“I watch them every summer, the hot hills crouched like a lion beside the road. I see the strength—tawny skin pulled taut across long, lean ribs. I would take my hand and trace round ripples of male muscle, feel the hot rise and cool dip of his body. . . .”
So begins a poem I wrote years ago as a young woman driving along the Central Coast of California on my way to class at Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo. I loved the commute along highway 101, especially that stretch between Pismo and Avila with the golden rolling hills studded with oak groves towering up beside me on one side, while on the other side lay the Pacific Ocean, cool and shimmering, far below.
My commute was a kind of communion with silent companions that lay still and passive while I moved past them, watching them fervently. I traveled with my hands stretched out, tracing the changing contours of the passing landscape with my fingers. I felt the silky coolness of the sea, the soft brush of the hot hills– physically, intimately, intensely. And I felt as if I was leaving part of myself behind as I streamed past them
It was an overwhelming feeling, permeated by a sense of longing and loss, because that sense of connection, of “oneness,” I felt so keenly, was so fleeting. A waft of perfume, a balmy breeze, that slowly dissipates and disappeared.
Knowing this, sometimes my watching was like a spurned lover or jealous mistress. Sometimes like a distant voyeur, or persistent suitor, watching and waiting, watching and waiting. Waiting for that moment, as my poem concludes, when the lion so still and silent beside me would “rise, stretch his sensuous body against the sky with one low moan” and “pursue me”.
Pursue and devour, was the unstated implication. “Swallow me whole” is the metaphor that comes to mind these days—consummation.
All that waiting paid off, it appears. My relationship with the natural world has matured over the years. How I remember so long ago watching the streaming stars passing overhead on those hot, balmy nights, and being filled with a deep sense of longing and loss. This too must pass, I thought, and it was almost unbearable. But no more.
Now when I say goodnight to the stars before going to bed–the nights hot and balmy or crystal clear and cold–there’s no sense of longing. When I turn away toward the house nothing is lost. It’s all a part of me now. A sustaining presence.
And the passing days and nights, that sense of fleetingness that the poets have mourned over the ages, is “a dark stream streaming through me,” as I write in another poem. It’s all one, the stream and the streaming. It always was.
For those curious, here’s the complete poem I quoted earlier as written so long ago.
Hot Hills in Summer Heat
I watch them every summer, the hot hills
Crouched like a lion beside the road.
I see the strength—tawny skin pulled taut
Across long, lean ribs.
I would take my hand and trace
Round ripples of male muscle, feel
The hot rise and cool dip of his body.
I see the arrogance—rocky head held
High against infinity, the patient power
Unmindful of the heat that holds me.
Someday he will rise, stretch his sensuous
Body against the sky with one, low moan.
On silent paws he will pursue me.
And so I wait.