For the Love of Sauna
My Dearest Sauna,
It has been nigh upon a year since I last felt your warm embrace, and now that the days have grown cold, I miss you ever so much. Each flake of snow that dances down from the heavens reminds me of the steamy nights we spent together. When I gaze longingly at a cloudless, starry sky, obscured only by the mist of my breath, I remember our last encounter and my desire for you quickens. I know not when I will be able to enter you again, but when that long-awaited evening comes, my love for you shall never be undone.
I remember the first time I encountered you, and though it was long ago, I feel as if it were only yesterday. Truth be told, I was nervous. We met in a mountain town. You were dark and moist – so hot that you took my breath away. I disrobed. But like the virgin I was, left my swim trunks on. I knew traditionally a towel is all that is needed, but my embarrassment, coupled with a sophomoric shyness, kept me from going all the way. Despite my modesty, I went inside. Immediately, I was struck by your perfume of wet cedar, as if a woodsman hewed a forest of trees in the rain. Amongst the darkness, I could barely discern a form, illuminated by the dim light of a fire burning inside a small wood stove. The form was another man. He played a saxophone. A wellspring of jealousy rose up in my throat at the thought of having to share you. The man showed me how to pour cold, fresh water upon the stove, and the steam and the heat created was so intense I could not breathe. I ran away, but only because I was young and afraid.
It was years before I saw your likeness again. Sometimes I ran into you at the gym, but crowds of people, men and women both, went in and out of you like a revolving door, and I couldn’t bring myself to join in. Another time, I was invited to see you in some guy’s back yard. The anticipation killed me to enter you again for even the briefest of moments. But when I arrived, you were in a state of disrepair. Your cedar walls were instead particle board and Styrofoam, and your door was a hole one had to crawl through, as though anyone seeking your rewards of pleasure must lower themselves in supplication. I could not bear to see you in such a condition, and so, regrettably, I excused myself.
But then, I finally found you the way I remembered. You were once again in the mountains, only instead of hiding in some dark corner of a lodge, or squatting lopsided in a muddy yard, you stood beautifully in the woods, mere steps away from a glorious backcountry yurt. I was exhausted after a day of ski touring, and didn’t even notice you there. My muscles were sore – shoulders tight from the weight of my pack, legs shot after miles and thousands of vertical feet, head swimming with thirst, hunger and delirium. And then I saw you…
At first, I pretended you weren’t there. Though I directed my attention to sweating cans of beer kept cold in the snow, sliced sausage on a table, and the camaraderie of friends, in the back of my mind all I could think of was you. I let my excitement churn inside me, but never betrayed myself to my friends as we prepared then ate dinner. But finally, when our plates were empty and the dishes were done, I could contain myself no longer. I announced to my companions that I was going outside to get the sauna started.
After so many years apart, I relished every step I took towards you. Once there, I didn’t mind having to shovel through layers of dense snow to reveal your door. I like it when you play hard-to-get. Inside, I looked under the bench and found kindling, matches, and old newspapers with which I lit a fire. Once roaring, I added logs to the flames until the stovepipe was nearly glowing. My friends arrived, each one of them as excited as I. It seems you have many admirers amongst the backcountry-ski tribe, and it’s no wonder why. After everyone found their place inside you, I filled buckets with fresh snow, set them beside the stove and closed the door. It was time.
Words cannot properly convey how you make me feel when snow and water sizzles atop the stove. The created steam fills my lungs and stings my eyes. Nearly unbearable heat penetrates each muscle fiber and pushes sweat from every pore. As I inhale that cedar-tinged aroma that all proper saunas should have, the state of relaxation that washes over me is indescribable. My mind wanders. It recounts the day spent backcountry skiing; breaking trail through a quiet forest, the sound of surface hoar playing music under my skis, evergreens sighing in the wind, and fast turns through knee-deep powder on the descent back to the yurt. After a full day of cold air that freezes the skin, and steep terrain that punishes the body, you, Sauna, are the reward at day’s end. Ever since that night, backcountry skiing at a yurt has never been the same without you there.
But that was long ago. Now, as I write this letter, I yearn with agony to see you again. The ski days are cold, and the nights are colder. When I return home from the mountains, all I have to warm myself is a bottle of cheap whiskey, and fading memories of you. I pray to Ullr, or whatever deity-on-skis who cares to listen, that this winter I may return to a yurt, hut, or backcountry lodge where you reside, so I may get lost in that fleeting, warm embrace once again. Until then, dearest Sauna, I can only dream.