It’s Saturday evening and curls of smoke drift from the small shed next to an Alutiiq home. It is banya night and a family has lit the woodstove in their bathhouse to heat rocks and water for washing. Inside, smooth, water-worn beach cobbles cover a stove fashioned from an oil drum and surrounded by tubs of freshwater. When the rocks are hot, family members take turns washing, splashing the rocks to create refreshing steam.
The heat of the banya is always a subject of conversation and personal preference. Some people like a steamy banya. Others prefer it dry. People who enjoy a lot of steam might choose to banya together, or to banya later in the evening when the steam bath has had a longer time to build heat. Splashing the rocks creates a more humid banya, but if you splash the rocks too much, they will eventually cool down. This is thought to be inconsiderate, as it can cause the banya to cool uncomfortably. The next bathers may not have enough heat.