April 16, 2015

The Naked Nature Writer


At the end of a long conference day, a bunch of us met at a restaurant for a leisurely meal and plunged almost immediately into a ridiculous conversation. That’s the magic of conference meals: you gather a bunch of interesting folks around a table, and then just see what conversations happen.

As the men at the table were exchanging witty insults, Maine Writer kicked me under the table. She gave me a knowing glance. “Isn’t it time we got a man to pose for you?”

Since all the men at the table were nature writers, I figured it would be pretty easy to get a volunteer for the naked photo project. I mean, nature writers! They skinny dip all the time. They’re hippies who love to cavort naked. Every stereotype suggested I’d have more models than I knew what to do with. 

Really, the prospects looked good. The novelist at the table wrote a book about a decorative hermit: his main character is NAKED for a good half of the book. The memoirist wrote a book about fatherhood with a whole section about how his son who didn’t like to wear clothes. The cartoonist-turned-nature-writer, who kept telling funny stories and then apologizing for talking too much, has published essays about peeing in public. Yes, he’s written MORE THAN ONCE about peeing in public.

Surely someone in this group would pose, I thought. I looked over at Maine Writer and smiled confidently. But Cartoonist-Turned-Nature-Writer found the loophole. “I might need another drink,” he said. That’s when I looked at the glasses at the table and sighed, caught by one of my own rules. It’s rule number eight: I won’t photograph anyone if they’ve been drinking.

Just at that moment, a text message chimed in, and Maine Writer looked at her phone. Another of our friends had been at an event where he was reading from his latest book. He was coming over to meet us — and thanks to the reading — he hadn’t had anything to drink.

“Perfect,” I said. “He can be the Designated Nature Writer.” The men at the table visibly relaxed when they realized they were off the hook.

“We’ll all come along for the photo shoot,” said Cartoonist-Turned-Nature-Writer. “We want to be supportive.”

Soon the whole group were happily agreeing to come up to my hotel room for the naked photo shoot. “Um, it’s not really a spectator sport,” I kept saying, a bit puzzled by this turn of events.

We returned to the conference hotel, which was teeming with writers who filled the bar and spilled into the lobby, providing a nice distraction. As soon as the Designated Nature Writer arrived, Maine Writer quietly explained to him he was to pose naked for me. Her charm must have won him over because surprisingly, he agreed right away. Leaving behind the gang of spectators, we whisked him up to our room where he obligingly took off his clothes, sat on the bed, and let me snap his photo.

Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.

April 13, 2015

Blogger meet-up: naked, of course


I’ve known LovesBooks online for years, and last week when we realized we were both at the same conference, we finally had a chance to meet in person. We met for breakfast in the hotel restaurant, and we plunged immediately into intimate conversation, talking about grief and death, kids and parenting, and our goals for the future. Then she came up to my hotel room, took off her clothes, and climbed up onto the windowsill so that I could take a photo of her naked.

It’s what I’ve come to expect from blogger meet-ups.

The naked photo project means that as soon as I meet someone who reads my blog, we begin talking about body image — and our relationship with our own bodies. LovesBooks and I talked about how our culture tends to focus so much on what our bodies look like and whether or not they fit into certain rigid stereotypes. “As I get older,” LovesBooks said, “I find that I am not focused on what my body looks like. I’m appreciating what my body can do. I like that I’m strong enough to carry a kayak or canoe.”

That sentiment resonated with me. Especially as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to value a body that is still strong enough to hike, swim, kayak, cross-country ski, and walk for hours in a city without getting tired. I rarely even think about what I look like or what I will look like as I continue to age. My health and how my body functions is my priority.

I snapped photos quickly while LovesBooks balanced precariously on the windowsill, with me yelling, “Don’t fall and get hurt! That would be missing the point of the project altogether.” After she climbed down, we looked at the photos on my laptop, and we talked about what pseudonym to use. The name LovesBooks was an obvious choice. She loves to read, she loves to write, and she even loves books so much that she’s made them herself: that is, making the paper. That's a real commitment to books.

Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.

April 07, 2015

Tree frogs singing

We had a long winter this year. During the month of February, temperatures never rose about freezing. We got about ten feet of snow, which is absolutely normal, but without any thaws to melt the snow, it kept piling up. Snow plows pushed up tall white walls along the roadways.

March wasn't really much better than February this year. And April began as a pretty cold month. Last weekend, as I was busy making food for Easter dinner, I looked outside to see that it was snowing.

But tonight, just as I was beginning to wonder if warm weather would ever come, I heard the unmistakable sound of spring: the peepers! Over in the just-thawed pond, the little tree frogs are singing. Finally.

