The Freep had a story on saunas today, about their popularity in Michigan’s chilliest regions, which arriving Finns found so much like home. My friend Mark lives in the U.P. I haven’t seen him in a while, but I will, sooner or later. His house had a sauna in an outbuilding, and oh what a time we had in there, once upon a time.
He built the whole thing himself, and when we first saw the plans, we thought it would look like a shoebox on its end. It didn’t. There was a sauna on the first floor and a little living/party space on the second, with decks all around. We spent a lot of time sitting around in towels, moving in and out of the heat, drinking beer, jumping in the lake.
What I liked about the sauna was how well-made it was, of rough red cedar. Mark hauled the rocks from the Lake Superior shoreline. The stove was wood-burning, and there was a 55-gallon drum of water that fed both a shower in the middle of the room and another over the rocks. The one over the rocks had a pull cord that ran on hooks all around the ceiling, like the bell cord on a bus — you could just reach up and give it a yank and fill the room with steam.
It was unbelievably hot. I’ve never seen a gym sauna that got nearly so hot. A digital readout in the party space showed the temperature. I would go in when it reached 160, but Mark held out for 180. At that temperature a shot of steam was practically dangerous, and sent me running from the room more than once. (In my towel!)
Anyway, over the years I came to see the sauna as key to long-term drinking, another reason they’re so popular in the U.P., a place where drinking is a pretty key activity. You could get drunk, take a sauna, take a plunge, take another sauna and come out feeling pretty ready for the rest of the night, or just the next portion of the night.
After a few years, Mark added a hot tub to the second-floor deck, and then the party reallly started. I recall watching the Perseid meteor shower in those crystaline U.P. skies one year — in a towel. (Mark shot a deer from the hot tub one year, totally naked. I thought he should pose for a Field and Stream photo with a blaze-orange hat over his privates.)
And then, a few years later, he rewired the hot-tub heater and apparently made a mistake. The thing burned to the ground a few days later. He never rebuilt it, but did put in a new deck, with just a hot tub.
I miss that sauna.
From the Free Press story linked above: “People think you can go to sauna and get a little frisky,” Kurtti says. “It’s way too hot for that.”
You got that right. All you do is bake.
Another story of note today, in the NYT, about Indian mounds in Newark, Ohio, east of Columbus. Most people who took Ohio history think of the 2,000-year-old Indian mounds in the area as burial grounds, but not the one in the story — it’s actually an observatory:
The mounds’ purpose remained a mystery until 1982, when professors from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., discovered that they aligned perfectly with part of the lunar cycle. Once every 18.6 years, the moon rises at the northernmost point in its orbit. Pregnant and huge, its light framed by rounded earth, the moon hovers within one-half of a degree of the octagon’s exact center. This makes the Newark Earthworks twice as precise as the lunar observatory at Stonehenge. (Stonehenge could fit inside the mounds’ aligning circle, one of the smaller geometric shapes at the Newark site.)
The story is over the fight over their use. For years now, they’ve been the site of…anyone? Anyone? Yes, a golf course!
“Playing golf on a Native American spiritual site is a fundamental desecration,” said Richard Shiels, a history professor at Ohio State University’s Newark campus who is leading the fight to expand public access.
Astonishingly — I mean, who’d have seen this coming? — the people who play golf on the course are yelling about their rights.
It so happens an occasional NN.C commenter is on the pro-mound side. He directs us to this site, which has lots of good information.