A 40 Year Old Naturist Community Closes the Door

Drachman St., Tucson, Arizona

2015

It is twelve o’clock noon and the last day of the Drachman Sweat. Lee, the benefactor, had decided to sell the property and now the day has come. At the entrance, we part the springy chain-link gate, holding it for each other as we pass through. The community billboard greets us. This is where anything from billets about concerts, local bands, political activities, lost this, found that, meditation circles, rooms to rent and for sale have been pinned up on notice, over the many years.

We then step around the concealing wall and into the small outdoor living room of a reception area. From here the volunteer host may keep watch over the entire scene. We see familiar faces conversing around the turquoise swimming pool, and further out under the massive mesquite trees. Children splash with their friends in the pool, along with the other skinny dippers. We turn to our smiling volunteer host, who is checking us in with the clipboard filled with a couple of hundred names.

Today, the usual coffee table has been reset with longer legs and carried off to help display the multitude of potluck items, which will soon to be coming through the door. In the faces, I see the joy of the community sweat and the sadness of the passing. Every face is glad to see us and we pass through a gauntlet of heart to heart hugs from our dear friends. This day is a passage, a significant event in our lives. We are closing an era.

We arrive at the collection of cubbies and fill one with extra water and towels. As we strip in the open outdoor locker room, we talk with our family of friends. The clothing is stashed away, shoes slipped off and replaced with sit-down towels in hand. The first activity of order is to take a round in the sweat/sauna.

These will be the last rounds in the old sauna box. It has been a familiar gathering place. It is an 8×10 box with lovingly placed swirling pieces of ceramic, slats of wood, and small odd shaped windows. It is rustic and well used. I lay my towels down in my favorite spot and take my position, crossing my legs yoga style and taking a deep breath. Parting with this will be like parting with an old friend.

Through many years, we have prayed in here, sometimes openly crying out, sharing, naked, baring ourselves and feeling supported. At least a dozen have passed on through the years, once a crib death struck us all to tears. It has seen torment, new joys, and gratitude, all of which have been lifted by our humanity.

Today, I sit next to one who has been here since the beginning years. He has begun a Hindu Sanskrit chant. As it goes on repeating itself, one by one we join in. In here many songs and chants are shared from diverse cultures. The essence is known, understood and shared, as the praises are expressed from our deepest spiritual link. All manner is respected, be it Native American, country church, or a soft chorus of Halleluiah. Sometimes it is just toning, a single sound in harmony, moving and heartfelt. I grab an old plastic 5 gallon water bottle and wrap my arm around it. It is a waterproof and heatproof drum here. Another joins in and then a shaker.

Across the narrow open strip, sits an old water heater lying on its side. It is buried in various pieces of stone. Industrial looking pipe rises out of it towards the roof. It has been converted into a sauna heater. An old wooden bowl floats in a large plastic bucket on the floor in front of it. As each person passes through, another splash of liquid becomes steam. Sometimes, politely and with reverence, someone asks if it is okay to add a traditional aromatic scent to the bowl of water. These are rarely refused.

In time, I grab my towels and I bend over to pass through the small door with the stained glass on its window. I return to the sunlight. There have been many more arrivals. I make my way to the shower head by the pool, lift the simple bar to open the valve and wash the perspiration from my body. My hands wipe the slippery gloss off, before I pass to a patient young lady who has waited.

A Simple Shower

The pool waters are cool today; a very nice contrast after my body’s core has been heated. It takes my breath away in a most pleasant manner. I glide over to another member of fellowship. The talk of the day is the feeling. There are the sense of loss, the sense of celebration, the expression, reassurance of love, and the concern of losing touch without this clubhouse in the middle of town. Our hearts are warmed with each other.

As I look up and wave, friends pass by next to the pool. Beside the water, sits a couple who met here, married here and I am now swimming with their child. Through the forest of legs above, I see Mary as she opens the hatch door to add more firewood. Everything has always been done as a voluntary service to others, be it gathering wood, chopping, hosting, cleaning, or repair. An old ammo box sits on a tall stump by the entrance, collecting donations. Occasionally, a benefit potluck has made ends meet.

Rustic, Practical, Filled with Heart

I pass through many short conversations with so many people. At 4:00 an ad hoc group called the Sweat Band gathers with drums, percussion, and a host of world class didgeridoos. A lovely primitive ensemble is enhanced by a naked siren singing no words. I reflect back on the numerous times that these same components have graced the inside of the sauna. In there, the small chamber reverberates, amplifying vibrations into a healing whole body experience.

A continuing flow of talent takes the stage through the evening. One sings songs of the sweat, a collection of Rainbow Gathering campfire tunes about love, harmony, oneness and divine grace. We dance, many of us naked with abandon. This is a place of art and populated with talent. If there were a heaven for hippies, it would be just like this.

The sweat has been known to have been here for over 30 years. This evening, the parting words from the benefactor tell us that it has been here for 37 years. I hear another voice correcting, telling me that she first came here when she was 18 and now she is 58 years old. A short history is given and then the names of those who have passed on are called out from the gathered.

Amongst more dancing, there are more rounds in the sauna, which has become dark inside. Only the light from the hanging white Christmas lights finds its way through the small windows. The eyes adjust. We sit in silence, knowing that this will be the last time for us to gather here. A female voice comes through the darkness in a reflective tone. “I grew up here, in this place. I came here afraid and new. I found support and many wise souls. This is home to me.”

The sweat has been operating Friday evenings and all day Sunday. On Wednesday, there has been a women’s sweat and one for the men. We are cast adrift, now. A 501c3 has been established. There is hope to continue the community engagement, promote spiritual sweat with its health benefits and encourage body freedom. There are now two places to sweat on the outskirts of town, but we will surely miss our original home. We encourage anyone, anywhere, to make a sauna and a sacred place available to others, get naked and sweat.

Benefactor to the Shangra”lee” Sweat

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