My first time skinny-dip comes among a swirl of firsts.
It happens in Atlin, my first time in that pretty town, in my first month living in the Yukon. It’s my first time taking my clothes off where strangers can see me, my first time standing tall and nude in the unshielding bright of day.
It’s also my first time introducing my flesh to Northern waters.
The woman I am with has done this before, has done a lot of things I haven’t. The stretch of beach out front of my camper is totally exposed to the road and all the music-festival goers walking along it, but she easily tosses her clothes aside and is in the water before I finish hesitantly removing my socks.
“It’s cold!” she yells, surfacing, “but good!”
I follow her into glacial-fed Atlin Lake, my feet turning to slippery, useless cubes by the time I am deep enough to do anything that might look like swimming. I dive forward, arms swinging around to enter the water before me, a graceful moment before the freezing water locks my body into a tight-jointed shock. I leap up, disoriented, my limbs not knowing what they are supposed to do to get me back to shore.
Afterwards, dripping dry in the sun, I feel something has been won. Surprisingly, it has less to do with the older couple walking past and smiling at my unashamed public nudity, and more to do with offering the unyielding Northern elements my own thin flesh.
My second time skinny-dip comes only a week later, at a different music festival. This time more comfortable with the idea, more aware of what to expect, I nonchalantly remove my clothes on the bank of the Yukon River, even warning a neighbouring river group of my forthcoming nakedness. Once again my dipping partner, more experienced than I, has entered the water ahead of me. I follow unruffled, expecting the cold, expecting to lose my senses.
And I do — the Yukon River, if any warmer than Atlin, is not by much. But again the frantic dash back to shore is no defeated retreat from battle. It’s a glorious, albeit awkward, homeward march; I’ve met the elements as they come, in the most basic way I come.
By the time I find myself skinny-dipping in the Hidden Lakes after a sweaty hike on a warm, 20°C day, I think I know what I’m in for. Like always I seem to be the last one to take my clothes off, the last one in the water, postponing the inevitable shock of the cold.
But this time my friends’ admonitions of “It’s not that bad” actually prove true. The water is not that bad. It’s still colder than anything I would have considered swimmable growing up in Ontario, but by Yukon standards, it’s almost warm.
Instead of turning me so numb I forget I even have a body, let alone a naked one, this lake tingles just on the edge of freezing, awakening every nerve ending, leaving me keenly aware of the water touching each part of me.
I paddle around on my back, heart open to the sky, pale skin meeting the sun, adding my wild body to the natural Yukon landscape.