Posts Tagged With: adventure

Going back to Paradise, Elysium Fields: Topanga’s Clothing-Optional Club

 

Elysium today 2017

Gate to Elysium Fields site, 2017

“Five dollars please young man,” requested the mustachioed thirty-something man wearing only flip-flops and beads.  I handed over the money and proceeded to the men’s changing room.   Slowly I undressed for this first time in public nudity, anticipation rising I joined the crowd in the park-like grounds.  Even though it was 1971, still a bold act for a 21-year-old kid from the suburban conformity of the San Fernando Valley.  Just ten miles from my childhood home, I had landed at Los Angeles’ haven of the liberated human body and mind.

Given the zeitgeist of these times of building twenty-foot border walls, ethnic registries, and 24-hour surveillance, I wondered ‘could that memory have been real?’  Not just the practice, but the ideals. Audaciously the founder, a journalist and father-figure of American nudism, Ed Lange called his human potential naturist (or nude) club—Elysium Fields referencing the classic Greek mythology of the after-life playground.  In the Sixties such idealistic names were the norm.

I learned about Elysium in a purloined copy of Playboy magazine, but it took several months for me to find out its exact location.  Being young and fairly inexperienced, I was curious and excited about the expanding sexual/ social revolution and Elysium sounded like a perfect place to join it.  Being a hippie radical, I regularly visited the Free Press Bookstore (ground zero for the counter-culture in LA) on Fairfax Ave, and one day someone slipped me the directions to Topanga Canyon’s clothing-optional club.   The two canyons that mattered in Los Angeles back in the Sixties and early Seventies were Laurel and Topanga.  Over-looking Hollywood, the former was the vortex of the burgeoning hippie rock scene of LA, whereas the hard-core back to the land hippies landed in Topanga.  LA’s closest alternative to San Francisco’s Marin, Topanga hosted love-ins, festivals, and other hippie events back then (and still does to this day).  With lots of open space, it epitomized local favorite, Canned Heat’s hit song, ‘Goin’ Up the Country.’

 

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Classic 70s look of Elysium Fields, Topanga

 

In those revolutionary times, a few experimental communities, each with its own flavor, emerged in Topanga,.  The most notorious, Sandstone required a special invitation due to its partner-swapping parties.  Another was known for esoteric spiritual rites like yoga, incense, séances, chanting and so on.  And then there was— Elysium Fields.

After numerous successful lawsuits the LA County Supervisors gave final permit approval, and Elysium Fields flourished as a private membership-only club until the 1990s.  A good neighbor, the club was well-respected member of the Topanga community.  Unfortunately, after Ed Lange died in 1995 his two daughters sold the property for $2.5 million.  The executive director, Betty Meltzner and her husband poured their personal money into a new property in Malibu, but it soon floundered.

On a hot summer’s day, I enlisted my buddy, the Silver Tongue, (whose soft, understated voice was like a FM DJ) and raced  through the mountain curves in my Triumph sports car (top down), a potent mix of anxiety and fear kept my pedal on the floor.   Just north of the center where the Post Office, a head shop and the general store served local residents, a plain street sign announced Robinson Rd.  Twisting and turning uphill for a couple miles, we arrived at a solid, wooden 10 foot fence with a regular house gate and purchased our temporary memberships.  Forking over the high admission charge (in those days $5 would buy two record albums or a ticket to see the Animals at the Hollywood Bowl), we summoned as much cool as possible for a two horny, young guys from the Valley.

Once we got over the initial jitters, we had fun sipping wine, looking at the girls behind our sunglasses, and cooking in the hot tub.  I envied the regulars who had booked the private meditation room in advance.   I made a few contacts but didn’t get lucky that day.  In addition to the recreational activities, human potential workshops (a la Esalen) were offered on various days.   I planned to come back for enhancing my aura, thinking it may help me get girls, but I never did.  My consciousness was still wrapped up in my Berkeley college days and the political revolution, not personal enlightenment.

Although I embraced the counterculture ethos of skinny dipping at youth hang-outs like Tahquitz Falls in Palm Springs, Elysium was more than kids self-consciously jumping into the water.  Distributed around the lush lawn a couple dozen ‘grown-ups’ ranging in age from 25-50—all naked—‘frolicked.’  Not just lying around, but playing volleyball and shuffleboard or chatting and sipping wine, while several waited for a turn in the sauna/ hot tub.  All in all, a civil, calm adult scene.  We meandered on the look-out for young women to ogle among the mostly ‘mature’ women in the grounds.  Feeling quite exposed and nervous the whole time, it felt like a dream, a Maxfield Parish painting from the 1920s, all fuzzy and ethereal.  Mentally I took notes:   Life lesson #1 most bodies are average, more or less, without clothes.  Lesson #2 when nudity is the norm, it isn’t titillating, but actually relaxing, pretense is dropped along with clothes.

