I’m not much of a one for camping. I’ll sleep on the ground if I’m on a several-day hike, but I don’t see sleeping outdoors as an enjoyable activity in itself. Driving out to the woods and pitching a tent, sitting around a fire, doing nothing else, doesn’t seem fun to me. Frankly, I think it’s kind of stupid.
Luckily for me, the Wiccans I met didn’t think so.
December 23rd. I woke in the morning, curled against a pretty little witch. I lay quietly, my eyes half closed against the dim light filtering through the trees. I listened to my companion’s breathing, the stirring of the others, the unceasing, pleading whisper of the winter leaves against the heedless branches; these slight sounds lulled me gently into full wakefulness. An otherworldly hush filled my mind. I could feel it uncurling, lapping soothingly at the shoreline of my senses, but it could not obliterate the storm of avaricious lust churning in my gut. I rolled onto my back, exasperated with the constant dueling of my body and mind, tugging and shoving like children quarreling over a cheap tinsel gimcrack, a chintzy bauble of counterfeit contentment. The brief feeling of peace fled from me; I was suddenly restive, impatient to bid these happy people good-bye and return to the raw solitude of the road.
Within the hour, my spare tire and I were winding our way out of the mountains. By the time I got my tire replaced, half the day was gone, and I was still in Los Angeles. Frustrated and pointlessly furious with my car, I was more anxious than ever to be out and away. I wasn’t going home, even if I had to sleep in my car five miles outside the city. As soon as I left the gas station, I stepped on the gas and headed north on the 5 freeway. The hours I spent driving blurred past faster than the leaden hills around me. I was caught in a timeless loop of tail lights and wavering, winding lanes. It was dark by the time I decided to stop. Finding a coffee shop with internet access was a surprise, though I had no real idea of where I was. I grabbed a coffee and a seat, then quickly ran search for the notion that had occurred to me in the haze of traffic. The Steinbeck tour.
I had always wanted to wander through Monterey and Pacific Grove, seeing the land as John Steinbeck saw it. Luck was finally with me, I found a site that offered information and maps for a self-guided tour. I got the address of the coffee shop and discovered I wasn’t even that far away. Relaxing for once, now that I had a destination, I slouched down in my chair and idly surfed the various Steinbeck sites I’d come across. A quiet sound at my shoulder, of someone clearing their throat, startled me. I looked up into luminous gray eyes.
“Steinbeck? Are you looking for Cannery Row?” inquired a crackling, female voice. Staring into the woman’s eyes, I saw nothing more of her smile than crinkles around the edges of her stare. I was mesmerized, my vision filled only with the sight of silver-shot gray.
“No,” I said vaguely. “Not Cannery Row.” I felt dumb and tongue-tied. Part of me frantically kicked at the confusion wedged between my mental gears, cussing at them to get a move on. The other part of me happily submitted to the hypnotism of this woman’s glance.
“Can I sit? I’ll show you where you should go.”
Nodding, I gracefully kicked the opposite chair out for her to sit down. Now that we were face to face, I could finally focus on her face as a whole. Older by many years, not pretty, not plain. She wasn’t made up. Her eyes were the most beautiful part of her, and they outshone everything else. It was more than the shape and the color; there was a depth and mystery to them. A promise, I hoped fervently.
The cracked cadence of her conversation rose and fell around me; I answered dreamily, unable to contribute more or make my desire known. My desire–it was unknown even to me. What could I want with this woman? As lust-driven as I’d been, I knew it wasn’t simply sex. I wanted more, but had no idea of what more entailed. I wanted to drown in this woman, be comforted, frozen, stalled in the free-wheeling free-fall I’d spun myself into. I imagined myself spread below her as she drank me in, her mouth roving over the hollow of my throat, her raw voice whispering over my sweat-slicked breasts, silenced only as she took part of me in, wrapping her tongue around more than words. As she talked on, I saw her nude, the tone of her flesh flickering in the play of invisible lights. I nodded, I smiled, but I couldn’t do more.
Some unknown time later, she left, wishing me luck. I nodded, I smiled again, and watched Luck walk out the door.
I thought of her the next day as I drove and strolled on my tour. She was somehow part of the day, the memory of her eyes and voice overlaid on all the sights. I wondered what she represented, what my desire for her represented. I wondered if it was only mystery that I was searching for; closing my eyes, I let her go, determined to leave the cryptic need behind me. I closed off my thoughts of her, pinching away the ephemera of all but her eyes. Those, I’d take with me.