Ode to Harbin Hot Springs…

Whenever some natural disaster happens in California, my relatives back east who watch a lot of TV always call to see if I’m okay. “Did you feel that big earthquake today? It’s been all over the news.”  They’ll say, imagining that I’m answering the phone from a crack deep in the earth. The location of the disaster is never near me, so I usually have no idea what they’re talking about.  “Do you mean the earthquake that happened in Las Vegas? No, actually, I didn’t feel that one.”

The drought has spurred a lot of phone calls from my east coast news watching team. One of my relatives called in a panic and said, “Have bandits come to steal your water yet?” Apparently, newscasters have been depicting California not as a Prius-loving modern state in the 21st century, but as a wild west full of lawless criminals. I think my relative would have loved it if I said, “Yes! Bandits did come to steal my water, but not before I pulled a shotgun out of my covered wagon and shot their heads plum off!”

My news watching relatives have called about every single natural disaster since I moved to California twenty years ago EXCEPT for the one that was actually close to our house this week.

The valley fire.


Middleton is about an hour away from us and has been devastated by fire.  It happens to be home to a clothing optional hot springs that was very beloved around here. Conversations in town were peppered with sentences like “I’m going to Harbin today” “I just got back from Harbin” “There’s a retreat at Harbin this weekend”.

Sadly, it completely burned to the ground and I couldn’t help but reminisce about the one time I visited Harbin. I was pregnant with August at the time and my midwife suggested I go there to soak my bloated varicose-vein-elephant-woman-legs.

I took Buck and Emerson with me, who were five and three at the time. I brought our bathing suits because at seven months pregnant and tipping the scales at one hundred and eighty five pounds, I didn’t feel like nude was my best option. But as soon as we got there, I realized I had made a mistake bringing the kids. It’s like they felt it was their duty to point out every naked person they saw.

“Mommy, look at the woman with the long boobies!”

“Mommy, that man has a really big butt crack.”

“Mommy, that person is so big I can’t see their belly button.”

I was already completely tense when we got into one of the hot pools. Shortly after, a man got in and Emerson turned to him and said, “I’m going to call you Hairy!”


The “Hairy” hot pool

O-kay.  So we headed to the cafe hoping to escape the nudity, but it turned out at Harbin you could eat naked too. The tables were very close together and as Buck, Emerson and I nibbled on a hummus plate and tried to make small non-naked talk, I saw a completely nude man holding a tray and looking in my direction. His friends were at a table behind me, but the tables were so squished together I could see the man was trying to figure out how to get past me without shoving his dick in my face. He finally decided to inch past our table facing away from us, his butt slowly moving past the staring eyes of my children. I tried to signal Buck and Emerson to not say anything, but it was too late….

“Mommy, that’s man’s butt is almost touching our food!”

“Mommy, I’m not eating that. It has butt germs!”

Frankly, I had lost my appetite too. So we left Harbin, but in my mind I always thought I’d return one day, without kids, and enjoy some time in a beautiful natural hot springs in Northern California.

I’m very sorry that it’s gone.


  • Jenn says:

    I can’t even imagine bringing my kids to something like that! What do you do? Make sympathetic eye contact and a little shrug? LOL. I hope you got a little relief from pregnancy legs at least!

    A few months ago my phone blew up because of a very large earthquake in the Aleutians. I had to thank my concerned friends and family members for their concern but that it was more than 2,000 miles away. It would be like asking someone in New York if they felt an earthquake in Seattle! Or my friend that is terrified I’m about to be eaten by a bear and forwards every bear mauling article out there. Like there’s murderous, bloodthirsty bears in Alaska that attack people for NO REASON AT ALL and then obviously will travel hundreds of miles to kill me and my family in our sleep. I think people in smaller states have a really hard time grasping just how large the largest states are.

    • Holly Hester says:

      Maybe that’s what it is — people just have a weird perspective on just how large regions are. You see everything on a map and it looks so small! It must be small! I also think it has a lot to do with the media. They have to fill content 24 hours a day so things are just played over and over and over again. Someone gets bitten by a shark in the Hawaiian islands and my family is calling me in a panic. That’s not only thousands of miles away, but is it a unstoppable zombie shark from a movie? I bet you get all sorts of “be terrified of bears!” phone calls living in Alaska! They must be everywhere… hiding behind a stack of canned goods at the grocery store.

      • Jenn says:

        Bears and moose wander into stores that have automatic doors every few months or so. A friend got stuck at the movie theater the other night because of a black bear hanging out in the parking lot. I mean, they’re EVERYWHERE but my friend seems to think that instead of raising their babies or getting ready for winter they’re hiding behind trees to ambush any unsuspecting passerby. LOL

        My mother used to live part-time in Jamaica. She lived in an area that hardly gets any tourists so when I went to visit her we were novelties and fielded a lot of questions. A lot of Jamaicans have relatives that live in the U.S. specifically New York City and they would ask if I knew their cousin or so-and-so. It was so hard for them to imagine how vast the U.S. is when their home was a small island. I mean, even if I lived in NYC it would be quite the coincidence! :)

        • Holly Hester says:

          Wow. I love bears. I would love to see one in person.. you know, not to try and pet it or anything, but just to see it roaming around. That’s a funny story about Jamaica. It’s like me asking someone from England if they knew my friend in Germany. It is hard to imagine how vast everything is until you actually see it. I thought that about Central Park when I first saw it. I always imagined it as a small city park and I was like, Wait, it’s hundreds of acres?????

  • Becky says:

    I’m sorry, too. I must confess that I only hear about news as it pops up in my Facebook feed or on twitter via BBC World. I found that any more observation turned me into a nervous wreck and this is enough to keep me apprised of things like who is the president and are we invading anyone as well as quite up to date on Taylor Swift’s romantic life, so… At any rate, I can just imagine how devastating it is to see places you were attached to (if not quite beloved) burned.

    • Holly Hester says:

      I don’t watch the news either. We don’t have cable so all that stuff is happily out of our lives. I’ll read the Huffington post to see what’s going on but other than that I’m totally clueless. The only thing I miss is the celebrity stuff!

  • Kelly says:

    Thanks for the laughs today! I needed it! That’s exactly why I never took my son to Harbin. The stuff that comes out of his mouth sometimes!! Being from the east coast also (PA) I also can related to the relatives warped view of CA. So funny!

    • Holly Hester says:

      You’re welcome! I guess if your kids are around naked people at hot springs since they were babies, it would be totally fine and they wouldn’t say anything. But not my kids! It was very stressful! It’s funny how the east coast perceives California, isn’t it?

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