May 4

[Darkling Light]

We slip into the Life Blood, She still running the frigid, high country thaw. The sun is warm; fire dances between us as we embrace to defy the cold. Spellbound, we contort our faces, lips, and tongues for a three-way, lingering kiss. The seal breaks and the embrace lightens even while we each drown in the dark pools of another’s eyes, fixed and still reflecting primal hunger filled with desire. We laugh out loud in a futile attempt to cleave the spell of famine. I want her, desperately, as does Moondog, and smile because we have her in every infinite moment, transcending gender and predisposition, transmuted to a divine triad of spirit. Gobetween, too tenderhearted to survive, comes home to the savage for comfort. We cling to her, an ethereal holdfast to one as fragile as a snowflake. How could they have never known; or did they and preyed upon her.


Darkling Light touches Moondog and me gently. It is still night, a few coals glow in our firepit and spring to life with a handful of twigs.

Birth Clan ambassadors arrived last night. At sunrise Death Clan elders will pass their guardianship to them. It is early; we dress quietly in our winter fancy clothes, to be tucked away later until the snow comes again. They served us well and have earned their well-needed rest.

It is a delicious hour as Darkling Light brushes out my hair so delicately it makes me the shiver. Braids are platted; Moondog’s wild tresses spring to life like tendrils of bindweed impossible to contain, untamable like his spirit. Plumes are tied in and touches of paint are dabbed on here and there. We are beautiful as we emerge into the blue tint of first light and jingle-jangle toward the ritual circle where the fire burns brightly like a beacon of perpetual hope. It too will be put to rest today, rekindled in the fall just as the Winter Wait returns.

All around me I can see minute green tongues and fiddleheads poking through from beneath their warm blanket of redolent decay. They are flocked in the shimmer of frost, it still holding its own in this high country haunt. I am sleepy yet fully charged with the mystery magic of this place and my station within it.

The nearer we get to the circle the apparitions encircling the fire begin to take form as if the ghosts of antiquity have materialized in our behalf. Everyone is dressed in his or her finery to the monumental that is about to unfold. There might be fifty of us.

Our elders are slowly making their way to the circle, many clinging tightly to young attendants’ arms. Their steps are measured, deliberate, so many are bent and limping. But they are beautiful with their snowy hair, dressed in old, treasured buckskins and cherished tokens, leaning heavily on ancient staffs carved with the secrets of long ago.

We move away from the fire so each of them can make his or her prayer with favored herbs and ancestral words. The sight overwhelms me and tears begin to escape. Darkling Light nudges me, “Be strong, Gobetween.”

So I shift my attention and notice that although exquisite to me our elders are dressed frugally. Moondog explains in whispers that it is a transition that I will readily see when the Birth Clan envoy arrives. And I do. They are spectacularly attired down to the last plume, like a visual affirmation of their renewed power. Death Clan elders, finally assembled, face the season’s delegation. Not surprisingly, Burnt Knife speaks and as he does begins to unwrap an old medicine bundle.

Unknown hands quickly guide me to the front of the gallery so I can see. There is six of what appears to be prayer sticks. From their patina I can’t imagine how old they could be but each has been otherwise dressed with new and wondrous things. More prayers are made; long, melodic prayers before the wands are handed off to the Birth Clans. The thing is done with the sunrise just as the village spreads its final feast and the Death Clan fire is put away.

It is less celebratory than poignantly quiet. Death Clans will break camp today and make their way back to their mothers’ clans. A few will remain in this village but most have arduous journeys ahead, some a hundred miles north to the coastal enclaves. The three of us and handful of others will stay long enough to help return the camp to its pristine summer sleep. There is no lack of tears as we embrace before group after group load up and embark on the river trail for home.


This morning we dress in work clothes. Darkling Light puts on the regalia of an Antelope buck and presents Gobetween with a similar outfit. They busy themselves braiding up their hair in traditional Antelope fashion. Makes me smile.

