Hot Spring PSA (1)

Contributed by Christine St.Pierre

Nothing stokes the urge to enjoy a soak in a natural hot spring more than mid-winter, especially when your natural hot springs are nestled beneath towering giants in the mossy, wet forests of the Pacific Northwest. Far away from blistering winter wind or the sounds of traffic in the distance, hot springs are remote havens that create spaces for ultimate relaxation, connection to nature, and, sometimes, expanding your community.

This region is gifted with a relative abundance of these phenomena due to heavy rainfall and a vast geothermic network. Narrow streams cascade to and from the springs, refreshing the typically 105–110-degree water in the springs, which are formed in different ways. In some cases, natural sources of water seep into the earth. They become heated by geothermal activity—the temperature of rock within the earth increases with depth—and recirculate to the surface as hot, mineral-rich water. In other cases, preexisting groundwater beneath the layers of underground soil and rock are geothermically heated and rise from the earth’s crust.

Rain and snow evaporate as they hit a fortress of steam emanating from the natural sulfuric pools, which can be as deep as two to four feet. Often, springs are lined with stone or fallen wood by individuals who maintain the springs either voluntarily or in connection with park and forest services. These small pools be naturally formed, but are also manipulated by human intervention to create a habitable space. Some hot springs are simply hot water rising from a small hole in the ground that requires digging and sculpting into a pool.

The surrounding centuries-old trees offer a reminder of your isolation deep in the forest. Some springs are easy to access and others much more remote, which also contributes to the quality of the pool and the water within the spring. More remote springs increase the possibility that the landscape of the area may have negatively affected the spring or the pool, and you may come upon a spring that has been washed away by a landslide or clogged by heavy rainfall and plant material. Closer access means more people, which means less privacy, serenity (and potentially nudity naysayers). All-too-often, this also means more garbage and more disrespect to the natural environment.

Recently, my partner, Conor, and I drove to Baker Lake for a dirtbag Valentine’s Day weekend of camping with our dog in the back of our converted 4-Runner and relaxing in the Baker Lake Hot Spring. This site is notorious for its sometimes contaminated water, large, rowdy crowds, and unsanitary conditions. Prior to this weekend, we had enjoyed one summer afternoon with the spring to ourselves and in wonderful condition. So, we drove to the trailhead and fell asleep to the rain pattering on the car’s roof, eager to be first to the springs the next morning.

The next day, as we meandered along the lush, green trail toward the hot spring, I could smell the sulfuric water growing nearer. As we approached, I noticed an eyesore of a “shelter” made of cheap plywood and covered in ripped plastic, meant for changing in and keeping things dry. My first reaction was Leave no trace, people, c’mon. And, besides, remote hot springs are to be enjoyed in the nude. Disappointed, I noticed in my periphery something floating in the hot spring: a plastic bag, full of bloated hot dog buns and rotten meat: hot dogs and raw bacon strips, their packaging torn open by the hands that left them there.

My eyes scanned the murky water for more garbage. Nearby, a bottle of ketchup bobbed about the water like a hot tub temperature gauge, floating above unidentifiable garbage that had settled to the bottom of the spring. I stepped closer, trying to make sense of the small, brightly colored trash, only to realize that a broken jar of dill pickles had scattered its contents across the bottom. With a long stick, I attempted to remove the broken glass and pickles from their watery tomb, with no success. Fortunately, I was able to retrieve rotting packages of sliced cheese and pre-cut salami. The spring’s sources began to bubble, releasing more hot water into the contaminated water—a torturous welcome, or maybe a plea for help.

Standing there in the pouring rain, our eyes locked and our hearts sank. Who would do this? Who would disrespect nature with such potent neglect and laziness? This was such a glaring example of the devastation humans can bring to a sacred space. Even to an ordinary space—to other humans, to other life. The length of human destruction grew in its limitlessness.

Taking a step toward the wreckage, we put our bags down to inspect the damage further. Half of a door—yes, a door, for a house—rested awkwardly across the waterfall that sourced from the hot spring. Brightly colored fireworks littered the ground, along with remnants of campfires with melted garbage, clothing items, beer bottle tops, cigarette butts and, heartbreakingly, an empty jumbo-sized garbage bag. I grabbed the bag, and we started cleaning.

