Saturday, January 07, 2006

Hot Tub Chronicle II

First published 12-21-05

For many years my wife told me she wanted an outdoor hot tub to ease the strain of Maine’s winter. I’d listen and visualize the getting in and the getting out. An image of my wet, bare feet sticking to the hard-frozen ground the way a boy’s tongue sticks to a frozen metal pole of a school yard swing set played out in my mind’s eye. Looking behind me, I could see in my footprints the skin from the bottom of my bare feet, followed by others stained red with my blood. The hot tub idea had little appeal for me.

What I’ve discovered, however, is that only getting in is difficult. Getting out is easy. In my fleece bathrobe and slippers, I go out the door and into the frigid night shivering. I lift off the cover over the hot water and set it aside before removing my robe and stepping out of my slippers. There is a second of freezing misery as, shaking with cold, I swing my legs over the edge of the tub. After I’m up to my neck in hot liquid I can sigh with relief. Tense muscles loosen in the warm buoyancy and my internal temperature rises. In only a few seconds I’m relaxed and listening to the silence.

There’s probably no such thing as total silence, really - not for the average person here on earth anyway. Maybe it exists in space where there’s no atmosphere to vibrate and carry sound. Maybe it exists for the totally deaf, but for the rest of us there are just different degrees of noise. In the hot tub on a winter evening, I relish the relative silence around me. As mentioned in an earlier column, there’s no music and no telephone with me when I go out there. Neither are there any lights on in the house behind to leak out the windows and intrude on the light of the moon, the stars, and from distant houses on the high western bank of the Cold River in Stow and Chatham. Occasionally a faint, flickering light is visible on top of Mount Washington. The only sounds are those from nature, like coyotes or wind in the trees. Occasionally, there’s a distant whine of truck tires on Route 5 a mile or more away and down the hill - just loud enough to hear, but not intrusive on my mood. Sometimes there’s the drone of a passenger jet five miles up among the stars. It’s not really silence, but some might call it that.

We’re programmed to respond to certain sounds in certain ways. Genuine laughter elicits a positive reaction from anyone within earshot. Crying stirs an agitated response. Car horns during a traffic jam can be stressful, but listening to a baby gooing and gurgling is endearing. The soft, nearly-silent sounds of a winter night relax me. Maybe I’m hard-wired by the Creator to respond that way, or maybe it’s the human software bundle I came into the world with.

If I relax them totally, my arms float out in front of me - a rather strange sensation. The old bathtubs of my youth weren’t deep enough for that and neither were the little swimming pools in the yard. By the time I could swim in the lakes and ponds, I was too adventuresome to linger in the shallow water and see if my arms floated. Could warm, semi-weightless sensations tap unconscious memories of when we were in utero? The womb would have been warm and cozy too. Or maybe such thoughts are residue of the psychobabble I heard in all those liberal arts courses. Nonetheless, I imagine other mammals out there in the winter night. I visualize mice snug in in the woodpile in their nests of leaves and the wooly material they manage to accumulate from somewhere - probably insulation from one of our vehicles in the dooryard. I visualize chipmunks curled up snugly while deep in the ground under the snow. I feel an affinity for other warm-blooded creatures, but not for the grubs or the reptiles I know are out there too - another result of programming from the Creator I guess.

As I said, getting out of the tub is easy. Last Friday’s storm blew a half-inch of snow around the patio and I actually stood in it, barefoot and naked, while I put the cover back on before going inside. It was a strange sensation. I was aware of the cold, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. I had no urge to roll around in the snow as some do, but walking in it left no bloody footprints behind me.


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