Carson Hot Springs Resort gets an update

Here are a couple snaps of a cool new development at the venerable Carson Hot Springs.
Check out the pool that is going in on the right.

Here it is directly.

The new owners of the resort are putting in an outdoor soaking pool! I think this is a very good move for the facility. 

It was hard for me to see a way forward for the resort. Space is now limited with overbuilt new hotel rooms that were put in by a previous developer. (You can see one building in the photo above and there is a similar building right behind me from the photo above.) Also the wonderfully quirky old historic hotel and bath house (in the top photo) simply can't go. It is too historically important and a part of the cultural legacy of the region. But, honestly, the old soaking tubs and wraps are a little antiquated. It's a bathing method that is not for everyone. 

With the outdoor soaking pool, guests can will now take in the splendor of the Wind River Gorge while soaking in a more congenial, social setting. 

Another big bonus is that kids will be allowed in the facility. The bath house has traditionally had an age limit. Now families will soon be able to soak together outside!

Happy sauna time

Here nephew Andrew lights and stokes the sauna for a quiet and dark winter sauna. Thanks, Andrew. Playing with fire can be fun!

Sauna in cinema: Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring

Saunas are not just for hedonist pleasure (though there's nothing wrong with that). For many they are used for ritualistically connecting with life. They are used as a contemplative space for coping with life transitions, including the pain of loss and sorrow. There is a very powerful sauna scene in Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring (1960) which uses the sauna as part of a tragic tale of loss. 

Oddly enough, I've actually scene a couple Bergman films just recently (Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal). I'd always wanted to know what people were talking about by "Death on the beach," etc. So I was surprised when a sauna friend of mine, Michael Nordskog, mentioned a sauna scene in another Bergman flick, The Virgin Spring. (Michael, by the way, is the author of one of the U.S's primer sauna books, The Opposite of Cold. He was a speaker at the Perfect Sweat Summit.) He suggested the movie might make for a good topic for Tinygogo's Sauna in Cinema.

I got a copy from the library and all I can say is "absolutely." It is a powerful movie with a powerful poignant sauna scene.

The story centers around the rape and murder of an attractive, if spoiled, innocent young girl, Karin. She is the only daughter of Swedish parents who act as the heads of a small medieval feudal compound. 

Human pettiness and resentment set the stage for bad things to come. The mother and father both desperately love their daughter, though there is a rift between them in that their love is not a shared mutual love. The mother dotes on the daughter. Her daughter is all she has in the world. She is jealous of her daughter's relationship with her father, Töre. The father, tough, stoic, clueless, doesn't bother to reach out and share these affections with the mother as a family love. There is a adopted step-sister, Ingeri, who is treated more like a domestic servant. She deeply resents Karin for the love and happiness that is bestowed on her. Ingeri is further shamed with an unwanted pregnancy.

A tragedy ensues. Karin is sent off on an errand to deliver cheese and candles to a church for the Virgin Mary. Along the way she is waylaid by goat herdsmen, she is raped and murdered. The act is witnessed by her jealous step-sister Ingeri who fails to try and stop the act. 

Later that night, the herdsmen seek lodging unknowingly in the very house of Karin and Ingeri's parents. One of the murdering herdsmen offers some of Karin's clothing they stole off her body to sell to the mother. The mother, in cool silent horror, brings the dress of her dead daughter to the Töre. On his way to investigate, the stepsister returns to tell the tale of murder she witnessed. She confesses her jealousy of Karin.

With little doubt now of what became of his daughter and who was responsible, Töre, begins to ritualistically prepare to exact retribution and kill the herdsmen.

He calls on Ingiri to prepare "the bath," a traditional Nordic sauna. While it is heating up he wanders off to collect birch branches. He vents his rage by tearing down a tree with his bare hands.

He chops off birch branches for the bath to be used as vihta

Dutifully, the step-daughter has prepared the bath--water on the rocks for loyly.

Töre cleanses himself. It is ritual purification. The flagellation and dumping of cold water on himself are acts of waking himself up and gathering strength to face the deed he must carry out. (Max von Sydow, you hardbody! How'd you get yourself so fit for this role?)