We salvaged ten, twenty, thirty, one hundred bottles and hadn’t even breached the surface. Broken glass stretched across the grounds. I didn’t want to imagine how many shards had settled to the bottom of the spring, thinking of the families with little children who often visit the natural wonder. Bottles had nestled into the soft earth and tucked themselves away in the brambling bushes, deep tree roots, and nearby waterfall’s nooks and crannies. Beer, wine, champagne, liquor—you name it, its empty remains were strewn fifty feet in any direction of the sickened spring. I imagined an intoxicated mob of people launching bottles from the hot spring’s elevated mountainside pad. It made me sick to my stomach; it made me angry; it made me get to work.

Near the water, a rotting trout, still wrapped in plastic from the grocery store deli, slipped through Conor’s fingers as he struggled to dispose of it in the garbage bag, now brimming with clanking bottles, glass, and rotting food. The silvery remains of tea-light candles shimmered in all directions like tiny bits of garbage bait taunting us. We would move about in small circles to pick up the garbage that seemed only to multiply the more we cleaned. Working for more than two hours, we had to break the news to the many groups of starry-eyed nature-lovers that constantly flowed in hoping, also, to enjoy the spring that day—or any time soon.

We warned newcomers to swim at their own risk while continuing to pick up garbage, detailing the state of the spring upon our arrival. Many had driven from their homes hours away in Seattle, and beyond. One couple said they had been here in November and the spring was in great condition. Unanimously, we all decided that the temperature of the water was at prime condition for bacteria, such as E.coli, to thrive and multiply. With the added danger of meats—cured and uncured—as well as other food material, the risk was too high. We didn’t even want to touch the water. Everyone was disgusted, heartbroken, and angry. We wanted answers, but the silent forest revealed no clues.

There would be no justice for the forest that day. We cleaned for hours and considered the service our Valentine’s Day gift to the earth—the thing we love most, and the thing that gives each and every one of us life and abundance. But as the forest grew darker, we realized how cold and wet and on top of a mountain we were, and had to leave. Chances are, in the days and weeks that followed, dozens of unknowing visitors enjoyed the hot spring. Maybe they didn’t see the warning we wrote into the wooden shelter. Phone calls to the national forest made no promises of retribution or even cleanup. One disappointed ranger mentioned that the hot spring could be cleaned in the spring, its bottom dredged.

Let this be a letter of encouragement and a public service announcement to each and every one of us: we are better than this! Tell this story to your friends and family, and tell them to do the same. This drunken party became a public health risk, and the ground a minefield of broken glass in a place where bare feet are the norm. Seeing as this was not an isolated incident I encourage you not only to “pack it in, pack it out,” but also to head into the wilderness equipped with a trash bag, ready to “pack it out” for others, too

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Contributed by Christine St. Pierre

It’s late February in the Pacific Northwest. Temperatures have been hovering between 35 and 50 degrees for months now, and the diversity in our weather patterns amounts to different varieties of rain: scattered sprinkles, sun rain, spitting, misty rain, fat rain that falls hard, little beads that fall harder, dry rain that magically avoids you, cold rain that soaks your clothes and chills your bones. With all these different types of rain, one thing remains the same: it just doesn’t stop.

Don’t get me wrong—rain is healing, calming, and brings about the abundance of life in the dripping, mossy forests, white-topped mountain ranges, and rocky coastal shores of the upper left. Constantly changing cloud formations create a beautiful backdrop of depth and shape in the sky. The snow-capped mountains provide fantastic opportunities for adventure. But, the bottom line is, I’m still wearing thirteen layers of merino wool, and, usually, still wet and cold. Sometimes—and I know I’m not alone in this—I need a tropical vacation.

Psychologically, vacations are an all-healer. Preparing to leave is exciting, vacationing is relaxing and fulfilling, and the comedown is gentle when you’re bouncing blissful memories around in your mind. That’s why I enjoy the pleasures of a tropical vacation without having to leave the comfort of my home. How? Tricking myself into believing it. It might sound crazy, but it actually works.

The key component of a successful pretend tropical vacation in Washington in mid-February is believing. Around every half hour of my fake-ation, I stop and think to myself, I’m in Hawai’i. There are palm trees and rainbows and waves breaking in crystal clear blue water just outside my window. It’s hot, and people are eating mangos and shaved ice in flip flops. Later, I’m going to read a book in a hammock on the beach with a banana daiquiri in my hands. And it will be amazing. Then, I commit myself to the following habits of happy tropical-vacationers.


