By Jackson Berkley

When you're naked, peeing in public becomes a confounding affair.

The unambiguous, bow-legged stance of a man pissing behind a guardrail remains the nude man's primitive shield. But without the shelter of a zipper, turning back toward the civilized world lacks its customary sigh of relief. Your soggy, dripping member is impossible to conceal. Being truly discreet requires nothing short of invisibility.

At Rooster Rock —a state park boasting a slender finger of queer-friendly, clothing-optional shoreline along the Columbia River just east of Portland—there's really nowhere to hide. When you're always exposed, the social cues of the clothed world don't disappear. They become more pronounced, often in hilarious ways.

This year, with June heating up and the city's unrest-o-meter spiking, Portland's gay community could use a nude pool party. And with adventurous crowds spilling into town for this weekend's Pride Festival, no strip of sand will go unclaimed. Be warned, though. The rivers are high. After one of the wettest winters in recent memory, Rooster Rock's tantalizing beaches are now drowning beneath the Columbia.

What happens to a nude beach when it becomes a nude swamp? Things get a little more intimate.

On a bright Friday morning in late May, I rolled into Rooster Rock and ventured into the clothing-optional section, following the muddy, overgrown trail to its terminus, a breezy glade where several men were already letting their johnsons catch some rays.

The first couple penises are always a bit jarring. Then they all start to look the same. Harmless little slack tubes of skin, normal as anything.

A grizzled vet with broad shoulders and coils of platinum chest hair instructed curious newcomers on the effects of the water table—and what to expect if they ventured any further. Oblivious, an excited threesome bounced through the glade, proclaiming they were "almost to the river!" After five minutes of bush-whacking, they reached an impassable bog, and left.

"That was a nice…forest stroll," they muttered.

As the day ripened, bold nudes constantly stomped through the surrounding labyrinth of thin, thorny trails. There was an impressive air of vigilance and uprightness. A typical Rooster Rocker is a heel-toe walker, chin up, with a bulging abdomen sloping proudly down to sad, sunken genitals. There were few women in sight: Mature, pot-bellied men always seem to be the strong majority at nude recreational areas. Nudity tends to improve posture, but it's striking to see just how pitifully penises swing in the grand mechanics of stride.

(Sam Cusumano, Hannah Pare and Zaq Banton.)
(Sam Cusumano, Hannah Pare and Zaq Banton.)

Each nudist announces himself with little quirks. There was the Scout—a lithe, high-socked Filipino man who continually left his backpack and towel for long stretches of time to explore the brush.

And then there was the Colonel, who made many trips past my camp with a lawn chair strapped to his back, returning minutes later from the same direction with the same lawn chair strapped to his back.

He wore a cowboy hat. He was not the only guy wearing a cowboy hat.

The swampy bog had turned the glade into a serene plateau. Nobody was drinking loudly or blasting music. There was no naked Frisbee toss or naked croquet—not quite enough space. Nobody was making out or cuddling, although I did notice an old man rubbing sunscreen on another's pale butt cheeks.

Rooster Rock is usually a suitable cruising ground in high summer, pocked with grassy nooks and shaded enclosures. The current swamp is a much stingier, scratchier cruising ground, but that does not deter the ambitious.

As I emerged from one of my harrowing pee breaks, wincing from thorns stabbing my naked feet, a man in sunglasses and bright red boxer briefs stood in my path. He was grinning. "Find anything back there?" "Nah, not really." "Oh." "Yeah, none of these trails connect to the beach, they all just hit thorns."

I brushed past his shoulder. "Nice body, amigo."

I kept walking. He moved on. Back at camp, I began to entertain some surprisingly potent fantasies about what could have been. I actually had to sit cross-legged for a few minutes to hide my half-chub. It then occurred to me why Red Boxer-Briefs Man—who seemed so fond of nude culture—was still wearing underwear.

The tension between exhibitionism and voyeurism is inescapable and exhilarating, if a little bewildering. Earlier, I had completely avoided looking when a stunning figure walked by—my attention seemed egregious, inept. If we were in Laurelhurst Park, I could have pretended to take a sip of water, maybe made eyes with a cute dog and worked my way up. But there was no dog, and there was no coy way to slide out of my hammock dick-first. How much of this quasi-Victorian etiquette was an illusion? Most of the men around me must have known they were being silently scoped out.

A nude beach is an altered human landscape, an ecosystem of proud, casual sensuality, if not sexuality. Without the beach, Rooster Rock is even more intimate: The bond between bodies becomes intensified. In the clothed world, it is easy to conceal, distort, or even outright ignore the body's proportions and rhythms. But in this thin ribbon of clothing-optional swamp, there are only so many twigs to hide behind.

There are, however, plenty of mosquitos. Bring bug spray.