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At summer’s end, an ode to the outdoor shower

Neil Swidey on a particular delight of New England’s all-too-short season.

Sophia Swidey

There are the obvious benefits, the way it cleanses us while keeping nature on the other side of the cottage slider, preventing the hardwood and linoleum from turning into a Saharan trail of sand.

But we have not come here today to praise the outdoor shower for practical reasons. Against the sunset of another fleeting summer, we’ve come to celebrate this underappreciated sanctuary for its power of transcendence.

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Inside the outdoor shower, cool breezes mix with warm water, all under an open sky. Unlike the climate control of our indoor lives, these breezes are beautifully unpredictable, sometimes pushing up from the ground to graze our shins, other times swooping down from the clouds to penetrate clumps of wet hair.

The sounds of the outside world hover in the air — kids shouting, Wiffle ball bats smacking, burgers sizzling. But a simple swinging door provides all the insulation we need, relieving us of any obligation to respond.

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A word about doors: They’re necessary. Those stripped-down variations of the outdoor shower that consist of nothing more than a nozzle attached to an exterior wall don’t belong in the same category. They’re faucets, appropriate for garden hoses. Nothing transcendent about garden hoses.

Admittedly, the door provides only so much cover — hardly enough to guarantee protection from the prying eyes of the local Mrs. Kravitz.

The truth is there’s something slightly exotic about the mild exhibitionism associated with washing off alfresco. Most of us would never feel comfortable being similarly exposed on a workday morning in our own neighborhood, just as we’d never walk around our backyard wearing nothing but a towel. But because the outdoor shower is an emblem of summer vacation, it functions as a warm-weather hall pass, suspending the usual rules of privacy and decorum.

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That explains our hesitation after rinsing off at the end of another August spin in the shower. The hand lingers before turning the lever, because we know what awaits us on the other side of that swinging door. Shorter, colder, heavier days wrapped in gloves and scarves and rock salt.

Maybe just a minute more inside our slippery sanctuary. Maybe just a moment more of summer.

Neil Swidey is a Globe Magazine staff writer. E-mail him at swidey@globe.com or follow him on Twitter @neilswidey.
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