Today’s lesson will cover the sociological and historic ramifications of a notorious nudist beach right here on the Island. How about a show of hands for everyone who’s modeled his or her birthday suit on in Chilmark?
Let’s start with the premise that all people love to be naked. (There may be some exceptions—Emily Post, the Ayatollah Khomeini (I’m just guessing on that one; no fatwah, please). But here’s how Dr. Nadler PhD (received by mail order) can prove that virtually all people enjoy the luxe sensation of la vie au naturel:
A few years back, a lady in her, oh, late sixties at the Chilmark Women’s Symposium told the story of a mini Outward Bound trip she’d taken a few years back. Several dozen women of all ages scattered to find a solitary nook in the mountains, alone for a day and a night. This particular lady, setting up camp on a secluded ledge, decided to remove her clothes. The sun on her skin—all of it—felt fantastic! Later she crawled naked into her sleeping bag, awoke in the morning, and fixed breakfast in the buff. Reluctantly, she put on her jeans, shirt, shoes and socks to return to base camp. Well, guess what? When all the campers debriefed each other, it turned out every one of them had stripped off her clothes and stayed stripped.
Everything feels better bare-skinned: walking around your house, hot-tubbing, eating ice cream (much easier to clean—i.e.., wipe with your finger and lick—if you plop some on your chest).
But loving to be naked all by your lonesome (or with a significant other) is an entirely different proposition than loving to be naked in a crowd of other nudie-cuties—or not-so-cuties.
And here’s a red alert: The terminology has changed. Nudists are now naturists and non-nudists are referred to as textiles.
Vineyarders who are textiles wonder why people go to Lucy Vincent Beach to be naturists. Who needs to engage in nudity with an equally bare-bummed swarm of strangers, your dog-walker, that famous lawyer dude and your post mistress? And, of course, naturists think textiles are uptight, insecure neurotics without a fun-loving bone in their amply covered bodies.
An earlier contingent at Lucy Vincent back in the 1960s called the site Jungle Beach, because they trespassed to get there by hacking through the underbrush with a machete. These beautiful, young, free-spirited hippies played volleyball and stick-ball, swam, sun-bathed, nursed their babies, and frolicked to the beat of a Rasta musician’s drums. It sounds jolly, unless you’ve always been a textile, even in your hippie days. Even on mescaline.
Naturists will assure you that no one is sexually aroused by a massed group of unclad bodies. They associate this kind of omni-nudity as sport: It’s about volleyball and freedom. Funnily enough, male nudists admit that the minute they leave the nudist camp or beach, they’re turned on by girls in clothes!
But back to our story. At a certain point the rumble in the Jungle was over. The town of Chilmark put up a parking lot (just like the Joni Mitchell song) and issued permits to property owners. Some of the original flower children still live in those environs, and they continue to frequent the naked part of the beach. But as the acid-tongued Island comedian Marty Nadler put it, “Sixty is not the new 20, especially if you’re nude.”
Sadly, much of the sand has washed away in recent years. What the Chilmark beacherinos have now, on any given summer day, is a tightly packed array of umbrellas, portable chairs to protect sensitive body parts from sand, wide-brimmed hats and, surprisingly, T-shirts worn with nothing else, cell phones, iPods and—steady on now—laptops! Almost everyone who plays volleyball these days is closed.
It sounds a little joyless, a little . . . inhibited.
But joyless or not, is this naturism what the lady for whom the beach is named intended?
Good heavens, no!
Her cousin from a younger generation, Jane Slater, believes the proper Victorian Lucy Vincent, librarian, bird-watcher and gardener, must be whirly-gigging in her grave, not only because her name appears on lists that include St. Tropez and Mar Bella, Barcelona as among the world’s glam nudie hot spots, but because she had no desire to bequeath her coastal acres to the town.
At her death in 1970, she willed the shore to her heirs (whom she’d forbidden to play there; the waves were dangerous). A consortium of rich men bought the property, leased it to the town and the rest is swimsuit-optional history.
So if you’re living on the Chilmark rez, come on down to the incredibly shrinking sands and rip off those textiles. Don’t forget sunblock, your leather-bound Kindle, and a latte-machine on a very long cord.
I kid those Chilmarkers!