April 03, 2015

Bubble Bath: the classic naked photo

Hot bath on a winter day

Whenever I’m on a weekend with my women friends, I try to think of themes that will lure them into posing naked for me. One year, it was the Grandmothers Pose Naked theme. Of course, since then, so many of friends have become grandparents that it’s always Naked Grandmothers day. For example, that beautiful woman taking a shower in my last blog post? She’s got a teenage grandson.

One summer, when I spent a wonderful week with friends in the northwest, we tried a Dancing in the Lupines theme. That led to my friends making a new rule for Project Naked: the photographer must promise to delete all photos in which make it look like the dancer has a lupine up her butt. Naturally, I was happy to comply.

I decided that the theme for last weekend was hot water. After all, on a cold winter weekend, when you’ve just been out hiking through snowdrifts and you’ve stripped off layers of sweaty clothing, few things feel more relaxing than soaking in a bathtub of hot water. Of course, the leisurely bubble bath is probably less relaxing when you’ve got a friend perched on the bathroom counter yelling, “Shift that way. I can see your face! I can see your nipples!”

Questioning Woman, who had been up late with us the night before while we got into deep discussions about relationships, body image, and big life decisions, seemed unfazed by me climbing up onto furniture to take her photo while she stretched out in the bathtub. She lolled about in the hot water, looking out at the snow-covered woods outside the window. The best way to appreciate a wintry scene is from inside a tub full of steaming hot water.

Questioning Woman was such an obliging model that she even sat up so I could get a picture of the tattoo on her back. “Aren’t you worried that it’s an identifying feature?” I asked. After all, I always assure my women friends that they will be completely anonymous in this top secret project that I put on the internet for everyone to see. She shrugged. “The only people who will recognize the tattoo – well, let’s just say, they’ve already seen me naked.”

Bubble bath

Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.

March 26, 2015

Through the glass

Through the glass

“How do you get people to pose naked for you?” That’s the first thing people ask when they find out about my naked photo project. I admit, that when I’m at a conference, surrounded by academics who don’t know me at all, it sometimes takes a little work to find a volunteer. But when I’m spending a weekend with my Wild Women friends, it’s a different story. My friends are most cooperative.

Last weekend, for instance. We’d just carried in pots of soup and bags of food, and we were exploring the lodge where we’d be staying, when Quilt Artist said to me, “Did you see the stonework in the big shower?” She made me go up the stairs and step inside the shower to admire it. That’s when it occurred to me that I could take advantage of an artist’s love of texture.

“This stonework would look great in a photograph,” I said to her. “You could pose naked in here.” I find it’s best to get to the point quickly.

“Heck, we could ALL post naked in here,” said Denim Woman, who had come up with us. She was right. The shower, which had a glass wall, was huge. All ten of us could have taken a shower together.

“That would be the environmentally responsible thing to do,” I pointed out. But I know better than to try for a group shot of naked women. It’s too much work. As soon as they get their clothes off, they start joking around and getting into ridiculous poses, with no regard for the poor photographer who is trying to take a SERIOUS photo.

So instead, I waited the next morning until Quilt Artist was about to take a shower — and I invited myself along. “I’ll spray some water on the glass door,” she said. “I think that would look cool.”

Later, when we all sitting downstairs with bowls of soup, we’d have serious conversations about our changing relationships with our bodies as we learn how better to take of ourselves. But our conversation during the shower wasn’t serious at all. I kept shouting things like, “Spray some more water on the glass” while she shouted back, “I’m trying to wash my hair” and I just kept snapping photos while she scrubbed herself clean.

Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.

March 23, 2015

Afternoon walk in the snowy mountains

Mountain road

Most walking trails in the mountains were buried in deep snow, so Saturday afternoon, my friends and I took a walk along the road, which wound through tall stands of pine. Whenever we caught a glimpse of the lake, we'd try to find a path down to the edge, walking around boarded-up summer camps and onto docks that stood high above the ice.

Quilt Artist and I wandered into one little hamlet where summer camps huddled along some open water. The only prints I saw in the snow were from deer and raccoon. The docks were mostly empty, piled with snow that held melted into strange shapes. A bright blue slide stood at the edge of one dock, waiting for summertime and the shrill screams of excited children.


March 21, 2015

In the mountains, where it is still snowing

Mountain lake on the first day of spring

No matter what the calendar says, it’s still winter in the mountains. When I woke up this morning in the beautiful camp that belongs to a friend's sister, I could see snow falling on the frozen lake outside my window. I dressed quickly for an early morning walk.

I should have worn snowshoes. The icy crust along the top of the drifts of snow was beginning to melt. I walked along for a couple of yards and then sunk in until the snow was thigh-high. I struggled out, got to the top of the snow again, and made it a couple more yards before sinking in again. It took me awhile to make it to the shore of the lake, where I stopped to rest and take photos of the blue-and-white scene.

By the time I got back to the camp, my pants were sopping wet from the melting snow. I stepped into warmth that smelled of coffee and toast. My friends were making breakfast.