White Socks & The First Thing

I didn’t mean to end up on the nude beach on my daily walk. Honest.

White socks are the first thing I see. OK, maybe not the first thing.

After an extended desert sojourn, I am visiting a place where water falls from the sky. So much water, so consistently, that I struggle to maintain my daily step count, my latest exercise fixation. On a break in the murk, I decide to settle for brisk but sunny conditions for my walk. And so it is that I find myself standing at the bottom of a 481-step wooden staircase, looking out on a Vancouver beach at low tide.

White socks are the first thing I see. OK, maybe not the first thing.

It has taken me a while to get to this point, which was not my destination. Yearning for a walk along the ocean, I find my remembery of the route to Spanish Banks Beach to be vague, not to say wrong. And so, lured by a sign for Pacific Spirit Regional Park, I park my car on the side of the road. Nor am I the only luree. Although the day is brisk, there are many cars parked here. Small groups of young people head down the trail to the beach, invisible through the dense undergrowth.

At the trailhead sign that announces the beach name — Wreck Beach — I pause uncertainly. Isn’t that the nude beach?

A quick perusal of the small print tells me that my mental map may have failed me, but not my memory for names. At this clothing-optional beach, nude people are welcome; gawkers and unauthorized photographers are not.

Looking at the sign’s map, I consider my options. I can head down to the beach, counting on nude sunbathing being unlikely, not to say crazy, on this brisk day. Or I can walk along the embankment to the next trailhead, bypassing Wreck Beach and the attendant risk of nudity altogether.

I walk.

And as I walk, I consider my views on nudity. Even though I have already voted with my feet, I’m not against it, exactly. Watching movies, I don’t avert my eyes from bare bodies, the way I do from gaping wounds or big bugs. Changing into street clothes in a women-only locker room after exercise, I feel no need to use the screened cubicles.

But if I’m not against nudity, neither am I really for it. Twenty years ago, I skipped the nude-male-model session of a drawing class. Ten years ago, I passed on the opportunity to sunbathe topless in a Cuban resort along with the lone European turista so engaged. And today, as ever, I don’t hang out — you should excuse the mental image — with clothing optionalists.

Yet I find no moral element here. Issued one completely nude body at birth, we then spend a lifetime covering and uncovering its various parts, depending on our cultural norms, social circles, age, activities, and the weather. Where and as I have lived, I’m used to men going topless in the summer heat — women, not so much — and that’s about it for nudity in the flesh, as it were. Mixed-company exposure of primary and/or secondary sexual characteristics outside the bedroom is not right or wrong: it is simply not what I have been accustomed to, nor what I am comfortable with.

Coming up on the next trailhead sign, I congratulate myself for having neatly avoided that with which I am not comfortable. Or have I? In mingled disbelief and indignation, I see that this sign also warns of Wreck Beach below.

Looking at the map again, I reconsider my options. If I walk further along the embankment, I will come to the first non-Wreck-Beach trailhead just in time to turn around and head back, never having even seen the Pacific, much less revelled in its spirit. On the other hand, if I head down to the beach, surely I will not see any nudity. Beachgoers may have the option of going without their clothing in this place, but who would exercise that option at this time? I’m cold even in long pants, long-sleeved shirt, fleece vest, water-and-wind-resistant jacket with hood, and gloves.

I head down.

And so it is that I reach Wreck Beach and encounter its inhabitants, from middle-aged homeless men with unkempt beards, to a six-month-old sweetie, grooving on the tranquility of the ocean according to her tidily bearded father.

But those encounters are in the future. Now, as I pause at the bottom of the 481-step wooden staircase and glance around, I immediately see a lone sunbather smack in front of me. He is sheltered by a low, three-sided structure of white plastic sheeting, twine, and wooden stakes. Sheltered from the wind, that is, but not from the sun. And not from my view (no gawking required).

I also see immediately that I was right about the implications of the weather. He is not completely nude; on this brisk April day, that would indeed be crazy.

White socks are the first thing I see. OK, maybe not the first thing.

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6 Responses to White Socks & The First Thing

  1. On a day when some of us contemplate elemental truths in the metaphorical egg, you have carried us back to Eden and the original and perhaps metaphorical fig leaf. Thank you for your delightfully crafted, thoughtful, wry, and witty meditation on the flesh. Happy Easter!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – I hadn’t even thought of Eden – not sure why! Somehow, nudity doesn’t remind me of innocence but the very opposite. I expect that’s a function of lack of exposure to actual nudity, and too much exposure to the Hollywood style!

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    When the World Council of Churches met at UBC in August 1983, Wreck Beach was popular. Until a group of Orthodox priests came down the 481 steps, clad in their long black all-enveloping robes. As they appeared out of the woods, sunbathers scrambled for covering. Then in amazement, they watched as the priests doffed their robes, revealing that they had nothing on underneath. Everyone relaxed as the naked priests ambled down to the water.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – That’s funny! I remember startling a clergywoman I knew by coming up behind her at the grocery store and peering into her cart. “I didn’t know the clergy ate,” I said in an astonished tone. Who knew that priests went naked, too?

  3. Wreck Beach. Ah, the memories… In 1971, a car packed full of us — usually very cool and laid back folks suddenly chatty & nervous — parked at the top of the cliff, walked down and immediately, and non-optionally, stripped & presented our bodies to the sun and others’ eyes…which, it turned out, didn’t fall below neck level much (at least when we were talking directly to each other). What you looked at from your blanket was another matter… and nudity reveals odd and wonderful shapes, interesting, if not beautiful — everybody relaxed, loose-limbed, long, flowing hair (on women & men), open, happy faces…

    Surprisingly, and very quickly, I got used to it. All those naked bodies just became people, sunning themselves, talking to each other, lying about, walking along, swimming, running…

    What impressed me most was the courtesy, the kindness, the gentleness of everybody “hanging out”. One beautiful, and very tanned young man had set up a First-Aid blanket and treated people who had stepped on sharp things in the sand. I sat next to him for awhile, although I didn’t need any foot help…

    It was a lovely afternoon. We were a cool and quiet bunch again driving home. I was visiting my sister in Vancouver; I’ll have to send her this post to remind her!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Re people making only eye contact – I was telling a 20-something woman I know about this experience and she told me of her aunt, who came back from a 22-year stay in foreign parts with not much inclination to cover up in front of family. As my acquaintance said, when her aunt came down to the kitchen in the morning in only her panties, it was hard to look at her and yet not look at her at the same time! I expect we’d all do better to get a little more used to it.

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