Töre locks himself in the great hall with his wife and the herdsman. He stands vigil until dawn when he kills both men with a knife and his bare hands. However in his fit of murderous rage, Töre kills an innocent younger brother of the herdsman, a child. He realizes that he has overstepped his bounds in exacting vengeance. "God forgive me for what I have done." Töre, dude, you're going to need a lot of sauna sessions to work this one out.

With Light Steam, book reading event

copy write Bryon MacWilliams
Hey Portland sauna enthusiasts! We're in luck. Come meet Bryon MacWilliams and listen to him read from his new book With Light Steam. I met Bryon earlier this year while we attended the Perfect Sweat Summit in San Francisco in March 2014. He spoke at the summit, sharing stories and reading from his upcoming book. It was great.

We got to hang out (and sweat) a little at the end of the day after his talk and a long day of discussion. He's a friendly personable guy.

Bryon's talk and reading will be on his damn-it-all move to early-90s post-Soviet Russian, his life there, adjusting and banyas--the Russian equivalent of saunas. He spent a fair amount of time here traveling around and, while he did, his favorite passtime was visiting Russian banyas, big and small, public and private.

Right now he's on the West Coast. His website has the latest reading times and locations: With Light Steam

Here in Portland he will speak at the Guildhall of CSE (Community Supported Everything) 1626 NE Alberta Street from 5 to 6:30 pm. There will be a group walk to a community soak and sauna following this at Common Ground Wellness Coop: 5010 NE 33rd. 

We have much to learn! I'm looking forward to it and getting my hands on his book.

Seward Highway spring water, Mile 109.5

For many years--driving the Seward Highway between Anchorage and the family cabin on the Kenai Pennisula--I've passed a spring. It seems like there are always people parked on the side of the road here, filling up with water. This is at the Mile 109.5 pull-out, not far outside Anchorage. If you are driving south, it's just past Beluga Point but before Rainbow Valley.

As a side interest to my blogging about saunas and bathing, I occasionally discuss mineral water and mineral springs. There are few hot springs in Alaska but the state does have some fantastic fresh mineral water. Maybe this spring water was worth a try?

I stopped and tried it and, it was really good! As I drove on, I kept reaching for that cold delicious water. Glug, glug, glug. It was quickly all gone. 

Good tasting water is a subtle thing, much of its quality is what it doesn't have more than what it does. Nevertheless, there are certain good characteristics. The spring water at Mile 109.5 is marked by it's purity but also a certain crispness and sweetness. 

Sure it's great water but what makes this water so good that it's developed such a cult following? I mean, sometimes there are lines of people here waiting to get some. Geologically, the water would be percolating through what is known as the McHugh Complex--mountain rock that is a little bit different than the historically-famous gold-bearing material just a little further east down the road. McHugh is known to tend to not contain quartz. This is the rock the gold miners were looking for because quartz was the rock that also included the gold. The McHugh deposition is a mixed up jumble of geological record, compressed here on the highway up into a majestic mountain. It includes igneous rock (cooled molten rock) and sedimentary sandstones and conglomerates. But one unique feature is the occasional inclusion of some limestone in the form of calcium carbonate. This may explain the water's higher alkalinity and "sweet" taste.

Not much is know much about the spring's history. It's been there and been used by travelers for a while now. Some of my earliest memories are of people gathering water along this stretch of the road. In the 1970s it was from potentially dubious sources such as the many little waterfalls along the hillside. I remember a turnout that had a little cave (four feet deep maybe) that always intrigued me as a kid. (In retrospect I wonder if the cave was an old lode mine prospect hole. Or maybe the highway department was having fun with some leftover dynamite?) But I seem to remember this also being a water gathering location for people. 

Our spot in question now was established 25 or so years ago when the road was straightened and widened. At Mile 109.5, along a newly-blasted cliff face, a pipe was inserted into the rock wall. The pipe was specifically placed to help divert the water coming out of the cliff so ice wouldn't build up next to the highway in winter. The pipe channels the water into a culvert running under the road. 