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Harbin’s Temple before the fire

Both lessons were regularly affirmed for me years later during my annual trips to Harbin Hot Springs, a clothing-optional neo-hippie resort north of San Francisco, until it burned to the ground in 2014.  On the other hand, non-participation invites the voyeurism seen at Black’s Beach near La Jolla in San Diego in the 70s.  When the word got out that people were disrobing at Black’s, the cliffs above soon became a magnet for all kinds of  with binoculars.  The scene was ruined.  That never happened to Elysium.  Maybe it was the admission fee and the secluded location, but it exemplified the highest hippie ideals; free love (not just physical), community, consciousness expansion, and fun.

Fast forward to 2016 and the emergence of my seniority in age, if not maturity, one of my interests now is pilgrimage to the old counter-cultural scenes.  What was the back story?  What was it about?  What did it contribute to my life and others?  What, if any, survives the decades?  We live in a continuous present with ever thickening layers of experience over experience, which often results in embellishment, denial, and puffery.  With that in mind and wondering if I could find any artifacts and spirit of the old Elysium Fields of Topanga, I drove up there recently.

The Robinson Rd sign still points to the highlands where bucolic spaces welcome dogs and beat-up old vehicles.  I passed fancy restored homes closer to the highway, and then higher up, California oaks thicken and the yards get bigger and some with old trucks and equipment rusting in the weeds.  My thoughts drifted back to that day decades ago and the spirit of possibility I felt.  This day I sensed or saw nothing evocative of that magical day in 1971, just a few Buddhist prayer flags and a phone pole with a flyer announcing a lost dog and guitar lessons.  Your classic Topanga life that could’ve been 1991, 1971, or 1951, still expressing eccentric individualism and California country living.  Although in my Porsche Cayman (still in a sports car), I drove slower this time taking it all in.   At the assigned address, a foreboding gate blocked the entrance.  My only option to get closer was farther  up Robinson Rd around the backside where I saw the familiar lush, green lawn, surrounded by a few out buildings.  And empty.  No people.  No dogs.  Like an empty movie set.  I tried to imagine that day with the hip, exploratory young and middle-aged adults of LA who came up here to explore consciousness and sexual freedom, but no ghosts appeared from the oaks and the luxury cars.

Today that site and most of Topanga look the  same, but the visit revealed the lessons of Elysium.  A significant element of those free-wheeling times in the Sixties/ Seventies, Elysium made a mark as a real-world example of progressive culture that transcended ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation.   For me, my vision of community, creativity, and expression was solidified in the rustling leaves of the oaks.  Now, I realized it is my turn to share the hope and the ideals that I tasted that day over forty years ago.  Even in these potentially dark days of moralistic, hypocritical family values national leaders, experiments in liberation and community continue and always have.  Deep in my heart and many others of my generation, the experiments of those days aren’t forgotten.     Its seeds continue to sprout in healthy, consciousness-expanding, uninhibited resorts and communities all over the world.   Elysium was a dream, but the dream didn’t die.

Categories: Community, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Afraid of Nothing on Victoria Falls’ Gorge ( adventure)

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Flying Swing at the Gorge at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

 

Looking over the 300 yard chasm in front of me, I sweated bullets. I was about scratch another one off my Bucket list, but  first I had to jump into the void at Victoria Falls.

After visiting Iguassu Falls in Brazil/ Argentina, in 1996, I committed myself to going to Victoria Falls. The power of the water called me, but this leap into nothingness was an add-on. I didn’t have to do it, but my basic operating principle is to walk my talk and take leaps into the abyss.

Vic Falls’ gorge qualified for a test. The Falls had been on my top five Bucket List for years, but I didn’t know that included the gorge. A courageous young man had awakened in my sixty-something soul, and now I had to jump or scurry away like a cowardly rat away from the light waiting at the bottom of the abyss.

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Most people don’t have a Bucket List. For decades I didn’t. I was one of those people afraid to dream and commit for fear of failing and the likely follow-up—self-abnegation. Mostly my list was a Someday List, if everything is aligned then maybe I’ll do it. But someday never comes.

A Bucket List is something to accomplish, a goal, and takes action. I’ve pondered what is going on with me when I don’t act on goals—procrastinating like we all do? It’s a whole field in clinical psychology. Prominent researcher in the field Tim Pychl’s summation on how to overcome it is simple—Just get started—NOW. Not someday.

