The tuxedo cat waits by the gate to welcome me. He saunters up in an unassuming way. I swear he nods his hello and then turns and leads the way to the office where I will check in. The heat of the day has dissipated. Mostly. It is still quite warm, but not unbearable. It has been nearly a decade since I was here last. Much remains the same. The friendly lady at the front desk runs through her spiel and notes the changes due to covid. We all have our own tubs and share the cold pool. The shared kitchen is closed; we have kitchenettes in our rooms. I try to give up my room and large tub to any couples traveling together who may want the multi-person sized tub – I don’t need such a big tub for just myself. She dissuades me of the idea. “I think the tub you have is the perfect solo retreat that you need.” She is more right then she could possibly know.
Tucked on the side of the closed sauna and a stone’s throw from the shared cold pool, my private tub is surrounded by bamboo and overlooks the wooded hillside. In contrast to the brown, dry hills that surround the area for dozens of miles, this dip between rolling hills is lush, the trees mossy even; the creek and natural springs create an oasis. I notice a nest high up in the bamboo. That tree’s leaves are yellow and I find myself wondering if the nest’s presence turned the tree or if the birds selected that tree over the others for that reason. Is bamboo even a tree? My thoughts drift as aimlessly as my body floats in the water.
When I am sufficiently warmed and relaxed, I step out of the tub and slip into the cold pool. I can’t help the sharp intake of breath as my body processes just how cold the water is. I float there too, then roll onto my stomach and swim the length of the pool before rolling onto my back again and return to my float. Having sufficiently cooled and relaxed, I step out of the pool and slip into my tub. I will do this routine on repeat until I feel my fingers prune – my only measure of the passing time and the sign that it is time to retreat to my room for a nap, only to return to the springs later for another go. This is the extent of my plans for the next three days.
It is early morning and the crunching sounds of the loose gravel path beneath my feet are met with the sounds of mother nature waking up in the early morning. I want to get a dip in before the bathhouse closes for its morning cleaning. As I lay there in the healing hot springs my mind drifts again. I let it wander. First to my breath, which takes me to gratitude for my restored physical health and then on to my restored mental health. I think about just how hard the last few years have been for me and just how much I have grown. I let the waters melt it all away. I exhale it all out knowing I don’t need to hold it anymore. I am at the start of something new. Just as quickly as my thoughts went there, they drift on – some thoughts of import, others of silliness. I let them pass in and out, feeling blessed that I have this time to just be.
Orr Hot Springs holds a special place in my heart. It is the first hot springs I ever went to. I came to a retreat here what feels like many lifetimes ago – sparking a love affair with the healing waters that I now seek out across the globe. Each country has its own unique customs and traditions of how to “take the waters” and my exploration of that is part of the fun.
This tree creates just enough shade for me to sit in the garden and be protected from the mid-day sun. I move with her shade as the sun advances across the sky. The garden is buzzing with life. The flowers in bloom create a rainbow of color and texture. I watch butterflies of every size and color glide through the air, gently landing on this flower or that. The slight breeze brings movement to the leaves of all sorts of shapes and sizes. A bird that is blue in color and has a bit of a mohawk lands first in the tree and then hops down close to where I sit. He is doing his own thing, as am I, and yet we keep catching each other’s eye for the briefest of moments. The rest of the world has melted away. It is just me in this garden with the hot springs awaiting my return.