Does the pipe continue to be maintained by the highway department? I wrote the Alaska DOT. I got an earnest response but the answer was that they weren't completely sure. I would suspect that it is on an as-needed basis.

What about for water collection purposes? Realistically the answer probably is that whoever did it just can't admit it. The routing of the pipe is such that it's perfect for filling up water jugs. The pipe could have easily been positioned differently so the water was run more directly along the ground straight to the culvert. If the highway department fessed up it might create obligations to maintain it and liability for people crossing a busy highway to get the water. I think some benevolent and creative-minded worker tasted this water and thought that it should be shared with others.

Whatever the case, this water has slowly been discovered and developed a loyal following. It's a convenient stop on the way out of town for filling up water for camping or hiking. Others go out of their way to gather this water simply because it is so good. On my first visit, I encountered an older man filling up some big plastic jugs. He was serious about stocking up. He looked up at me, smiled and declared, "This is the best water!"

In 2012, Anchorage TV station KTUU (Channel 2) did a story about it. The story is no longer online but text from the piece can be found elsewhere. Their concern was that the water might be hillside surface runoff that is channeled through vertical fissures in the mountain. If it was, then it wouldn't be so safe to drink since it could be prone to bacterial contamination, sheep poop and such.

The station had a lab test the water to check for bacteria and harmful minerals. The tests came back stating the water was safe to drink. Nix to dangerous stuff like lead, arsenic and nitrate. There were also no harmful bacteria. 

Put this water in a glass bottle and pretend you are a Euro sophisticate. It may not be bubbly but the water qualifies as mineral water in that it is somewhat "hard" with calcium and magnesium, both traditionally considered desirable ingredients to good mineral water. Another web citation helps verify this is indeed a spring, again based on the higher mineral content and water alkalinity. I'm not a scientific expert but I doubt that the water could easily pick up these minerals if it only was taking a short trip through cracks in the cliff face.

To me the fact that this is more of a spring than runoff seemed rather intuitively obvious. Stand at the base of the cliff and look up. The water has to travel through a lot of mountain before coming out this pipe. It's certainly not trickling down the face, just below the surface, of 150 feet or so of near-vertical cliff. Plus, and perhaps more tellingly, the water appears to run year round, not something that would happen if it was runoff. Still, as a reassurance, it's good the water was tested.

It is now a certain stop for me when I travel this way. We used to stop for donuts in Girdwood. I'd much rather stop here for water. It's healthy, free and delicious. Plus the view is amazing. Take in the cold sea air and view Chickaloon Bay across Turnagain Arm. Maybe you can see some Dall sheep up above on the cliff? (I did on my last visit.) Or Beluga whales on the incoming tide?

On this basis alone you could say the water is spiritually rejuvenating. Others appear to agree. I appreciated the sticker graffiti on the ABS pipe of the spring. (Why not mark up an object that is already not particularly attractive?) But what made someone take the time to create this odd painting? And what's the message? Is a veil parted in the rock to reveal what's really inside? Are those apples (or cherries?) floating in a different sky-like dimension inside the mountain? The fruit's essence dripping as water outside the inter-dimensional window for us to savior? Someone clearly appreciates this spot and the water here enough to have taken the time to reverently paint this message. Like me, they want you to know that this place is special. 

Anchorage sauna re-habilitation

The old sauna at my parent's house in urban Anchorage, Alaska has been extremely neglected. Over the years it's gotten a lot of use but we haven't done too much to keep it up. In particular the rolled roofing had long since failed. Also squirrels got into the insulation. They did an incredible amount of damage, tearing out insulation, gnawing through wood and vapor barrier. The destruction was truly impressive.

A few years ago I purchased some rolled roofing material with the intention of doing a quick and easy re-roof. How hard can that be? Unfortunately I never had enough time during my periodic visits to actually replace the roofing. A few weeks ago I arrived in Alaska to do some work for my family. One of my own projects was to finally finish this roof. I finally had enough time but this project took a lot of it. 

As you can see, once everything was swept off, there actually wasn't much roof left.

