Imagine you moved into a large house and were told that you have free run of the whole place--except for the room on the left at the top of the stairs. That door would be always locked. What room would then occupy your thoughts more than any other?
I was seventeen. It was 1966. We had moved to Sultan, Washington the previous summer, my Dad, a minister, being assigned to that parish. I heard rumors that there was a nudist camp near Sultan, but I didn't yet know where. Then came an article in the "Everett Herald" about nudism. It mentioned the Lake Associates nudist camp on the Sultan Basin Road, and also Fraternity Snoqualmie, a large nudist camp "four miles south of Issaquah." That's all I knew, but it was enough. I had never been to Issaquah, a town 43 miles south of Sultan, on Highway 90. I would find it.
I told my parents I was going camping for the weekend, loaded up my bicycle saddlebags with camping gear, and pedaled off. I rode my bike out of Sultan, then ditched it and the supplies deep in the underbrush, out of sight, and walked out to the shoulder of the highway and, carrying only a coat, stuck out my thumb.
Fortunately I've always looked younger than my age, and it's not difficult for a boy to hitch rides. It was Friday evening, though, when I was dropped off in Issaquah--too late to try to find Fraternity Snoqualmie--but I walked around the town until finding that only one main highway headed south, and so assumed that was to be my route the next morning.
Night came on. I went into the entranceway of the Issaquah High School and lay down on the concrete porch, with only my coat for warmth. Although it was summer, the nights were cool, but it was the hard concrete that finally got to me. With all my joints aching, I got up sometime in the night and went looking for a better place to sleep. I came upon a parsonage, and being a preacher's kid and knowing about a minister's kindness and charity, if I were caught, I stepped into the back yard and lay on the lawn. The hard ground was a lot softer than the concrete, and I slept.
At dawn I was wet with dew, and cold. Before the parsonage household woke up, I was eating a cheap breakfast purchased at a local market. And dried out by the morning sun and with a full stomach, I hitchhiked south out of town.
I couldn't very well tell the driver who picked me up to take me to the nearest nudist camp, nor was I even sure it was the right way. I just said that I was going to a friend's house a few miles down the highway, and then stared at the roadside to see any sign of Fraternity Snoqualmie. To my excited delight, there it was, right out there in plain view--a sign on the left of the highway with the camp's name on it, next to a long driveway going up the hill. Not wanting to be obvious, I waited about a half-mile farther before saying, "Here it is. Here's his house. Thank you." He dropped me off, and I acted like I was walking to a house. When he drove out of sight, I came back out to the highway and walked north to the road leading to what was described as the largest nudist camp in the Northwest.
It turned out to be a long, long driveway--quite a hike on foot. I stepped quietly in order to hear any approaching car, and when hearing one, I quickly slipped into the underbrush and hid as it went by, peering out and imagining that soon that family in the car will all be naked. It seemed unreal--too good to be true. Further up, I came to a stretch in the road that had a cliff on one side and a dirt wall on the other, and dreaded anyone coming then. To my horror, I heard footsteps! A man was walking down the road and coming toward me, around the bend still out of sight. I had nowhere to go. I hated the thought of running back down the hill, and besides, he was now too close to avoid. He would see me running down the hill when he rounded the bend. There was only a small, scraggly bush growing out of the dirt wall, and I hid behind it hopelessly. Not only could someone see me through the bush, but when even with me I wouldn't even be behind it, but beside it, in plain view. I hid as best I could, and stayed perfectly still. Miraculously, the man walked by focusing on the road several feet in front of him, and never saw me! As I continued my hike, I wondered why a man was walking down that road anyway. Perhaps he had sneaked in, like me, and was leaving. Or perhaps he was hiking and would have enjoyed throwing a trespasser off the cliff.
Eventually I could hear people. Adults and children were both laughing and shouting, and it sounded like many of them. The road took a turn to the left and I glimpsed a gatehouse and jumped back, then left the road and made my way through the woods. Western Washington State woods are full of heavy underbrush, which is wonderful for someone trying not to be seen. But for some reason, when I sneak, I get a nervous stomach; and often when I get a nervous stomach, I have to poop. It came on strong, and there was nothing I could do about it but squat down and go. No toilet paper. I picked large leaves from a tree and did my best to wipe. The leaves were thin. It was not a good experience.
I continued through the woods, following the sounds of the people, and finally came to the open grounds of Fraternity Snoqualmie. There was a broken-down school bus at the edge of the clearing, with no one in the immediate vicinity, and behind this bus I took off all my clothes except for my shoes and hid my clothes beneath a big board. I then, for the first time in my life, walked out into the view of men, women and children, stark naked.
As I walked down a driveway toward the crowds, I saw a woman coming toward me, walking up the same driveway. Moments later, I passed the first nude woman I'd ever really seen. She was probably in her forties, slightly heavy-set, but not unattractive. Her breasts swayed gracefully as she walked. She ignored me as though passing me on a city sidewalk, but I ogled her as much as I subtly could, and suddenly a problem arose. I knew by then, somehow, that an erection is not quite proper in a nudist camp, and was horrified to see a man now walking up the driveway. Suddenly I had a great idea. Nudists sunbathe! I could pretend I was sunbathing. So I scurried over and lay belly down on the grass beside the driveway, with my cheek resting on my hands and my eyes watching the man. As he passed by, he gave me an odd look. Later I figured out why: Never having been nude in the sun before, I was almost sickeningly white, except for my hands and face (I even wore long-sleeve shirts as a rule), and on my feet I wore, not only shoes, but black leather dress shoes, the ones I wore to church! And to top it off, leaves do not toilet paper make. It was in a restroom there, that I discovered I had poop smeared on my butt. That man was very kind only to give me an odd look. Oh, yes, one more thing: They have an area for sunbathing. I was lying in the parking lot.
