OK. It’s time to meet the people.
I spent some time stalling at my rest point, checking and rechecking that I had everything in order, when in reality the car was fully packed and ready to go. There was nothing left to pick up, nothing left to do but drive over to Empire Haven Nudist Park. This is where I would meet people, this is where I would take part in some of the 2015 Northeast Naturist Festival activities and have my first ever camping experience (and what a way to do it: clothes free!).
My rest spot was in a small town in New York, and the environmental transition continued as I departed towards my destination, observing lines disappear from roads and trees take over my surroundings. Driving up to the location, I wasn’t quite sure what to say at the gate. “Heyyy…. yeah so, I’m here for the, uhm… festival…thing…yeah…” I finally managed to burp my name out, and entry was granted. Check in at the office went OK. They noted that photography was not allowed. I very much understand the purpose of prohibiting photography as they must have been concerned about folks with ill intentions, as I share those concerns. I really don’t want Rando McCreepy taking pictures of me and others and tossing them on their odd feeds around the internet. At the same time, I did feel a little sadness that I wouldn’t be able to take pictures of just myself. They gave us this green piece of paper to put over our mobile phone cameras (though, only enough for the outward-facing camera. Photography is just one of those difficult issues for things like this. I’m not really sure what a “happy medium” would be.
Anyway, I followed Mr. Golf Cart through the grounds to the camping area. I didn’t expect to see so many RVs for some reason, but that’s what most of the participants came in, actually. A few of us camped in tents, but most had these RVs complete with American flags. Some even had wild lights that spun and reflected against the trees at night! Fancy!
The camping area was back in a large open field. At one point, a gentleman complained that the site was too far away from the festival activities. I could definitely see his point. Perhaps there could have been some active workshops in the field, like volleyball, soccer (I would have loved to play clothes free soccer!!!), tug of war, yoga, corn hole, etc. There weren’t very many active workshops during the day; most were seated conversations. At the same time, I was OK with having an expanse of space where I could melt into the sound of wind playing the trees like maracas. I liked the option of being able to walk a 3 minutes down to the pool and activities areas to be around a lot of people and then to steal away to open space for reflection and rest for this particular nakation.
I did observe the makeup of the population at this particular location and event. Most were older, and out of over 100 participants, I was one of 3 adults of color (though a fourth came on the weekend). I saw a number of parent-kid and grandparent-kid combinations, which was really cool to me. Sometimes I feel that connection is lost in some areas of society. I grew up in a household where 3 generations lived together (usually out of financial necessity). That led to a very rich experience for me and a great support network. I don’t see a lot of that where I live right now. It’s mostly buzzing young professionals outside of the context of “family.” And I’m just like that, as my family is now quite scattered across the United States. So, seeing the grandparent-kid combination and how active both parties were together was refreshing to me. However, I did note that there was a mysterious gap in between…the 20 – 50 range. I met a couple that seemed to hover somewhere around my age, but other than that, there weren’t many of us. Seeing that with my own eyes reminded me of discussions I’ve read in blog posts and on Twitter about how to get the “young folks” involved in naturism and concerns that the lifestyle might die. More thoughts on that later, because going to a clothing optional beach on my last day of nakation sparked some thoughts in me.
I also have a small rant to make about bodies. I read a lot on Twitter and links to external articles about how some folks worry bout stepping into places where they will see a bunch of “leathery old people” with “saggy skin” and such. This grates my nerves. I often read that people don’t want to be judged, that body image issues run rampant in American society, and yet all they can think about is “old saggy leathery skin” and how they don’t want to be around it. First of all, for me, I decided that if I don’t want people to make a big deal about my body, that I wouldn’t put that energy out there by making a big deal about others’ bodies. Secondly, if we are talking about bodies, a lot of folks 20-30 years older than me at that event had FAR less saggy jiggly skin than me. Yes, I’m younger, but my body shows considerable evidence of food deserts and welfare cheese from when I was growing up, past eating disorders, and tick-tock weight fluctuations. I have tons of stretch marks (I’ve had them since I was 8), my legs jiggle when I walk, and I’m thick. Don’t get me wrong, I’m literally in love with my body. But even though I’m “young” I don’t have some kind of “perfect” “youthful” body with taut untouched skin. Actually, scratch that. My body IS perfect with it’s jiggles and marks. The point is, I tire quickly of folks making a big deal about “old people” and their “jiggly” “leathery” bits. Lots of bodies jiggle. I don’t care.
I will admit that, at least for me, it can be very daunting to step into a space where the group looks almost homogenous. This issue rose to the surface for me at the evening gatherings where everyone sat in a circle. Some of the participants got up and said some really off-the-wall things that completely turned me off. There was this one guy who did some kind of Skin Manifesto that I really didn’t understand. One of the lines of it landed on me as awkward and offensive. I didn’t really get it, and it definitely turned me off. That gathering circle was the one point where I felt uncomfortable and out of place. But in the one-on-one conversations I had with people, although my eyes could see their physical body, I was so engaged in the chatting and laughter and connection that age and all that disappeared deep into the background as their radiance stood front and center before me.
Back to the topic of “arriving,” we spent some time setting up camp and sinking into the experience. Every time people passed by, they said hello and exchanged a few positive remarks about weather, food, and the activities. There was one couple nearby who even helped with the tarp when the wind came over and snatched it up. I felt a sense of community, people looking out for each other, a sense of welcome. I felt safe, and I knew it was going to be great.