(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel June 8, 2008)
After a busy day, the only thing better than a long, hot shower to wash away weariness is taking that shower in the open air.
I know because for the past 21 years I've rinsed away the day's grime beneath sunny -- or sometimes moonlit -- skies.
There's something special about showering outdoors. While indoor showers are predictable events -- one turn of the faucet and you know what you'll get -- outdoor showers are full of surprises. With so many variables -- weather, sounds, sights and smells -- each shower is an experience in and of itself.
Consider the air. One day it might be chilly, another day hot and humid. There might be a breeze, a strong wind or no breeze at all. The sun could be shining or the sky a mosaic of white, fluffy clouds. It could even be drizzling. Birds might be singing, butterflies flying or a hummingbird hovering overhead as the water pours down.
Then there are the fragrances. No matter what time of year, the air carries the sweet scent of flowers -- different aromas for each season. The only thing constant about an outdoor shower is the hum of insects -- an ever-present undertone harmonizing fluidly with the shower's percussive beat.
And consider the maintenance, or lack thereof. Outdoor showers are a cinch to clean. Without glass doors to accumulate soap scum, shower curtains to mildew or grouted tile floors to discolor, an outdoor shower is a housekeeping dream.
Occasional sweeping clears away leaves while larger debris can be sprayed off with a hose. No need for chemical cleansers or an arsenal of scrubbers. An outdoor shower practically cleans itself.
With so many pluses, you'd think showering outdoors would be all the rage. That's hardly the case. The very idea of stepping outdoors au naturel makes many people uncomfortable. Issues of privacy and modesty, feelings of vulnerability and concerns about safety surface at the mere suggestion of an outdoor bath.
By far, the most common worry is of being seen by others. Fortunately, that fear is easily overcome. Privacy is guaranteed with the simple construction of a three-sided trellis. A few pieces of lattice attached to pressure-treated wood or vinyl posts not only offers an inexpensive and effective screen, but it also is the perfect climbing spot for a sweet-smelling vine such as jasmine or honeysuckle.
My friend Michael, who lives in an older neighborhood in Delray Beach, has what I've always thought of as an ideal shower arrangement. The second bathroom in his two-bath house has an exterior door that leads directly into an enclosed outdoor shower. From inside, all an eager bather need do is open the door and step outside. Not only does a vine-covered lattice enclosure provide immediate privacy from nearby neighbors, it also offers an aromatically pleasing and pretty barrier between house and yard. Accouterments such as hooks for clothing or towels are plentiful, as are shelves on which to line bottles of shampoo, soap and conditioner. Our families don't have the opportunity to visit often, but when we do, I take advantage of his shower to soak in the South Florida sunshine as I'm washing my hair.
The shower at Michael's house is accessed through an exterior entrance, but homes without that option still can enjoy the beauty and pleasure of outdoor sudsing thanks to a wide range of products now on the market. There are canvas enclosures, portable cabanas and a wide range of "instant" shower units that connect effortlessly to an outside hose bibcock.
Long celebrated as a fashionable feature of upscale spas and resorts worldwide, the trend toward outdoor showering for the home has gained momentum during recent years. Although still more novelty than necessity, people are beginning to realize why open-air bathing is so popular in much of the world.
Trends and pop culture don't mean much to me, but if it takes commercialism to modify outdated cultural modes, I'm all for it. Outside showering in safe, secure places should be more accepted, because it's one of the most natural ways to be one with nature. Cleansed by the sun, cleansed by the water, cleansed by the breeze and the sweet-smelling air. Bottom line: It feels simply amazing to be naked outside.