Waders | Soap Lake, WA | 2013

The high mineral content of Soap Lake’s healing waters attracts devotees from around the world. In particular, Ukrainians have embraced bathing in the buoyant basin. I was once walking the lake’s beach, when a Ukrainian kid with a bucket ran up and said, “I’ll mud you for five dollars!” I must have looked puzzled, so he pointed down the beach to reclining bathers encased in thick black mud. Like clay mummies, with just eyes and mouths left bare. Other kids had filled their own buckets with Soap Lake mud and were plastering it onto two pot-bellied old guys in Speedos. Apparently, the mud’s concentration of alkaline salts soothes skin diseases (psoriasis and eczema) and strips away excess body oils. Younger bathers wade or swim to the lake’s center to mud themselves in what’s supposedly the most potent of the tarry goo.