Heat and Flowers

Today, I walk early to beat the heat, but there is heat and there is heat. Even the shadows along the path are warm and clammy, jungle-like, a caul, and gnats swarm my shoulders and face and perch on my sunglasses. The air is still, the river is still.

Robins fill the oak trees like orange ornaments and greet the sunrise. Vultures and the island’s resident eagles perch and watch, awaiting a breeze upon which to launch. Cliff swallows attack a moving cloud of insects.

And then heat and flowers approach, pass, and a soft voice says, Good morning, and a lithe and barely dressed young woman smelling of lilacs jogs past and ahead of me, her heat burning my left arm, my brain, my eyes (which I must now pluck out, as I have sinned) following the cadence of her confident hips.

This is the season of egrets. They have hatched their young and no longer live in the bird nurseries high in the trees. But they are social, so they gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river, and the babies make a terrible noise as they prod their old ladies for regurgitated fish. Great egrets are plentiful, snowy egrets are endangered—just enough pairs left to count and number.

The road and paths are littered with walnuts and acorns. I kick the acorns along, setting new records with each strike as the orbs roll down the path. From now until November, the path turns crunchy underfoot.

And then heat and flowers reverse course, and the lithe and barely dressed young woman smelling of lilacs jogs past and behind me, her middle sweat-soaked, revealing her flower, her heat burning my left arm, my brain, my eyes (which I must now pluck out, as I have sinned), but I daren’t turn and watch, and I silently curse old age.

I think of Burt Lancaster playing the old man in Bertolucci’s masterful film, “1900.” The old man climbs a tree and refuses to come down until he gets a woman: “I want a woman!” His children and grandchildren implore him to come down, the men grinning because they understand, the women exasperated by the horn-dog old man. In Louis Malle’s “Atlantic City,” Lancaster plays an aging mobster who watches a casino waitress (Susan Sarandon) bathe her naked self in lemon juice (to kill the smell of fish), and his longing is palpable.

I stop for a bottle of water at Stevie’s house, at the bottom of Clifton Terrace. Stevie keeps a small refrigerator on her porch, and if you’re a member of the club you can help yourself to a water—even a beer. Stevie is 80, a cook for the Oblate Fathers retreat on the bluffs, and sings in a choir. We watch the hummingbirds work her feeder.

Back home, an hour of stretching is ahead. Scout the cat loves the stretching ritual. She views it as play; she runs between my legs, and rolls on her back and circles around me and pretend-attacks.

I play “Care of the Soul,” a compendium of music pieces which make wonderful meditation music: “Alma Redemptoris mater,” “Tu solus qui facis mirabilis,” Pickers’ “Old and New Rivers,” “Vespers: Ave Maria,” “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten,” “Salve Regina,” “Fratres,” “Nuper rosarum flores,” Barber’s “Adagio,” Gorecki’s “Symphony No. 3, Second Movement.”

If you’re excitable or afraid or tired or elated, listen to this album and listen to your heart slow, slow, slow down.

Or lie stretched, eyes shut, visions of heat and flowers flooding your brain, remember, cry: I want a woman… and wait.

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