I want you, if you can, to think back to your earliest recollection, a childhood memory maybe, of feeling connected to the earth. I am speaking of that feeling that you are part of the world, connected to mother earth and her rhythms and cycles; at one with nature and not a visitor, not a parasite, not a tool of commerce and a cog in the corporate machine that is our civilised society. Possibly you have no conscious recollection of such an event but can imagine you must have at some point felt that way. It’s not something most of us are used to feeling in our day-to-day lives. Pretty much everything in our modern lives serves to remind us that we are apart from nature and not a part of nature.
That’s pretty much the definition of being “civilised”, isn’t it? Civilisation is at core the process of having nature educated out of us. Even our escaping into the wilderness to “get away from it all” somehow re-emphasises our separateness as we don wetsuits and view the underwater world from behind our glass masks, or drive around the Kruger on tar roads in air conditioned metal and glass bubbles observing nature without actually participating in it. We hike in the mountains wrapped in synthetic clothes, thick soled boots on feet so that we traverse the landscape as spectators rather than participants. Camping expeditions become logistical exercises in how best we can avoid interference from nature and carry as much civilisation with us without breaking our backs and budgets. How often as adults do we get to thrust our bare feet into the dirt, scrape our hands and knees and feel the prickly grass or rough texture of rough stone against our naked buttocks?
That first memory of earthen connectedness for me must have happened when I was five or six. There was a cloudburst after a particularly hot KZN summer day and there in the hot rain we stood. My cousin and I had been playing, wearing nothing more than our hard-worn Teesav shorts. Impulsively, arms raised and faces to the sky we both began to dance and scream with joy. As the falling rain cooled we sought warmth from the earth, finding a big, flat, steaming rock surface to lie face down on as the rain continued to pelt down on our exposed backs. Lying there, breathing in the hot soil flavoured steam rising from the rock surface I felt like I was breathing in the earth itself and I can recall feeling like an animal, a small creature, pressed flat against the warm rock. It hit me at that moment, that that was precisely what I was. The realisation that I was nothing more than a small creature of the earth was simultaneously humbling, moving and elevating. I felt like a child welcomed home, embraced by mother earth. It will come as absolutely no surprise to you, my fellow naturists, that a large part of my enjoyment of naturism comes from the sincere, if not always conscious attempts to recreate that feeling.
Thanks to a number of social factors particular to South Africa, and some others less specific to our country, we South Africans, while blessed with an amazing country to enjoy nude recreation in, are simultaneously cursed with a very unenlightened attitude about people taking their clothes off to actually enjoy it. Suffice it to say that our colonial forefathers and verkrampt apartheid overlords really did a number on us! (And the current despots are far too busy raiding the coffers or trying to keep the lights on to take time out to develop a culture of anything other than self service and corruption). Consequently despite having an almost 3000km coastline we have exactly zero legal nude beaches (despite having a world famous unofficial one). We have a very small handful of hard won naturist resorts country wide. While that may mean our opportunities to enjoy social nudity in a “traditional” nudist venue are limited, that actually means little to and won’t stop a die hard naturist. It is probably for that reason that South Africa was given a top 10 slot in World’s Best Skinny Dipping Spots recently – “According to IOL, South Africa ranked 7th and the research found that the country’s “designated areas [includes] 17 nudist beaches and clubs and 25 naturist campsites.”. It’s still not clear to me where these venues are exactly (unless they were counting each tent site in SunEden as a “naturist campsite”?), but I suspect that it does reflect more the fact that so many places in SA are remote, wild and quiet enough that a free-range naturist would be foolish not to seize the opportunity.
Being of the free-range variety ourselves it was with no great surprise that we recently found ourselves spontaneously stripping on the river bank, after paddling a double sit-on-top kayak up one of the many beautiful South Coast rivers. The majestic cliffs and thick bush left one feeling as though Tarzan might emerge from the trees at any point closely followed by a herd of elephants, and we could easily visualise how hippos would have frolicked here less than a century ago. Nature was calling, and until we had stripped every vestige of civilisation from our bodies we didn’t feel like we belonged there. The transformation was instant. It is something we have experienced skinny dipping on every beach, in every Berg stream and icy pool and standing naked on every peak or grassy plain. Suddenly one is experiencing the world with ALL of one’s senses. No one single sense dominates. Mud between the toes, the sound of bird calls and flowing water, the smell of sun warmed grass and dust, sharpened vision and the gentlest air movements detected by the small hairs on one’s body. All senses are intensified and brought into high focus. You feel plugged in! This is why we do it isn’t it? It’s the one thing we as naturists or nudists all agree on. Being nude in nature just feels so freaking wonderful! The two of us have been stripping off and skinny dipping, sun bathing, naked hiking and just appreciating nature in a pure, natural state for as long as we can remember. We have stretched naked on remote golden dunes; silently watched a lion stalk an impala herd on a river bank below us as we stood naked at a bush lookout point; walked for hours and hours on remote north coast beaches; climbed mountains and stood arms open wide at the top of vast cliff faces; perched naked on logs and rocks in our natural forests and plunged naked into freezing, glass clear berg streams and basked on rocks above roaring waterfalls. There are so many of these experiences that I am sure I cannot recollect them all, but each one I do remember is a gem of a memory and reminds me that I have lived a blessed life.
Nature was calling, and until we had stripped every vestige of civilisation from our bodies we didn’t feel like we belonged there.
We may not have the hundreds of signposted nude beaches, parks and resorts of Europe, but damn, we do have the most incredible environment to make use of; and with just a little sensitivity to avoid offending some miserable clothes addict with a point to prove, we can experience so much of God’s creation just the way He intended us to. So the next time you are out and about in nature, if the opportunity presents itself, don’t forget to properly experience the bush, the berg, the beach, the river, the veld, the vlei just the way you are supposed to. As a creature of the Earth.