By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
The fliers have been showing up all over town: brightly colored photocopies with sketch drawings of bodies intertwined, inviting folks to explore their inner natures through touch play, the sort of psychedelic suggestion and imagery that leave most children of the '60s feeling vaguely queasy. But I decided fear and childhood antipathy weren't reasons enough to pass up the opportunity for a good story. The X-Plicit Players-- a Berkeley-based performance group -- have hosted several successful "plays" over the last few months, and their naked bodies (excepting the backpacks and fanny packs, which draw more rather than less attention to their nudity) sufficiently answered the fundamental question posed by last year's "How Berkeley Can You Be?" Parade.
I arrive at New College bundled against the cold night air and feelings of impending doom. A half-dozen people, mostly middle-aged and already on familiar terms with the X-Plicit Players, sit in the lobby, reading the newspaper and chatting. After a few moments, a tall, woolly-haired man appears in the theater doorway naked and unabashed.
"In just a few minutes, we'll be inviting you to come inside," says the naked man, director Marty Kent, with a warm smile. A white-haired gent to my left tells me that this is an "X-Plicit greeting." Minutes later, co-founder Debbie Moore appears -- naked except for a headset and a battery pack strapped around her matronly waist -- and we follow her into the theater, where a soft mat covers the floor. We are asked to remove our shoes and "continue the walk that brought us here." Circling the mat, we wave our arms and wiggle our heads, trying to "make the space our own." To the right of the center of the mat lies a nude man with his limbs awkwardly strewn and his wheelchair sitting a few feet away. The sound of low, palpitating percussion emanates from a machine stationed next to an electric guitar. I'm worried. A videographer in dark goggles checks his frame. We circle, joined by a couple of other naked Players. I'm suddenly aware of body smells, redolent, mature, and inescapable. I look at the network of ropes hanging from the ceiling.
"This is a wilderness journey," says Moore in a soothing voice as she twirls around the mat. "But the wilderness we explore is our bodies, not the forest." We circle. "Can you feel the space between yourself and the person in front of you? Can you feel how much your knees are bending? Have you made a decision?"
Kent asks us to claim a piece of the mat. Half our number lie down, while the other half sit cross-legged, blinking unsurely. Kent asks us to move toward the center, until we are touching someone else, until we become "linked." I place my sweater-sheltered forearm in someone's palm and hide my face in my lap. "Can you feel the energy passing from person to person?" A low, growling moan flows across the floor. Things are not going well. Moore rises and winds through the bodies, blowing on a didgeridoo.
"In a little while we will bring out blindfolds," says Kent. "We'll be putting aside the habit of looking and learning through touch."
This is, according to Kent, a philosophy class of sorts, taught through feeling, rather than thinking, a place where the "typical urban sophisticate" is asked to abandon "habitual agendas" of body consciousness. Players are encouraged to touch each other with their heads, chests, and legs, rather than hands; to challenge routine associations with the body; and to set aside societal discomfort.
Kent rises and places the top of his head against the abdomen of a nearby man. Moore folds her naked body around another, draping her arms over his chest. That low, undirected moan moves across the floor again.
Remembering that discomfort and discomfit are action words, I gather my shoes.
"We are going to move away from the city into nature ..."
And step into the city.
"This is a very intense experience," explains Supervising Ranger Gary Strachanat the Año Nuevo State Reserve, located just 55 miles south of San Francisco. "Outside of Africa, it may be the most intense wildlife experience a person can have."
Stepping into the 4,000-acre reserve, I am greeted by the delicate trill of 100 or more Red-Winged Blackbirds that blanket the roof of the visitors' center. Sand dunes and pale mudstone stretch out to meet the hoary terrace of sky and sea, a ragged panorama that caught the eye of Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino in 1603. I follow a sandy path through layers of wild strawberries, lupine, lizardtail, and coyote bush; a small rabbit scurries through a deep-rooted willow thicket, and the smell of mock heather overwhelms the salt in the air. At the trailhead of Año Nuevo's 300-acre dune field -- one of the few remaining active dune fields on the California coast -- visitors poke at the small skull of a California Sea Lionand at the much more formidable brain box of a Northern Elephant Seal. A chalkboard reveals the current elephant seal population at Año Nuevo as 1,210 females, 374 males, and 438 pups.