Archive for September 6th, 2010

Esalen midnight hot springs

Esalen-1749-Edit.jpgEsalen-1749-Edit” in Thomas Kuoh’s Flickr stream.
Licensed via the Creative Commons.

I’ve hiked through Oregon woods and up Taiwanese riverbeds to sit in the natural warmth of springs.  I’ve ventured into rivers heated by active volcanos and more domesticated springs infused with lavender and milk. But I’ve never  before gotten up in the middle of the night for the reward of hot minerally water, to the sound of waves crashing and a show of falling stars.

Why the middle of the night? Spa policy. At the Esalen Institute in California’s Big Sur, unless you are studying massage or meditation in one of their workshops, the only time you can come to the spa is between 1 and 3 in the morning and that is of course with reservations. Still, I couldn’t resist the idea of a spa situated on the rocky cliffs of Northern California, waves crashing down below. The hour of our visit didn’t hurt the mystique either.

Arriving at Big Sur from the South requires a day on one of the most twisted portions of the Pacific Coast Highway and while our bodies needed the night at the spa, I wasn’t happy about leaving our campsite to drive another 15 miles to the Institute in the night. When we arrived we were met at the road and lead through the dark grounds with the rest of the witching hour visitors. The demographics were pretty stable. It seemed as though almost everyone was there with a partner and somewhere in the age range of 25 to 45.

Esalen shower w/sliding glass

Esalen Shower w/ Sliding Glass” in JasonUnbound’s Flickr stream.
Licensed via the Creative Commons.

The spa itself was rebuilt in the 1990s and is a primarily concrete structure open in numerous directions to the open air. Because the spa is so close to the water, I suspect that one of the caveats to 1990s rebuilding was that the institute open it to some extent to the public, but I really have no evidence for this. One enters down a series of softly lit steps in to a co-ed changing room. The changing room abuts the showers with its large sliding glass windows that allow you to look out over the ocean when it’s not pitch black. The open air structure includes under its cover several pools and a series of individual tubs along with massage tables used during the day. The sky being crystal clear, we only dipped our toes into these before heading out to one of two pools open to the sky and settled in.

The rich water has a somewhat sulfury smell, but it could only possibly drive away the most sensitive nose. Like many spas the temperature can be raised by pulling a peg to allow direct spring water into the pool. Still, in the middle of the night this all seemed like a dream and finding the plug in near complete darkness  took some doing. We spent nearly the whole night in that one tub with other couples occasionally arriving or departing, always whispering quietly to on another.

Woman in Spring

Woman in spring” in Lewisha Jone’s Flickr stream.
Licensed via the Creative Commons.

Though we lost half a nights sleep for this, the time spent was almost more restorative than sleep. The warm water for the body,  crashing waves for the ears and a sky full of stars for the eyes. Amidst the white glow of the milky way we watched for the occasional shooting star. We never noticed the attendant who was supposed to come around at a quarter till three and when we finally willed ourselves out of the pool it was nearly 3:30. In a warmth induced haze we meandered our way back to the car, to our campsite and back to sleep.


Teaching your friends to fish


I had always wanted to fly fish. My aunt growing up was a fly fisherwoman and I have hazy memories of a lake in California and a trout grilled up fresh in butter. I really wanted to, but as with many hobbies I dream of taking up, I never wanted to enough to go alone into a fly fishing store to get started. That is what friends are for.

At the end of my first outing with the Trouts and Stouts fishing club I said to Eben “That was really fun, but I don’t think I’m ready to buy all of this stuff and go out to the rivers of BC alone.” After all, at the end of that lesson-filled but untroutful day on the Guadalupe river, I had yet to even see a fish caught. Eben’s response- “I don’t want fishing buddies, I want my friends to fish. I realize it will take many years to get you all fishing, but that’s my goal.” Pressure off I returned to my busy architecture and rowing filled life in Vancouver.

Only two months later I was in the Bay Area for school and planned to spend a day in Oakland with David and Amynta. I arrived in early in the evening to the news “We’re going to dinner, Eben and Sarah are coming up, and we are going fishing tomorrow in Carmel. You don’t have to come, but…” California in January is not the dark and cloudy Vancouver I had escaped and I jumped at the opportunity to stand in the sun in a river all day. Again ,David and Eben lent me gear and as many flies as I could loose. Again, I didn’t catch anything and I’ll admit to spending an hour of the day napping on a log, but I nearly leaped across the river when I saw Eben catch a lovely little steelhead.

Before I left back to B.C. Eben handed me John Gierach’s Trout Bums. I didn’t start reading until summer, almost right before our trip to Yosemite and more fishing. Reading one the road ,I found some elements I was  extremely attracted to and some, mostly the need to fetishize a massive collection of equipment and flies I still couldn’t imagine relating to. Is this for me?

The first fish I caught… well the first was one of those accidental catches. I was in-eloquently climbing out of the river when a little tiny brown trout took the fly and did all the work for me. Well… Eben took the fly out of the fish’s mouth… the fish didn’t do that on it’s own. Both Eben and David reassured me that in fact, that fish counted as did the few I’d hooked but hadn’t managed to hold in my hand before they slipped away.


The second fish though, the second fish was all mine. I identified a probable fish location, cast caught photographed and released. I ran over to David and Eben in a flurry of excitement all the time thinking, that’s a good end of the day, time to quit on a high note. But I didn’t. I kept fishing until the fates had me cast three times in a row into a tree and I knew quitting time had really come.


So here I am. I still haven’t bought any gear, but I’m really thinking about it. More than anything though I’m thinking about fishing. On our cross country trip I leaned out over small rivers looking for fly fishermen the same way I lean out over large rivers looking for rowers.


So you want to know the secret to teaching your friends to fish. Patience. Be there to guide,  answer questions- even if they are the same questions over and over. Be generous with you time and knowledge. You probably won’t get everyone and you won’t get most of them very fast, but be persistent and they’ll come around. I mean who can really resist the rush of a stream, sun glinting off the water and a chance for a bit of a battle.

When we wrote

September 2010
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