Westerners love erotic landscapes

  • Photographer Jonathan Coe uses angles and lighting techniques to create landscape-like abstract images from the human body.

    Jonathan Coe/joncoetography.com

Note: This essay is part of a special HCN magazine issue devoted to travel in the West.

On this October morning in southern Idaho, the air is dry and frosty, and the shifting sand dunes reflected in the lake at Bruneau are soft and curvy –– feminine shapes. The woman I love becomes one with the view of the dunes beyond the tent flap, as she moves tenderly above me -- like the soft breeze blowing through the olive trees.

This is our honeymoon. Neither of us is young or new to marriage, but right now, in this setting, we feel ageless and enthusiastic, ripples in an ancient river current of lovers. We've been romancing in the open, blessed by big skies and birdsong, since we met and fell in love in eastern Washington eight months ago.

Together in the sexiest sense of the word, we've already traced the ancient Missoula Flood's lasting imprint on the spectacular Scablands of eastern Washington. Holding hands, we've wandered dreamily through antique cemeteries in towns like Southwick, Idaho. Picnics of huckleberry muffins and raspberry ginger ale sustained us as we followed the roads from the Palouse prairie down into the Snake River Canyon. During one fierce windstorm in northern Idaho, we foolishly slept unprotected on a ridge underneath swaying, creaking ponderosa pines at Mary Minerva McCroskey State Park. The next morning, happy to still be alive, we drove down into the lentil town of Farmington, Wash., grateful to drink coffee and eat our breakfast at the (what else?) Frying Pan Café, where more than eggs and bacon was sizzling.

As soon as the marriage ceremony was over, we packed up our ancient Honda and headed south down Idaho's infamous goat trail -- aka Highway 95 -- through a landscape that further fueled our passions: McCall and its forest-nested lake; Lowman Hot Springs; the aftermath of a lava climax in Craters of the Moon National Monument; and now, finally, to the curvaceous sands of Bruneau Dunes State Park.

All of our camping, hiking, and nosing round the Northwest's back roads, coupled with the passion and hunger of new love, left us uninhibited in a way that drew us closer to the landscape than ever before. Beside Idaho's Lochsa River, we steamed up another tent. I wrote about it later in a poem titled Loving Among Western Rivers, published in the Passionate Hearts anthology:

Pull the car off over here
in the tall rushes
of mock orange and wild rose.
Deep along these riverbanks of late spring
runoff there is one spot of blue sky,
one chance between storms to touch.

We're hungry for skin.
Set up the hot tent near the steep shore
so the water moves beneath us
as you move beneath me …

Open mouth tasting salt. Sweat and saliva.
Raising of hips, belly to belly, there's
no turning back, we want
each other and nothing
will stop us, loving,
along Western rivers.

Logging trucks rumbled by so close on Highway 12 that day, we could feel their vibrations. Or perhaps it was the other way around, and those drivers felt ours.

We're not the only ones engaging with the outdoors and each other like this. In the out-of-print, but still relevant and racy Field Guide to Outdoor Erotica (Solstice Press, 1988), whose contributors include Western writers Robert Wrigley, Joy Passanante and Michael Frome, editor Rob Moore explains "what constitutes erotica" in the outdoors. "Some stories moved open-eyed through a world of wonder ... that leads to sexual awakening (like) heat lightning on the horizon. With other stories you were drenched immediately, soaked to the skin, lightning striking all around you. ... After twenty pages of lust on the rocks, a poem or a quick humorous scene comes as a welcome relief."

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