But then many people never commit to or get started on their Someday /Bucket List? I think it often boils down to the “C” word—courage. Procrastination comes from failing to do the aversive tasks it takes to achieve goals. What is an aversive task? Something perceived as difficult, boring, risky, and / or expensive. And is it possible to adjust our attitude to be more open to new experiences and the attendant risks they bring? Can one override the reptilian brain that seeks to protect us from danger?

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Our Guides, Swiss & South African

 

I pondered that at the edge of the gorge.  I had made it, I saw Vic Falls, I heard the roar, I felt the ‘smoke that thunders’, but then there was an add-on. Egged on by my 25 year old guide from Switzerland, who said she would jump the gorge if she were allowed by the employer. After a couple drinks I one-upped my traveling companions who had chosen to take a riverboat ride, instead, I declared, “I dive into the abyss tomorrow”

The next day sparkled with mist rising from the falls and several rainbows. Arriving at the jumping spot, I handed over my camera to my guide and calmly waited my turn in the three part experience. First ride was a zip line across a narrow part of the 400 foot chasm. Easy and fun. Next, another zip line but this time with a fast drop of 80 mph. The coup de grace was the Flying Swing—A free-fall leap of four seconds followed by swinging back and forth across the chasm.

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After four seconds of free-fall

 


A group of  South Africans, burly men and sturdy women, all in their thirties, waited in front of me, giving me 20 minutes to rethink this—the Leap. I watched the line shrink as they one by one disappeared into the void.  Some hesitated, some dived in head first.  All cried out.

The mild weather suddenly turned warm and humid. Sweat dropped from my eyes, my hands got clammy. Before any thoughts of fear my body expressed it. I spent the next 18 minutes reminding myself that the jump was safe and secure. I vowed to ‘just do it’ when I got to the platform.

When the last one fell from sight, I knew my time had come. I walked to the edge and promptly stepped into the void. Instant bliss washed over me and a grin spread across my face. Big fun! Fear vanished. Adventure prevailed.

But courage is like the proverbial bath—once is not enough. It’s a practice. That leap led to reflection on how often lack of courage holds me back from adventures and fun:

  • Flirt with a potential date and promise to call and don’t?
  • Promise to go to a group or party and then flake?
  • Fudge on my true feelings with someone just to maintain their friendship?
  • Allow self-absorbed narcissists to dominate a conversation because I don’t want to upset them?
  • Ignore issues In a friendship because I don’t want to upset her?
  • Complain about some social ill and never do anything about it?
  • Dream and talk about moving to a tropical island and do nothing.

Sometimes there may be valid reasons to hold back. But what about principles? Do I stand for something or not? It is a line in the sand that moves constantly, depending on my mood and the circumstances? Sometimes discernment may mean not acting, but it could also be— Laziness? Cowardice? Lack of information?

On my Someday, now Bucket list are many places to see and experience. For many years I traveled solo and loved it. I also have taken tours and enjoyed that. But lately my taste for solo travel has waned and at the same time, I want the excitement of discovery that regimented and organized tours don’t offer. I have contemplated the options. What would be courageous, the tour or the solo trip? The Tarot offered me a clue on this: Do nothing and the answer shall arise— patience and trust. Not liking this answer, I then threw the I Ching and it said, ‘furtherance of the small’ or watchful waiting.  Not a time for rash action.

Psychologists have discovered that forced decisions are not the best. When I feel a compulsion to make something happen, I explore my creative self. Artists know it as the Muse, others call it god. Regardless, it is that aspect that can’t be seen or touched.

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bridge to Zambia

One form it takes is in the ‘ah ha’ moments in life. Coaxing it out of the unseen and unknown takes determination and patience for me. A coach, therapist, or minister may stimulate those moments, but it comes in its own time. Calm, discipline, and faith set the stage, but it still takes courage to say YES to the unknown—-that mysterious call to do something just because. Regardless of the results, when I do it feels good.

Sitting at the 18th St coffee house in Santa Monica, CA, surrounded by other ‘laptop’ workers, I reflected on the above adventure and looked at the excuses I tell myself to avoid taking action and risk failing. What’s at stake? A totally illusory sense of safety that my comfort zone will protect me from negative emotions? Bogus! My moods swing like The Flying Swing, up and down and sideways. The best I can do is to be real and face the fear, anxiety, and impatience and step into the unknown. As one teacher says, the result is not guaranteed, but you will grow. And for me, that is living my dream.

Categories: Discover / Adventure | Tags: , , , , , ,

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