Unfortunately the roof was much worse that I had expected. We let it go too long and some of the decking was rotten. Additionally the chimney system was completely shot. The chimney "thimble"--the old sheet metal double-walled cylinder that provided spacing between the hot 6 inch stove pipe and the potentially combustible framing--was old and second-hand even when my dad put in the wood stove in the late-1970s. It was now pretty resoundingly rusted out. All of this needed to be redone. The trouble was such items are no longer made. Wood stove pipe parts are now built around stainless steel insulated pipe and this is expensive!

So, off came the roofing and out went the old chimney. I selectively replaced the roof boards, saving the good ones for the other side of the roof. When the boards came off I discovered that the insulation was a disaster. Much of it was simply missing, carted off by squirrels. The rest was torn up, the insulative capacity pretty much totally compromised as it was tunneled and trampled and chewed up!

 Busy squirrels. Impressive!

Here's a bit of Alaska history. It's a little hard to read but it says, "Anchorage via Seward," documenting that the shed roofing boards arrived via the Alaska Railroad back when Seward was the primary seaport for the region and there was no road to Anchorage.

Progress! Next comes framing in the new chimney and replacing the roof decking with a few good boards and some scrap plywood.

I ran out of original boards so I was forced to use 1/2 inch plywood. The plywood wasn't as thick so I doubled up around the transition edge with extra tar paper and roofing to feather the edge. This seemed to work.

Viola! The finished roof with new chimney. It's not pretty but looking at gives me a strong sense of satisfaction knowing that underneath it will be dry again.

This turned into a seemingly never-ending project. Not only had the squirrels gotten into the roof, much of the insulation had made its way into the sauna itself. Can there be anything less sensual than bathing in a dusty sauna filled with fiberglass insulation?

Get a load of the wood pile under one of the sauna benches. Ick! Everything needed to come out. 

This included the rocks around the wood stove since the squirrels managed to get insulation in all the rocks as well. Bending down in this small confined space, with itchy insulation everywhere was an absolute horror.

I developed a system for carting out the sauna rocks: dump them in a bucket with water to wash off dust and insulation, place in milk crate, and then carry the crate outside.

Here are the rocks piled up outside waiting to get hosed off. You can see in the background that I carried out the same sort of procedure for the fire wood that was under the benches.

God, it was tedious to wash, unload and reload all of the rocks (and wood.) I swept out the space (many times over), hosed down the interior and wiped down the walls and benches multiple times.
I was finally rewarded by a very pleasant nighttime sweat. I went for a bike ride before hand to get my circulation moving. It was a cold clear night in Anchorage.The stars were out. Everything was wonderful.

Anaïs Nin's hammam visit

Here at work we have a community book shelf, a place where residents can share books for others to read. Today I noticed that there was a complete collection of Anaïs Nin's diaries. What?! Didn't she write erotica? Maybe that would be inappropriate to have in a public space. Better take a look and see. I randomly opened up Volume V and started reading. It was a boring paragraph mentioning Henry and a book store. Hmm, not prurient enough. Let's try Volume II 1934-1939. Again, randomly opening the book, there was still no NSFW, but I was utterly surprised by the first thing my eyes landed upon. Anaïs describes a visit to a Moroccan hammam, a public bath house, while on a visit to the city of Fez (Fes). Page 77:

"I met the Arab Women walk to their baths. They went there always in groups, and carrying a change of clothes in a basket over their heads. They walked veiled and laughing, showing only their eyes and the hennaed tips of their hands holding their veils. Their full white skirts and heavily embroidered belts made them heavy and full-looking, like the pillows they like to sit on. It was heavy flesh moving in white robes, nourished on sweets and inertia, on passive watches behind grilled windows. This was one of their few moments of liberty, one of the few times they appeared in the street. They walked in groups with their servants, children, and bundles of fresh clothes, laughing and talking, and dragging their feet in embroidered mules. 

