July 15

[Moon Shadow]

I have a treasure, a painted deer hide that depicts celestial events. Years ago my mother gave it to me and said that someday I would need it. The day has come. Star Stalker and Shadow Glass have arrived to work their cosmological magic with the other astronomers including the Sun and Cloud Societies, and the women of the Moon and Stars. There can be no doubt that unprecedented rituals require mythic genius to insure that our people are worthy of the blessing. I have made up my mind; I will be a part of that group even if it means doing nothing more than hauling wood and water day and night. I am hoping that giving my sky atlas to Star Stalker will open the way but I have to admit that I am giving with the wrong heart. I shouldn’t be seeking anything; at least that is what I am told. I don’t care. I’ll take a chance to have one. Come the next moon’s homecoming I will be more than a stand-by when the cosmos blesses another incredible ceremony.

Star Stalker is gruff. He cultivates a demeanor that keeps us lurking at a distance hoping he never notices us. I am scared this morning, approaching him with my gift. And even as I speak, I am stammering. Star Stalker is annoyed that I have interrupted his early morning reverie. He glowers at me and as he does I break out into a profuse sweat. The first light chill had permeated my clothing and had had me shivering only a moment ago. I know that it is highly possible that he will take the hide with nothing more than a grunt and send me on my way. Then he’ll hand off my treasure to some woman on which he has set a predatory eye. I am standing here living an eternity. He has accepted the hide and told me to go on. It makes my heart hurt. I turn and am twenty paces off when he says to be at the Moon and Stars camp after breakfast…and don’t be late…and don’t smile like a fool…and what was the matter with me, crying like a Crone with a newborn.

I am feverishly wiping away tears, desperate to find Gobetween. And now that I have I am weeping openly on her shoulder. She takes me aside and tells me a secret: Moondog calls Star Stalker Overly-Fond-of-Women. She also confides that Star Stalker always “wept like a Crone with a newborn” whenever Moondog stood to endure more scarification. She makes me feel good; she gives me an understanding why every Death Clan has its woman. Death Clans are made up of harsh and terrifying men, hard, self-sacrificing, brilliant and untouchable. Death Clan women dull the knives, bring peace where there is none, spark fires in glacial ice, and soothe the mania borne out of six months of isolated ritual and starvation, all winter, every winter, until each of us leaves for good.

I have made my way to the Moon and Stars camp thinking I would ease into it as someone available to poke fire. The fireman is a kind old man who has taken me under his wing, explaining in detail how this society manages its fire. The hearth is beautiful, each rock grouped in such a way as to reflect the cosmos. It startles me; the configurations look exactly like the atlas I gave to Star Stalker. My mother really had prophesied this moment. Old Man says that the fire is a fickle one that always demands attention. And as he shows me things he mentions that much of what will take place here will be beyond my comprehension. Just the same he would allow me to steal away to the arbor and watch.

The soothsayers, the truth keepers, have spread an enormous moose hide on the ground and have made a complex star chart of the summer sky with special stones that they keep hidden in pouches. Every night until the ritual begins and I guess throughout the stones marking the star stations will be moved to reflect the night’s accomplishments. Celestial events will be added as they arrive. The perimeter is governed by the Sun and Cloud men who will adjust their own tokens while both predicting and I suspect manipulating the weather. Old Man allows me stand here all afternoon and I watch the heavens overhead come to life on the surface of my Primordial Mother. There are constellations and comets I have never seen, moon rises and sets of which I have never been aware; even the tides find a place on this stupendous moving map. I am utterly spell-caught and know in an instant that this moon-shadowed heart of mine belongs to galactic glitter.

Star Stalker has ignored me throughout the day and has finally run me off with a hand sign that means get back to work. I have returned to the fire and Old Man smiles. I know where I stand, I know my place, Longbow was right. Hauling wood and water are nothing; soaring in the realm of magic makers is everything.

I see that Turns-to-Birds has come. That makes sense. He is thought to control coastal waters, and when the mood strikes him, he creates storms, rogue waves, and gales that sweep across the land. It is said that Turns-to-Birds lives in the ocean and when he comes to shore he sprouts arms from fins and legs from an enormous tail. The Crones say he has only slits for ears, well concealed under his abundant and excessively long hair.  Turns-to-Birds has brought his own entertainment, a strange, disjointed, dark little man who takes great glee in transforming himself into inanimate objects. I hope I get to meet them both if for no other reason than to learn how to protect myself from them. They and they alone control the tides so I readily understand why they are here and standing among the stargazers.

The sun is setting and a new wave of astronomers has replaced those who constructed the map. They are the ones who will move the markers at night as the stars move. I might never sleep again and am determined to last until dawn. Now I just have to sneak quietly under the arbor and watch. It appears as though each person leaves the arbor and watches the sky for a while before returning. Then they move the stones. There are prayers, chants, soft songs, and quiet talk that I do not understand but by dawn the map has changed radically. The stargazers leave and the soothsayers return to fine tune their prophecies and adjust their view of things to come. Reluctant to leave I make my way back to the Greihound camp. Star Stalker and Shadow Glass walk past me, ignore me. But I catch Star Stalker assert that if I make it back to the Moon and Stars camp by noon I am all his. I find Gobetween and tell her; we whisper together.

Gobetween rouses me, food in hand. I am rejoicing. It is not yet noon and I am wide awake. I run across the Great Circle stuffing my mouth and take my place next to Old Man at the hearth. The embers glisten like Creation and this is my birth by fire. I think about Longbow; I too am a Long Traveler.

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