The sweat is a place of community. People come to it like going to church. It is a temple for some. Respectfully, the conversation can be overridden by a request for silence. It is about prayer and meditation first.
The silence may be overridden by expression of prayer. In this place anything goes. Hindu chants, didgeridoo and drums, old time hymn., Traditional Native American songs with a shaker gourd or water drum maybe accompanying this. A flute may just be played and someone may join in with a pretty female voice. Prayers, confession, sorrows, grief, hopes and oneness may show up, sometimes with tears. Always with the support of the community, words sometimes, sometime just a hug. People generally join in when music is the focus. At times, it may sound as if the natives are restless in exuberance. It may be quite beautiful and talented.
The body cleanses and so does the soul and heart. Brushes scrape the dead skin and open pores. Compala, cedar and many other cleansing scents may be applied to the rocks. A towel may be violently spun around to circulate the air. A small alter decorates a corner.
We are bare, naked to be ourselves. Homeless hippies sit next to the better off, men and women, we share our bath and our humanity.
When the sweat closed in town, I decided to take a stab at filling the gap in my lovely desert setting in Tortolita. I had a few materials laying around, I had people longing for a place to continue the community, I had helpers and a few hundred bucks.
The first piece is a foundation. Twenty years ago, I had constructed my strawbale home. After pouring the integral concrete floors, there were leftovers in the huge cement truck. Hey Mac, I can’t take this stuff back with me. It’s got dye in it.”
The solution was quickly met. I had extra strawbales and I could make a fortress for my son and his playmates. The driver poured out the remains in a pattern in a trench, which I quickly carved out. I held up the footer with roofing paper and slapped rebar in, pointing it up to pin down the lateral shift of the bales, when their time came.
The construction of our home created precedent and the kids place was never finished. The kids did have fun with the huge pile of extra bales that came to rest in the foundation.
The first project to making the new sweat was to clear out the bales and send them away to Craig’s list. This left us with a good footer foundation for the sweat and porch. The floor could be put in later.
Next a generous carpenter volunteered to help me put a roof on the uneven foundation. I had several 4×8 beams that had been sitting for years and had acquired a very rustic looking termite gouge.
There were enough to stretch across the 10×12 room. Then, more were used across the other circle of concrete for a patio/porch, which gives a shaded relief and protection from the desert sun. With some post that I had, I only needed a few building materials to create this. My friend also was able to make a fine small door out of scraps with a donated old cello neck for a handle. I also had on hand the hardware for hurricane ties, etc.
At first this was just a ramada with a short ceiling.
I researched and learned about ferro cement construction. It is relatively cheap, but labor intensive. It leaves a very solid wall about 2 inches thick. Walls can be oddly shaped to accommodate the uneven footer and create better acoustics for voice and instruments. I had several volunteers help. I began by taking rebar that I had laying around and tying it to the existing rebar and attaching this to the roof.
I questioned my decision regularly as the tediousness of tying and clamping the bird’s nest of chicken wire and steel mesh into a supportive wall structure to seat the coming ferro cement took more and more of my time.
Meanwhile, I had, also laying around, a packrat infested rusty wood burning stove for a heat source. I had purchased it for $25 years before, just for this purpose.
I cleared out the rats nest and a pair of rats. I scrapped it down and painted it with heat/rust resistant paint, placed new gaskets on it, got a new debris pan built and began to look for the ideal rocks, as we took our excursions throughout Baja Arizona, here referred to as “Trip reports.”
This project, other than some carpentry, has been done nude.
Gloves had to be used for the mesh work.
The last piece before it became a functional sauna was to apply the ferro cement mud, with trowels.
This also was tedious labor. A hawk and trowel was used at first, but more detailed coverage had to fill the gaps.
At one time four women labored and sang hymns nearly all day, nude goddesses placing their feminine energy into what we began to refer to as the Tortolita Temple.
While we were creating the door, coincidentally, a Gila Monster showed up in the shed.
When I went back, there were two!
This is a highly unusual sight.
As time went on, carpet was donated for the temporary floors. An old picnic table was made for an upper and lower sitting bench system, just for now.
A coat of tan stain for the inner walls and bench seating will follow.
I went to a glass shop and acquired some scraps to make skylights. As well as better lighting, it is pleasant to lay in the sauna and watch the sun, the moon, or the stars travel.
As we continued the neighbors came by to looky-lo.
Rather than have too many people tracking through my house, I had to make the traditional “Shitter.” With internet plans, some scrap material and advice from the guy who knows the inventor, I created a portable restroom facility.
A Temple, a sacred space, needs to have a proper consecration ceremony. We gathered in the vortex circle next to the sweat.
The first fire was begun in a sacred manner with traditional tools of saguaro wood and seep willow, which were carved into function by a knife.
Once a sacred fire was going, we used it to light the fire box.
We sang and we played didgeridoo and drums.
The Moon rose auspiciously as the sun set.
We then sweated and prayed, wishing it well.
A scared song was chanted and a future was envisioned. A candelabra was used to create a fine ambiance at night.
The old heater worked wonderfully. It was designed to heat 102,000 BTU, and had been used to toast a 1600 square foot mobile home. This 10x12x6.5 foot box of a building is a piece of cake for it. We learned to adjust the vents and optimize its efficiency as we went along, pleased with a new beginning.
The finishing touches can be done as time goes on.