When my problem went down, I got up and walked closer to the crowds, only to have the problem arise again. This time I just sat on the ground and blocked the problem with my legs. I was near the restroom then. Naked men and woman and children were going in and out, and during a pause in people I slipped into the restroom and into a stall to rest (and use real toilet paper). Some wet paper towels later, I walked out into virtual public in only my shoes. (I've heard many people have nightmares about being suddenly naked in public. Curiously, I've had these dreams, too, but they have always been good dreams.)
As it turned out, this was the weekend of Fraternity Snoqualmie's annual Seafair celebration, and the park was packed! There were hundreds of people there--naked people! In less than twenty minutes I overcame my problem, and I began to meander through the many visitors--a very white boy with tan hands and face, wearing black dress shoes, trying to fit in.
And somehow I did. It was as if I were invisible. I sat around among the people, waited in line at the snack bar, having returned to my clothes to get some money from my pants pocket, and no one even spoke to me.
I remembered how traumatic it was the first time I had to undress in front of others. Only I had seen myself since puberty, and I thought I looked funny. People would surely laugh if they saw me, right? Then came P.E. in junior high, and I was required to shower after class with two dozen other boys. This was a dreadful experience for a sheltered, preacher's kid. Other boys seemed to take it in stride, laughing and joking and talking about teachers and school and sports and TV shows. Of course they looked okay. I looked funny. But then no one laughed at me. Most of them were circumcised, many weren't, it was just one or the other, no big deal. Some had smaller genitals than I, some larger. There were varying degrees and areas of tan, some different colors of skin. A lot of boys were fatter than I and jiggled when they walked. Some were really skinny. Really, I didn't look that funny after all. And pretty soon I, too, was laughing and joking and talking about teachers and school and sports and TV shows. Taking showers in school became easy for me, although having other boys snap me with towels was hard to get used to.
Now I was having some of those old feelings. Maybe women would laugh at me, maybe children would. For sure, this time, I did look funny, with my odd tan and dress shoes. But no one laughed. I was as accepted as anyone.
And I saw that TV commercials and magazines had been very narrow in portraying the human body. It turns out that bodies are as varied as faces. Here it was like someone took a city block of people and stripped them all. But no one was embarrassed. No one ridiculed. All were accepted, even the obese people whose fat hung down enough to cover their genitals. These people would have had fun with the fig leaf idea in the Garden of Eden.
There was a volleyball game going on, so I went over to watch it, sitting down on a wooden bench right next to a very extroverted girl about eighteen or nineteen who was shouting out advice to the players. She leaned back and rested her arms on the back of the bench, almost touching me, with her large, firm breasts poking right out there only two feet from my wandering eyes. But my problem didn't arise. I was relaxed. I was having a good time.
Later I went over finally to take a dip in the large swimming pool. I took off my shoes and set them on the grass, and enjoyed the water. Meanwhile I noticed a couple men sitting nearby watching me. They looked like they might suspect me. Their dark glasses made them look like some kind of agents. When I got out to dry in the sun, they beckoned me to come over to them. I did, and one of them asked me, "What club do you belong to?"
"The Lake Associates at Sultan," I said.
"You're pretty white," he said.
"Yeah," I said. "We don't really get up there that often."
"How do you like it there?" the other asked me.
"Oh, it's okay," I said. "It's just a lake mainly."
He nodded slightly, and the two seemed fairly satisfied. Either they were checking me out, or just simply curious why I was such a white guy with tan hands and face. I got up and walked away, then my tender feet reminded me. I came back, looking over at the two men and said, "I forgot my shoes," picked them up, and walked off with them in my hand.
I continued to enjoy the warm, sunny day. It wasn't long before the novelty of nudity wore off, and I simply felt, for lack of a better word, released. Curiosity turned into appreciation. Trespassing, amidst hundreds of strangers, I felt incredibly free. I was now completely relaxed about my body. These beautiful people accepted themselves, and me. That distracted tightness seen so commonly in the faces of people on the street was not seen here. People seemed real, open, relaxed, happy. Even that first day, that first real nudist experience, I eventually disregarded the fact that we were naked, and was just encouraged by a joyful presence of humanity I had never seen before.
Later in the day, I took a walk around the grounds, walking back up the parking lot and around the vacation trailers. A nude mother stepped out of one and asked me, "Have you seen my kids? Lunch is ready and they're off somewhere." She assumed I somehow knew her kids. I acted like I did, but told her I hadn't seen them, and walked on while she peered from her doorway down the hill and over the crowds. I had lived a life full of inhibitions and embarrassment, was now lying and trespassing in order to overcome it, and this lady's worry was that her kids were having so much fun that they'd be late for lunch. This was a beautiful and wonderful place to be.
Later that afternoon, I glanced at my shoulders and saw they were reddening. I had never thought to bring sun block lotion, and my pale skin was sensitive. I had exposed it to the sun for seven hours! So, it was, sadly, time for me to leave. Perhaps some people noticed the red boy with tan hands and face walking in his black leather oxfords up toward the broken-down school bus. My clothes were thankfully still under the board behind the bus. It felt constricting and lousy putting them on, my sunburn of course not helping, and I crackled my way back through the underbrush. As I walked down the long road toward the highway, I dashed into the brush a couple times to hide from passing cars. But this time, peering out, instead of thinking that the people in each car would soon all be naked, I thought only how fortunate they are. They had the key to that room on the left at the top of the stairs, and it was a good room.
I hitchhiked back to Sultan, arriving that evening, retrieved my bicycle from the underbrush, and rode home. It was hard to hide my sunburn and it bothered me terribly for days. Telling Mom I had gone without a shirt while camping, she rubbed lotion on my burned back, too polite to comment about the burn extending down into my pants.
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