Summer brings with it a certain set of rites and rituals — and everyone’s are personal and unique. For our summer-long ode to the season, T has invited writers to share their own. First up is Salvatore Scibona, who writes about the joys of lying nude on a hot day.
Twenty-five years ago, after a long and dismal winter of leaden skies, the sun came out.
I was at school in Maryland. Barefoot, I left the dorm. The heat was mild and glorious. My classmates, in various states of undress, lay splayed on stone benches, talking softly or napping in clumps like seals while the dirty snow melted around them. I sat on the sun-soaked concrete steps of the dorm, needless of any possessions, resenting no one and nothing except my clothes, which I badly wanted to take off.
This would become a theme, the desire to be naked in the sun. Maybe there once lived some hopeless person who never had the urge, but it feels as innate and universal as thirst. And once you’ve found your isolated spot or stretch of sanctioned beach and have stripped down, who can deny a sense of common cause not only with the rest of humankind but with the animals? When you sunbathe naked, you are subjecting yourself to the same condition and to the same star as every creature that ever crept or crawled into the daylight without recourse to underpants. The pleasure is both carnal and otherworldly. Nothing civilization has to offer can compete.
But why stop at animals? At dinner that day, one of my classmates looked gloomily at his cafeteria plate and said, “I’m so sick of food. Why can’t I stick my foot in a bucket of dirt and photosynthesize?”
We all agreed the sun that day had fed a sort of appetite, but the mechanism of nutrition eluded us. That year, I learned in a reading group that the molecular structures of hemoglobin and chlorophyll resemble each other almost exactly. In both molecules, more than a hundred atoms of hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and carbon are arranged in identical concentric rings that surround a single atom of metal. In hemoglobin, the atom is iron; in chlorophyll, the atom is magnesium. The molecule that makes our blood red and brings oxygen to our cells is nearly the same as the one that makes leaves green and allows them to create a plant’s food from carbon dioxide, water and light.
This proves nothing about the popularity of nude beaches or the heliotropism of my feelings. My classmate could not, in the end, eat the sunshine. But the question remains why prostrating oneself naked to a fusion reaction of unimaginable violence can produce a feeling of such perfect peace.
When the sun is blazing and privacy allows, I sometimes take it all off and let the sun have at me. Lying naked on a rock, in a break of trees, where no one can find you, and under the sun, consciousness is moved to work on intuitions otherwise buried in time. Your unexceptional body, your only creature — formed like everyone else’s in dependence on the particular spectrum of radiation emitted by this star — is living its only life.
Right now. Hiding nothing from the ongoing explosion that started it and sustains it. Sun, mind and body in agreement.
Salvatore Scibona is the author of two novels, “The Volunteer” (2019) and “The End” (2008). He is the director of the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.