I followed them. When they entered at the mosaic-covered building near the mosque, I entered with them. The first room was very large and square, all of stone, with stone benches, and rugs on the floor. Here the women laid down their bundles and began undressing. This was a long ceremony, for they wore so many skirts, and several blouses, and belts which looked like bandages, so much white muslin, linen, cotton to unroll, unfold, and fold again on the bench. Then there were bracelets to take off, earrings, anklets, and then the long black hair to unwind from th eribbons tressed into the hair. So much white cotton fallen on the floor, a field of white petals, leaves, lace, shed by the full-fleshed women, and as I looked at them I felt they could never be really naked, that all this they wore must cling to them forever, grow with their bodies. I was already undressed and waiting, standing, as I would not sit naked on the stone bench. They were waiting for the children to be undressed by the African maids, waiting for the maids to get undressed. 

An old woman was waiting for us, a completely shriveled old woman with only one eye. Her breast were two long empty gourds hanging almost to the middle of her stomach. She wore a sackcloth around her waist. She gave me a little approving tap on the shoulder and smiled. She pointed to my finger nails and talked but I could not undertand, and I smiled.

She opened the door to the steam room, another very large square room all of grey stone. But here there were no benches. All the women were sitting on the floor. The old woman filled pails of water from one of the fountains and occasionally poured one over their heads, after they had finished sopaing themselves. The steam filled the room. The women sat on the flor, took their children between their knees and scrubbed them. Then the old woman threw a pail of water over them. This water flowed all around us, and it was dirty. We sat in ribulets of soapy, dirty water, The women did not hurry. They used the soap, then a piece of pumice stone, and then they began to use depilatories with great care and concentration. All of them were enormous. The flesh billowed, curved, folded in tremendous heavy waves. They seemed to be sitting on pillows of flesh of all colors, from the pale Northern Arab skin to the African. I was amazed that they could lift such heavy arms to comb their long hair. I had come to look at them, because the beauty of their absolutely beautiful faces, enourmous, jeweled eyes, straight noble flawless skins, and always a royal bearing. The faces had a quality of statuary rather than painting, because the lines were so pure and clear. I sat in admiration of their faces, and then I noticed that they looked at me. They sat in groups, looking at me and smiling. They mimicked that I should wash my hair and face. I could not explain that I was hurrying through the ritual because I did not like sitting in the darkening waters. They offered me the pumice stone after using it thoroughly all over their ponderous bodies. I tried it but it scratched my face. The Arab women's skin was tougher. The women chatted in circles while washing themselves and their children. I could not bring myself to wash my face with the soap they all used for their feet and armpits. They laughed at what they must have thought was a European woman who did not know the rules of cleanliness.

They wanted me also to pull out superfluous eyebrows, hair under the arms, and to shave my pubic hair. I finally slipped away to the next room where pails of cooler water were thrown over me. 

I wanted to see the Arab women clothed again, concealed in yards of white cotton. Such beautiful heads had risen out of these mountains of flesh, heads of incredible perfection, dazzling eyes heavily fringed, sensual features. Sometimes moss-green eyes in dark sienna skins, sometimes coal-black eyes in pale moonlit skins, and always the long heavy black hair, the undulating tresses. But these heads rose from formless masses of flesh, heaving like plants in the sea, swelling, swaying, falling, the breast like sea anemones, floating, the stomachs of perpetually pregnant women, the legs like pillows, the backs like cushions, the hips with furrows like a mattress.

They were all watching me, with friendly nodding of their heads, commenting on my figure. By counting on their fingers they asked was I adolescent? I had no fat on me. I must be a girl. They came around me and we compared skin colors. They seemed amazed by my waist. They could enclose it in their two hands. They wanted to wash my hair. They soaped my face with tenderness. They touched me and talked with volubility. The old woman came with two pails and threw them over me. I was ready to leave, but the Arab women transmitted messages of all kinds with their eyes, smiles, talk. The old woman led me to the third room, which was cooler, and threw cold water over me, and then led me back to the dressing room."
 So maybe there's less to say about the hammam and more about Anaïs's unique perspective on what she was seeing. Oh, the world is so sensual! Nevertheless I figured it was worth sharing.