Monday, June 20, 2005
The lodge interior, bench around the walls and pit for the rocks in the center.
The weather in New England is finally shaking itself out into the kind of Spring we should have had during May. The weekend was idyllic, very domestic and full of friends. It began with yard work and housecleaning at home on Saturday morning. By 2pm I was up at Fritz’s doing errands, reading things we had put aside for each other during the week, and checking notes on the big trip that begins in ten days.
We had dinner out with two guys from the Boston area, another married couple and great friends, at the home of a woman who lives not a dozen miles away and who frequently turns up at the same concerts and operas in New York that I attend. We ended the day in the hot tub.
Sunday was bracketed by two seemingly very different gathering that in some ways are much the same. The first and third Sundays of the month are Quaker Meeting days. The mid-19th century Meeting House in Epping is a building of severe but elegant simplicity, perfectly designed and proportioned for meditation. It was here last August that we had our Quaker committment ceremony to celebrate our marriage the previous May. The local group is very small these days, usually just three or four, ourselves included. We sit in complete silence for another, then greet each other, share cider and a cookie while catching up on local happenings and each-other's news.
At 5pm guys began to arrive at Fritz's for the monthly Sweat Lodge. We had nine this time. The lodge is like a sauna in many ways although philosophically it descends from Native American sweat lodges, a place to sweat out the toxins, physical and spiritual. We begin by laying a layered fire on a sheet of corrugated cardboard. Paper first, dried branches criss-crossed to make a platform for the rocks, the rocks piled loosely, and finally a mound of wood covering everything. The fire needs about an hour to fully heat the rocks and ideally to get them glowing red.
Not all rocks will work. Granite has tiny pockets of water trapped in it. As it heats up, the water turns to steam and exerts enormous pressure—granite can explode in a fire. Marble breaks down into lime in a fire, slate falls apart, etc. Soapstone absorbs an enormous amount of heat (it’s used in some wood-burning stoves to store and radiate heat) so we’re always on the lookout for sources of good-sized soapstone cobbles. As the fire burns down we gradually get rid of all our clothes, then transfer the rocks into the lodge and enter after a short greeting ritual. When we have it, we put a little eucalyptus oil in the water that’s ladled onto the rocks and the lodge is filled with its lovely scent. If the rocks get hot enough, a sweat can last a half hour or longer.
It was the end of Bike Week in New Hampshire this weekend, so the roads were filled with motorcycles heading home singly and in large convoys. It was reported to be the mellowest Bike Week in years. Ever since I was a kid I’ve always had a romantic image of bikers—I’m sure I identify them in some way with knights-errant on their horses, strong, handsome loners going out into the unknown to seek adventure. The reality of black leather, beards and tattoos doesn’t get in the way of that romantic image one little bit.
It does sound like a great weekend!