We have been invited to breakfast at my mother’s Oak compound. It is good to sit with her again. I wonder what she thinks of Gobetween’s attire. My mother’s relentless survey of me makes me smile too. Long gone are the days when that scrutiny irked me. It is simply her manner and she my elder. She is still strong and I think that with help she will make the Great Circle in the fall when the tribe will gather and welcome the moon home after Her long journey. As old as I am I am pleased that she can be present to support me. I was chosen to lead the eighth round of that ritual and like a child I want my mother to be there.

After much food, talk and protocol my mother draws my attention to a work detail of warrior-hopefuls waiting for me outside her lodge. They make up the cream of young, Oak Clan bucks standing ready to get to work.

We have been assigned the task of making the Death Clan camp ready for fall. Outside of the circle fire keepers have kindled a new blaze. The brush coverings of the lodges have to be given to that fire. The frames will be inspected, tightened up and oiled. Fire pits must be emptied of coals and ashes, replaced with smoldering branches of pine. The soil surrounding the pits will be swept and the lodges otherwise sealed off. Finally the camp must be straightened and the ground swept out the door of the circle. Then the gateway will be closed off for the summer. No one will disturb the peace of the spirits that reside there until the Winter Wait is upon us again.

One by one we strip the lodges of their damp, leafy branches and haul them out to the brush fire. It is a perfect opportunity for the Fire Society’s apprentices to learn how to handle the power for which they petitioned. Eventually they would master the steps of their exquisite dance but not today. The wet brush smolders. Thick billows travel along the ground and feel like fingers squeezing the breath out of us. I can hear their elders relentlessly reprimanding them with the secrets of do this, do that. Blinded by the tears sprung in response to the smoke we struggle with our job. But those hopefuls are more than buffeting the choking blaze, they are wrestling with immeasurable power; panic stricken and desperate to get an upper hand as elders bark out their orders.

Finally, the wind shifts. The smoke is carried aloft and away. The young fire keepers are faced with a long day having to manage the burn of pile after pile that has to be returned to the Earth. Even when they finish, possibly beyond nightfall, the old men’s lectures won’t cease for days. I feel sorry for these boys.

The Death Clan lodges are a good size and most have probably seen better days. As we examine every pole we find plenty that have to be untied, eased out of the structure and replaced. A few of my helpers go off to harvest the new poles as we work our way through the indagation of each lodge. Like the brush retired poles will be given to the fire as well. This job should only take a few days after which the Darkling Light, Gobetween, and I will head out.

[Darkling Light]

I can’t help but watch Gobetween standing there, every bit an Antelope buck replete with leggings and a loincloth. I know of no other woman who has dressed like that, not even in my honor. She is so intent on Moondog she fails to notice my scrutiny of her. For her the world drops away. And Moondog. No more exquisitely mad creature has ever walked the Earth. They two together are a blinding blessing for my hungry eyes. She is incredulous, in love, and he leaves me windless and wide-eyed on this crisp, clear day. I would abandon all holiness to sleep like a little mouse, warm and blissful, in the palm of his hand.


After several days the Death Clan camp is pristine once again. I stand outside of its perimeter spell-struck by its eerie beauty. Left unfrocked lodge frames rise from the Earth like the skeletal remains of a herd of great beasts. Swirling spirals have been swept around the lodges and the firepits before the power is led to the gate. I follow the undulating pattern with my eyes, sweeping around and about, feeling as though I will swoon in the motion. We are waiting for the elders to arrive and as they do prayers commence.

They speak eloquently with a depth of humility that hurts my heart. Extending their gratitude for the blessings of the Winter Wait they speak also of the hope for the abundance of summer and the return of the Mother of the Night. The cycles within cycles are likened to the ripples on a lake. The lake itself is the moon. And the moon is coming home to us once again.

The prayers have concluded and a team of strong boys carefully lifts and places a hefty log across the opening on the circle. The deed is done, the circle is sealed, and the spirits will rest. So will the Fire Society’s apprentices, knowing that throughout the days of hard work and harsh words of oversight, they did a good job.

The morning remains youthful and breakfast has been spread. The day will bring quiet talk and rest well earned. When dawn comes again Moondog, Darkling Light, and I will set our sights on the Great Circle.

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