On the road …again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Bath Time…On the road…again!
Based on the perceived popularity of bath time as a subject of some legacy stories, the Footloose Forester paused to daydream about his own experiences. The subject matter might seem to hold sensual reflections in the offing; and it is hard to deny that a nice hot bath is one of life’s pleasures that is soothing to even contemplate.
First memories of bath time for the Footloose Forester were those times when he stood in the middle of a large galvanized tub in the middle of the kitchen in his boyhood home. In those days we had limited plumbing in our house and it did not include flush toilets and a bathroom. Thus, Mom would announce the Saturday night warning to get prepared for hot water being poured over his head and into the tub. As we children grew older, we managed to bathe ourselves in relative privacy.
Going away to college meant being able to stand under the hot showers in his dorm for as long as he liked. He spent way too much time under the shower head, knowing that the supply of hot water was limitless. He would not be able to get away with that in the Navy, where shower time was limited to two minutes and a few gallons. When the Footloose Forester crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a Navy troop ship (twice), he learned that the sailors took the standing orders about short showers quite seriously. The baths on Navy ships were the extreme opposite of what he often did in college.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer forester in Pakistan, his house did not have any hot water. Although there was a water spigot inside the doorless space that served as a kitchen, taking a bath in winter meant squatting on the unheated and unfinished cement floor while ladling tepid water that had been heated on the one-burner kerosene stove next to the crude drainage hole that allowed the water to drain out. There was a shower head as part of the toilet stall in the courtyard outside, but that water was also unheated and was too cold to endure. There was no door on the toilet stall, thus cold wind made the prospects even more chilling; figuratively and literally.
Once the coldest of the winter temperatures in Bahalwalpur began to wane, the Footloose Forester took all of his baths in the toilet stall. Although it was still chilly in the early morning hours, he discovered that by doing vigorous exercises sufficient to break a sweat, prior to letting the gravity fed water flow, the cold water was not too bad. After a while that was standard procedure when the air was chilly. On the other hand, when the temperatures soared during the hot summer months, he sometimes took three or four showers just to keep his body temperature down.
With almost two years in Pakistan and another 2½ years in Viet Nam without hot water in the house, the Footloose Forester did not take it for granted that bathing was going to be with warm water. In the tropics where it was warm most of the time, hot bath water didn’t matter too much. But that sometimes meant that you had to draw your own bath, in those places where home construction eschewed the internal plumbing that might include water heating devices. At some rural places in Viet Nam, in Indonesia, and in Costa Rica; the dipper bath was the standard expectation, even in small hotels.
A good dipper had a sturdy handle and a flat bottom
When you saw the ubiquitous plastic dipper nearby, it signaled that you would be fending for yourself. Sometimes the dippers, with their stout handles, were community property; and at other times, your personal dipper was inside your hotel room. One time in An Khe, Viet Nam the Footloose Forester couldn’t find where to draw water—until he followed one of the hotel employees who was carrying a dipper at bath time. She stopped in the middle of the “motel’s” courtyard and lowered a bucket into the well that had been covered. After she drew water enough for her own bath, the Footloose Forester took his turn lowering the bucket and filled up his dipper. Since he was a guest at the motel, he didn’t have his own bucket, so stood near the well and took his dipper bath there. One dipper to get wet and soap up; and another to rinse off with clean water.
During field work in Costa Rica, Venezuela, and elsewhere; we usually looked for a deep hole in a river in which to take our baths. When there were rivers or streams nearby, the ritual bathing at the end of a workday did, indeed, take on a sensual pleasure. The sweating stopped just as soon as you plunged in; and your spirits began to rise. One experienced researcher in Venezuela cautioned us that the river were presently bathing in contained piranhas, but since he himself was standing there with us in knee deep water, we did not become alarmed.
There usually are plenty of likely places to bathe in rivers that are deep, but the prudent bather checks out the environs for the presence of alligators, caimans, or crocodiles; before entering the water.
At one location in the Atlantic coastal forests of Costa Rica, the Footloose Forester asked to stay in the house of a local cacao farmer. They welcomed him with open arms; and the farmer’s wife proudly fed him their daily fare. When it came to the first night; and after a sweaty day in the field, the Footloose Forester was anticipating a bath. The lady of the house handed him a dipper and pointed to a wet area out behind the house. A narrow rivulet of clean water seeped out from a concealed spring, and was the source of fresh water for the small community of houses downstream. It was clear however, that the seep was also where the residents took their baths; or drew their baths. It was also clear that the Footloose Forester had to stand there in the open to bathe. But the worst part was his belief that soapy water was going to enter directly into the stream of clear water flowing downstream; and it could not be prevented. There was no visible structure in place to keep waste water out of the stream of clean water.
A daily bath at the end of the work day in tropical climates sometimes provided a chance to socialize. Along the Senegal River upstream of the region beyond where salty ocean water intruded as tidal flows, the villagers who lived along the river would usually appear as the sun was going down, to do their laundry, wash their dishes; and to bathe. Sometimes there were only a few bathers scattered in pockets of isolated huts along the river; but in bigger towns like Dagana, Podor, Matam and Bakel; dozens of people flocked to the riverbanks as the heat of day disappeared. It was clear that a good bit of socializing took place in the water and on land where clothes were being washed.
We researchers were eager to join them; not only to revel in the beauty of the half-naked bodies around us; but because we had to cool ourselves down from the heat of the day. It was a matter of health that our safari doctor impressed upon us. Sometimes when we were traveling by road in the middle of a very hot day and we were within striking distance of the Senegal River or one of its meandering and discontinuous ox bows known locally as marabous, we would halt to immerse ourselves; not to bathe, but to cool down.
Of course, bathing in rivers and streams in the forests of the United States did not present any more conveniences than elsewhere in the world. After a long day fighting fires and covered from head to foot with black wood ash and sweat, the firefighters looked forward to washing off some of the grime, even as they knew, full certain, that they would face the next day with the same grimy clothing. Ask any firefighter if he would prefer putting on dirty clothes over a clean body; or clean clothes over a dirty body; and all of them will tell you the same thing. You feel clean with a clean body, even if you have to put on dirty clothes. So it was that you would find dozens of weary firefighters bathing naked in the North Fork of the Yuba River. The swift flowing water from high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains was icy cold, even at the height of summer, but nobody passed on the opportunity to bathe fully naked. Sooty charcoal penetrated through even the thickest of materials except for the best of insulated boots.
Bathing when and where we could near the site of forest fires was one inconvenience of living the life of a forester. Circumstances chose us; and we did not dictate the circumstances. The Footloose Forester; however, had other challenges when it came to taking a bath. When he was a Recreation Patrolman at Wrights Lake in El Dorado County, California, his residence was a stand-alone trailer house that had neither electricity nor running water. Thus, when it came time to take a bath, he had a choice of going to the somewhat public exposure at the outlet from Wrights Lake and close to where many campers and picnickers passed; or he could wait for the middle of a sunny day and go upstream of the lake where the glacially fed Silver Creek gurgled through a deep defile of exposed granite that had an expanse of rock where he could dry himself off in the sun. Quite naturally, the water was too cold to be enjoyable, but at least he could strip off all his clothes in a private place where nobody passed; and then warm up in the sun on the flat granite rocks adjacent to Silver Creek. Ah, yes….bath time….nothing quite like it.