hippie returned with the most beautiful eight string mandolin I've ever seen (to be fair, it may have been the only eight string mandolin I've ever seen). He spoke of playing lead guitar in a rock band years ago, and slowly progressed into playing bass, cello, and now, mandolin. Another hippie told him that if he was going to bring that into the hot springs area he had better be prepared to play it. Play it he did. Perched on the edge of a smaller tub, Tarzan the hippie proceeded to play for us the entirety of Bach's Suites, throwing in a few blue grass tunes for good measure. Soon, the smaller of the two tubs was filled with eager listeners, and I noticed an older woman in the larger pool, chic in a white polkadotted suit with rhinestone dotted sunglasses and Marilyn's platinum coloured hair coiffed atop her head grooving to the happy playfulness that the Mandolin lent to Bach's masterpiece. The moment sticks in my mind with such clarity because at one point with my eyes closed swaying to the music I decided to open them. The scene before me at that time will forever be indelible in my mind's eye. At this moment, the awareness in me of how rare a situation I was in made me grateful beyond measure for the opportunity to be able to be doing what we're doing.
The world is so full of interesting, kind, captivating and unique human beings. What a treat it is that I get to meet as many as I have. It is such a shame that so many of us shut our minds to so many others, because of our preconceived notions of who a person is or what our experience with them will be like. We are so naive to think we've got people figured out, and so deprived when we don't take the opportunity to engage with fellow humans in meaningful ways. Who will I meet next, and what will their story be? I can't wait to find out.