Rise and Reggae. Whether it’s raining or shining outside, the inside of your home can always feel colorful and bright. After you rise from bed and stretch for ten minutes (see: New Years Resolutions article), head to your music-playing device and set the dial to some upbeat, soulful reggae music. I suggest Clinton Fearon and the Boogie Brown Band on Pandora, a Seattle-living, Jamaican-born reggae artist who exudes humanity and love through his lively songs. Let the island music sway your hips and stretch your smile as you dance about your home from room to room with your loved ones. Sway your way into the kitchen to start a pot of fresh coffee for the first of many fake-ation reggae mornings.


This brings me to my next point: Listen to World Music. Moods are enhanced by sensory stimulation. Sleepy days are made sleepier with the addition of melancholy instrumental music. Workouts are made more intense with harder, heavier music blasting into your ear. And, sunny days are made that much happier with feel-good music. So, make your day feel more cultured and international with island music or world music playing in your headphones, car speakers, in your home, and whenever you need a reminder that there are sunny, tropical places in the world with unique cultures.


A Dash of Summer Clothes. Once, I met a woman with the most flamboyant and colorful wardrobe. She never had fewer than three bright colors on at once, and always with exotic earrings, a matching or mismatched necklace, and beautiful rings on her fingers. She was in her mid-fifties and lived in a small, equally colorful home in Portland, decorated with artifacts from cultures across the globe. The most colorful thing about her? Her personality. She seemed, in herself, a vessel of optimism, health, and happiness. She knows how to live a positive, colorful life. So, as I dressed with bubbly reggae beats coming from my loudspeakers, I took a page from this woman’s book by opening my box of summer clothes in mid-January. Summer skirts, playful blouses, and colorful jewelry made their way back into my wardrobe. Instead of my usual winter garb of black on black with a touch of brown, I’ve decided that each and every outfit should remind me of sunny days, so I mix bright skirts with leggings and boots, summer dresses with cozy sweaters, dangly earrings under my wool hat.


Spa Treatment. Showers mean two things for me: relaxation or hygiene. It’s not the most sustainable way to cleanse, but when I’m truly in need of some serious self-care, relaxation, and bliss, I take to the tub with candles, music, a lamp, book, glass of water (or wine), oils, and a good thirty minutes to an hour to dedicate to my home spa. Sometimes, it’s a bath; other times, a steamy shower. Either way, it’s important take time with your self and your body—imagine you’re at a spa and give yourself the foot rub of your dreams. Sit in a hot bath and soak as if you’re sitting in a hot spring in the jungle. Fill your bathroom with steam and exfoliate your dry winter skin. If you want to take it to the next level, switch your shower water from hot to cold every few minutes to get the invigorating affect of a hot shower as well as a cold waterfall cascading from the sea cliff. You’ll feel rested, relaxed, and rejuvenated: a new way to look at RRR.


Cook Healthier, Eat Happier. When on vacation we certainly spoil ourselves with treats, but we also tend to eat healthier meals with fresher ingredients. Many eat fruits, vegetables, and meats local to the area. So, next time you head to your local grocer, take a break from eating heavy winter foods or what’s locally in-season, and buy those pineapples, mangos, avocados, star fruits, and gorgeous hunks of fresh fish! After your fresh and colorful meal, treat yourself to a fruity dessert treat. Take this freshness a step farther by steeping your cool water in refreshing fruits or veggies like cucumber, strawberries, and lemon.


Bye-Bye Malts, Hello Daiquiris! Speaking of fruity treats, spend some time getting to know those beloved daiquiris that we tend to enjoy solely on a sunny beach. And I’m not just talking about the daiquiri-slush concentrates you can get at the store. With all of those fresh fruits you’ve purchased, crack open a bottle of rum and enjoy Cuba’s famous drink straight from the blender. Fresh fruits like bananas, coconuts, pineapple, mango, and local berry varieties make for the perfect replacement for those many craft beers from the Pacific Northwest. We do love our beer, but beer isn’t half as cheerful as a mixed drink with a tiny pink umbrella hanging from the top.


Live Aloha. In the Hawaiian language, “aloha” means many things, such as love, affection, compassion, mercy, sympathy, pity, kindness, and grace. “Living aloha” is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self. When adopting the mentality of “living aloha,” we see a slight shift in lifestyle that also creates a shift in our outlook on life. We see the beauty in each person. We begin to see life through rainbow-colored glasses. The little joys in life are enough to feel like the biggest joys in life, and happiness, creativity, and energy levels go through the roof. This process helps remind us of all of the beauty in the world—and not just at the beach.
Sure, this is a fun exercise in transporting ourselves across the globe with a slight shift in consciousness, but this is also a reminder that life is so much more than good—it’s beautiful—and that, even in the dead of winter, life can be a tropical paradise.