Sometimes, all it takes is a one-word prompt to get us writing. Today’s Daily Post writing prompt: CLEAN.



CLEAN. Let’s get a few things straight first. Clean is contingent. Clean is dependent on place, time, exertion and environment. Let me explain.

The place contingency

Clean — and here I’m talking about us, about personal cleanliness — is contingent because what is considered clean depends on, first of all, the culture you inhabit. What is personal cleanliness differs, say, between people in inner Sydney and those in Takwa village in the Solomon Islands. In part, that’s because of environment.

One environment offers the possibility of a daily shower. The other offers the possibility of walking and bathing in a creek. Both produce clean people though the daily-showers might believe that not bathing every day, with soap, is not exactly cleanliness.

The time contingency

I going to discuss the time contingency in terms of something I am familiar with. That is bushwalking in the mountains. When you are out in the mountains or in any more or less remote bushland area your concept of being clean changes. There are no daily showers. There are no showers of any kind unless you can find a waterfall to stand under.

It works like this. In the mountains you stay clean by washing, often a little distance from and stream so as your runoff doesn’t pollute, and in cold water drawn from the stream. You could warm some water and go outside to a secluded place and wash, though I’ve never known any bushwalker to actually do that. The alternative is to take a dip in a mountain lake or creek and come out feeling refreshed. I’ve done that and, in Tasmania’s cool temperate mountains you sure do come out feeling refreshed if somewhat blue from cold. Taking a dip is a fine way to convince yourself that feeling refreshed is the same as being clean.

How long have you have been out in the mountains? Why? Because time out roughly correlates to the buildup of body odour. The longer you are out, especially if it is too cold to wash, the smellier you and your clothing becomes. The good news is all those people you meet and share mountain huts with of evenings all smell just as bad, so it might not even be noticed. Though, maybe it might be. Just recently I read someone’s story about a multi day walk through the mountains and she described how the first thing she would notice on entering a hut was the fine aroma of body odour.

It was decades ago that mountain walkers stared using polypropylene thermal clothing as a base layer worn against the skin. It was lighter, faster-drying (though I don’t recall anyone washing theirs’ on the trail) and it insulated as well as wool and better than cotton. It seemed a good product but we soon noticed that after a couple days it retained our body odour. No matter, the convenience of the fabric outweighed any consideration of personal cleanliness.

So, time on the trail equates to body odour and a shifted perspective of what constitutes cleanliness in the mountains. The solution is to sponge bath every few days.

The exertion contingency

On a walk into the Eastern Arthur Range in Tasmania’s South Wast wilderness, we were on our third day on the trail and had started to climb out of the undulating Cracroft Plains into the range. It was summer, the Cracroft is a long slog, usually a day’s walk. We had supplies for ten days. Our packs were heavy.

Heavy packs and warm days cause exertion. Exertion causes sweat. Sweat causes body odour. After setting up tents on a flattish shelf part way up the range that evening, the couple, he was an adventure sports instructor and she his petite but hardy partner, announced they were so smelly they were going to look for a creek to climb into. I don’t know if that was a hint that the rest of us should so the same, however we didn’t. We chose to remain the unclean.

Staying clean in the mountains is directly related to exertion. If you go mountain walking you are going to be going up and down steep tracks. Going down is no big deal, but climbing up with a full pack loaded for a multi-day hike is.

Take it easy during the cooler months and you sweat less. It’s different in summer, though, when the sweat of exertion drips off your body. You end the day feeling clammy and unclean and if you are not near a creek then there’s less likelihood you are going to wash other than your face and maybe your underarms if they are a bit smelly.

Such is cleanliness in the mountains, at best a relative concept as slippery as a muddy track.

The environment contingency

I’ve related the reality of being clean, or otherwise, to life on the mountain trail. That’s one environment. But people bushwalk in the lowlands and along the coasts too.

These other environments simplify the act of being clean, relatively. Why? Because lower altitudes and coasts offer either rivers or the sea to wash aways the day’s sweat and the body odour that accumulates. What’s better after a day’s walking along beaches and over headlands than a dip in the surf?

Unless, that is, you’re walking by a cold sea like the Southern Ocean that laps the southern coastline of Tasmania. There are some days, a great many of them, that are cold enough to deter any attempt at a late-afternoon swim. So different that those cold but welcoming waterholes in the mountains of the mainland’s subtropical east coast. There, after walking in the humidity of the rainforest you dive into a deliciously cold water and wash off the day’s sweat.

Don’t be misled here. Tasmania is a cool place, although it is subject to the occasional heat wave. You get less grottier here than you do on the mainland, with its hot days, and in theory at least you must therefore be cleaner.

Clean — easy to do in town, a relative concept in the mountains. But what does it really matter? You’re in the mountains for the sheer exuberance of that landscape. So, grotty, yes, but it’s all part of being there. Just accept it and walk on.


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