The Moon of the Whispering Cottonwoods

September should be called the Moon of the Whispering Cottonwoods. Their murmured prayers ripple across the mesas and throughout the secret groves tucked into mountain folds. They rattle and tattle from the dark depths of canyons where the Ancient Ones sing the rituals of Immortals. Last September I heard the presage and I thought, “Damn, here it comes. The forest foreknowers are never wrong.”

I was in the hospital, busy dying, apparently the perfect host for some virulent and nearly triumphant single-cell. And although I was neither delirious from fever nor delusional from drugs, my situation made it easy to anchor myself in the second attention. There, the ideas of parallel worlds and overlapping multiverses are not theories. Nevertheless, this isn’t an epic about hospital drama, dire illness, or miraculous recovery. It is simply the setting and the circumstance where this story took place.

From sunrise to sunset I sat next to the window and gave myself to the world; across the way was another building. Between it and the wing in which I stayed appeared to be the vestige of an old road. Clearly, it was on a transformational journey to become an arroyo, one that a millennium from now might just become a canyon. Aquamarine desert foliage grew in wild colonies along the banks. The tips of a million stems were fringed in vivid yellow, and spikes of deep green, stiff grass pushed up through the majesty, competing for the glitter. Rain water ran the gauntlet through there, carrying treasure troves of detritus and depositing it along advantageous high places. I never did figure out where the water went or how it might have merged with another flow. In my thoughts I saw the ribbons of water dance across the land, making their way to the Rio Grande, sailing to the Gulf, and dumping their blessing there.

In a thousand years the buildings will have gone back to the Earth, perhaps leaving some trace of their existence poised on the rim of a confident, ever-deepening canyon. Creatures had long ago adapted to this work in progress. Rabbits nested. Snakes and lizards merged into the subtle, pristine awakening. At the base of a mature shrub, concealed in its shadow, I spotted a sipapu, the place of emergence for some unknown life form.  I studied the umbra and imagined it a moonshade, conscious and alive, filled with minions of opportunists.

Every morning I would linger in my canyon canticles for hours before my vision would drift to a spot some distance away. It was a clearing that I called the quarry, one of those worlds where cosmic law was both familiar and yet unknowable. The quarry was a portal that was unlocked the moment the morning sun turned the key. In the center of the clearing was what appeared to be an enormous pile of firewood.

Before long, two Kachinas would show up with their dogs, funny four-legged supernatural beings with captivating characters. One was a red dog with a vivid white tail that glistened in the sunlight, complimenting a luxury of long, silky hair that shimmered as she pranced. And she sported a pronounced, all-knowing smile on her face. The other one was a tiny thing that zipped around the quarry like a windup toy gone berserk.

Have you ever seen a Kachina? Not the human replicas that hold us in awe at local Pueblo dances, but the very things those humans are depicting. They are the spirits that haunt the lonely, wild places of the Colorado Plateau. I have seen them.

While the dogs danced their prayers the Kachinas leaned against the woodpile and watched them, smoking cigarettes, and talking quietly to each other. They wore old, faded blue jeans, Pueblo-style moccasins, and brain-tan shirts pieced together from rough cut buckskins. Each of them had string after string of chunky turquoise hanging on his chest. And around each of their necks were ruffs, one of flicker feathers, the other of bristling bear fur. But the marvel was their heads.  Both were the very inspirations for the masks carved from cottonwood trunks by humans who have, for countless thousands of years, devoted their lives to the beauty of the mystery.

Morning after morning the quarry opened. I would be with the Kachinas again, and together we would watch the inexplicable ritual being performed by the dogs. And while my battle with death drew on, it became apparent that I was the probable victor. The window into the quarry opened later and later in the day until finally it no longer opened at all. That wide open space transmuted to a gully filled with old growth juniper and pinon. It too had dreams of one day becoming a canyon. And while I was pleased that I would likely survive I found myself saddened by the fact that those glorious Kachinas had been replaced by Gucci shamans and weekend warriors. They ran along the edge of the ravine as though they could outrun their inevitable deaths, oblivious to that magnificent place of exquisite power.

Stripes of sparkling gold aspens turned as the wheel turned into fall. Bands and pockets of sunlight glistened on the mountain while dark, brooding shadows of clouds danced across its peaks. It was a vast, violet sky with deep gray bands and vivid white clouds rimmed with the glimmer of sunrise. Windows into that rainbow fluff opened and closed revealing patches of cobalt sky. I knew medicine men that could peer through those windows and know what was coming their way, prophesying things of great wonder. I had no desire to clandestinely walk the path of one of those Magic Makers. I was at divine peace knowing that they were there making prayers for us all.




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Responses to “The Moon of the Whispering Cottonwoods”

  1. I Loved this the first time I read it, and even more so now.
    Thank you

  2. I LOVE this Verda, Miigwetch

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