TOAST Magazine

Outdoor Bathing | Louisa Thomsen Brits

RITUAL & REFLECTION

TOAST first met Lousia Thomsen Brits when she interviewed Jamie and Jessica for Kinfolk magazine. She is, amongst other things, a writer, beachcomber and wild swimmer and she owns an old metal bath, rather like the one in our Late Summer shoot. Here she recalls the pleasures of outdoor bathing...

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The pulse and pace of summer have given way to a period of quietude and ease. There’s time to slip beneath the surface of things and into an old metal bath that we carried to a cluster of oak and field maple that stand on the edge of the wood between our untended vegetable patch and the fields beyond the garden.

We pulled up handfuls of nettles and reddening dock, levelled ground uneven with leaf fall and disuse and felled a tree to invite the light. Then we raised our bath high enough to light a fire underneath it. The pleasure of outdoor bathing cost us nothing. The discarded bath was a gift. We found concrete rectangles and two hods of red bricks behind the garage, for the floor. Three crooked fence panels made a makeshift screen. We tied rope between two oaks to hang a pair of curtains and used candlesticks abandoned after a summer party.

The light has thickened and settled over the garden catching the tips of dried grass beyond the trees. From the village, a cockerel calls and the church bell chimes the half hour.

We come to this margin between domestic and wild to wash away daily life, to be unguarded, more directly in relation with the wider family of things. After years of not-quite-benign neglect, our woodland is creature-full and mysterious. But our temporary arrangement of salvaged, worn and rusting things feels welcome. The trees offer shelter. Low branches of the field maple reach outwards, leaves interlocking like a spilt puzzle. This intensely private place invites us to come unencumbered, to tread lightly, to let go.

The dog sighs and settles beside the bath and I lie submerged in warm water, watching smoke rise through the oaks that reach for a patch of sky above. My thoughts and body are loose, fluid, relaxed. There’s a soft chorus of rustling and whispering leaves, the smell of wood smoke and leaf rot, fresh fungus and late honeysuckle. I feel life swell and unfold around me. Naked and drowsy with pleasure and fatigue, I become part of the creaturely world.

At dusk, our cats appear, silent and curious. A bat flickers. Pale moths lift out of the grass. The spell of sensation intensifies. A tiny, fluorescent lime-green cricket lands on the water. I lift it to the rim and enjoy the intimacy of the small encounter. Noises become more particular - the clap clap of wings as a pigeon takes flight, a twig snaps, droplets from my elbow land in the bath, the fire hisses and crackles, a jay screeches.

The sky fades to grey blue. This circle of candlelight shrinks and diffuses in steam, until only the lowest branches are defined by the flames. Crickets whirr. A couple of stars appear. The cats have left to pursue their murderous night path. There are a few spots of rain, a distant train and half-hearted fireworks from the pub five fields away.

Feeling mildly stoned and washed clean, I blow out the candles. It was a magical, indelible dip that leaves me with a feeling of renewed participation. These are my autumn days, a time of acceptance and ageing, calm and celebratory.

Bathing outside feels like an ancient ritual, a naked prayer that begins with listening and speaking to things and invites us into connection with the essential presence of the world.

Words by Louisa Thomsen Brits

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