May 31, 2012 06:37AM ● Published by Style
Illustration by Aaron Roseli. © Style Media Group
Our boys, Joe, 15, and Sam, 12, had already reached the edge of the mountain lake.
We’d been hiking for two hours on a spotless blue Sierra summer day. Trailing a good distance behind, Vickie (my wife) and I crested a ridge above the cobalt blue water of petite Penner Lake. Below, we could see the boys standing on the edge of a precipice that we would soon be plunging off with reckless summertime abandon. It’s become an annual summer destination for us, this gorgeous little alpine jewel set inside the granite bowl of a glacial cirque of the Tahoe National Forest. It’s moderately easy, eminently beautiful and less than two hours from home.
Our boys’ backs were to us and they stood as still as statues – dumbstruck, I assumed – at the scene shimmering before them. I thought to myself, this is it: this is one of those galvanizing moments that gets hardwired into a kids’ DNA, that stays with them for the rest of their lives. My eyes filled with tears, and for the first time that day it wasn’t from sunscreen mixing with sweat.
But the thing was, from our vantage point, we could not see what was actually holding their attention. Alas, it was not the alluring visage of Mother Nature, but instead, the bare backside of a naked lady, lazily breaststroking (no pun intended) her way through the gin-clear waters just beneath the boys’ feet. The only thing she wore was a sun hat.
In fact, there was a whole party of skinny-dipping people – French, if I heard their chatter correctly. For sure, they were naked. They were cavorting about in a small cove, splashing and laughing in fleshy French nakedness, not the least bit bothered that we were there. A few of them waved as we scrambled down the path. Off to our right, the boys were still standing atop that rock, not moving, as Gigi continued her swim.
Maybe it’s just me but it’s flat-out jarring to unexpectedly see naked people in real life. Not that I run into them all the time, but over the years, there have been occasional encounters: a hairy, hippie-looking dude sprawled out on a sunny rock next to the American River; a skinny-dipping guy charging into the ocean surf near Santa Cruz (apparently, the water was very cold that day); a rather corpulent woman lounging on a remote beach at Folsom Lake who, at first glance from our boat looked like a bleached piece of driftwood…‘til we noticed her sandals.
There is no airbrush for real life, and you get the sense that the reason clothes were actually invented wasn’t only for practical reasons like warmth but because the reality is, most of us really just shouldn’t be seen like that.
However, there are exceptions, and if I’m being honest, this sun hat-clad woman was one of them. By now I had climbed up to where my boys were, with every intention of shooing them off that rock. But the utter shock of seeing Gigi’s languid strokes slicing gently through that tranquil mountain water had momentarily frozen me.
“MAILEY!” I was jarred again. But this time by the voice of my fully clothed American wife, who only barks my last name when she means business. She was standing on a rock below us. “Get the boys and get down from there, RIGHT NOW.”
As we did what she said, I had no doubt I was right about that being a galvanizing moment for the boys. And I wondered how the hiking is in France.