In September, 2016 I started a year-long personal challenge of doing something each week that I’d never done before then writing about it. This is week 15.
Could it be that in the twenty plus years I’ve lived in Portland I’ve never driven through the gorge when there’s been snow in the mountains and sun in the sky? It’s possible. The stretch of I-84 between Portland and Hood River can get treacherous this time of year, winter sport sounds like an oxymoron to me, and doing anything but hibernate or its modern equivalent – binge Netflix and sleep 10 hours a night – requires an extraordinary exertion of will. All I know is that when I got my first glimpse of the bright slopes across the white-capped river and the snow clinging to the trees to my right I said out loud to no one, “My. Fucking. God.” Then I continued to swear at the unbelievable beauty for the next half hour while trying to keep the hypnotic pull of it from luring me into the guard rail or off the side of the bridge.
Carson Hot Springs was my destination. Since I didn’t know about the snowy landscape until I was in it, the reason I got my butt off the couch and into the world was solely for the promise of some hot mineral water I’d never soaked in before. I need copious amounts of hot water during the winter months. It’s the only thing that keeps me from being miserably cold down to my marrow, especially when the frozen days pile up the way they have lately.
Built in 1901, I’m betting not a lot has changed in how the weird little resort of Carson Hot Springs serves up its hot water. The utilitarian bathhouse has a side for men and a side for women. The main room is lined with about ten deliciously long clawfoot tubs, each surrounded by a curtain. For half an hour I stretched all 5’10” of me out in the thing with just my head tipped out of the slightly sulfurous water.
The quiet was thick as I was the only one in the tubs. The stillness was thick as I’d purposely brought nothing to read, nothing to even think about. I listened to my breathing and the occasional footsteps of the bathhouse assistant across the concrete floor. For a while, I watched my pulse push and pull my vaulted, wrinkled fingertips. I listened to the water slap against my knees as they bent and straightened. I listened to the water suck against my back as I lifted myself from its hold.
The sweet red-headed assistant stifled a yawn and led me to a side room lined with fabric covered cots. She cocooned me inside the fabric, asked if I needed anything and then let me simmer inside my own skin for another half hour. I had nothing to do but listen to her footsteps and listen my breathing and try to feel the expanding warmth of the fascia wrapping my bones. Outside, some of the snow fell from the trees and some of it just sat there, clinging to the tips of the needles.