Flirting With The Moon
Where is that place
called beginning when
the pier stretches so far
out onto that clear still lake
and the mist falls all around
touched by an early morning sun?
Is that the beginning
and in the end
dreaming and flirting with the moon –
with a cool breeze
Flirting With The Moon – Preface
Sometimes the past fades. There seems to be no future. The now creates no words. That is why my people set aside the story caves. Long ago, during quiet days, some would walk with the older ones from the village to the caves. They would sit with the symbols all around them and above them and within them. The older ones shared stories – much like the women shared recipes. A little less here. A little more there. Until, in time, each story began to remain constant. They became as journey stones to the traveler. Some were markers along the way.
My people believe that everything created has a story. Some of us know the stories better than others. We all know the stories about what brought us to Alta and the stories of those who branched out and far away. Each one carrying our story. Until, eventually, Alta became a memory of time and place.
Some of us know special stories. My name is Ciel. I know the stories behind the stars and the planets and all that’s held in the sky. Behind the clouds. Hiding from the sun. Flirting with the moon. I’d heard the stories many times so, when they were given me to pass on, I did so. And I wrote the old stories down. Everything went into an old binder kept on the coffee table. Some of us formed a sacred story circle.. We still meet, now and then. These are our stories.
Ana I – Headed For Ana
Her name was Ana. The last born of a Scandinavian family before they set out to sea and eventually settled Soto Valley. When the past became but a memory, she carried forth the stories. Around fire circles and supper tables. At the bedsides of babes drifting into sleep. She carried forth the last pure breath of our people. This is her story….
When I was 12, my parents began planning to leave Scandinavia. There were many parties before we departed but…leaving brought a great sadness to my mother. Some nights, after I’d gone to bed, I could hear my mother’s soft crying. No one spoke of it.
I was 14 when we reached the valley we would call Soto. It had been a journey of starts and stops. Greetings and farewells. It was during this journey that my mother first showed me her runes and taught me symbols and told me stories and became friend more than mother. We’d stargaze and whisper hopeful outcomes.
My father was superstitious, too. Just in different ways. Like what the morning and evening sun was saying. The color of the sky. The motion of the waves. The expression in someone’s body or face. “There is proof to this more than to your stars and stories,” he’d often say. And my mother would smile and my father would throw his arms up in dismay.
My parents, and those who traveled with them, were a strong people. A small village was quickly built. Wooden framed houses filled in with wattle and daub with thatched roofs. There seemed always the aroma of bread baking and the smell of land being tilled. Birds chirped and streams hurried to the river just beyond the forest. The evenings kept a chill and the fire, in the main rooms, crackled and glowed and faded into our dreams.
When I was 15, I met Conn. He was just a stranger passing through the valley. People say he was headed for Ana. I always liked the way that sounded and I think Conn did, too. I was 16 when we married. We had a baby girl we named Sorina. Our two boys, Sam and Jon, died in battles.
After the boys died, Conn would hold me and rock me to sleep some nights. He’d remind me of Sorina. He’d plan out our next day and offer thanks for the present day.
One day Conn chopped down an old poplar tree that’d been hit by lightening during a storm. I noticed a small branch and asked him to save it. The rest he prepared for firewood. Over time, I fashioned 25 rough round pieces from the saved branch. I worked each one carefully with a knife and rubbed them smooth with river sand. I worked a long time on the runes. Carving the symbols. Smoothing between each step and rubbing with a cloth wetted with polishing oils.
Ana II – A Shadowed Sun
It was early afternoon. I was walking. Sometimes the shadows chased until…Just beyond the shadows and almost in the sun I found him. Long ago. Injured and looking lost.
“Sir!” I knelt down beside him.
“I’m sure I’m fine,” the young man said abruptly. He had taken a fall from his horse, he said. “Just…if you will,” he pointed ahead of him. “My horse and I’ll be on my way.”
There were few words after that. I took stock of the injury to his hand and the torn and bloodied cloth of his right pant leg. “But sir,” I said as I brought his horse near. “Come to let my mother clean and wrap your leg and soak your hand.”
“Just my horse, please.” I watched him stand up and wobble on his feet. He put his hand against his horse to steady himself. “Thank you.”
“I’d surely take your thanks if you’d let your wounds be tended to. And that you’d take a rest to allow a better journey.”
After he agreed we walked down the road towards my village. The valley I lived in seemed particularly beautiful during this Fall – and in this early afternoon’s sun. Lush grasses and delicate ferns and the purple heather all around. Poplar and oak shades of greenness. The sun played shadow games between the valley’s foothills.
I thought him beautiful, too, and pleasantly abrupt. Have I said how blue were his eyes and how red his hair? Or mentioned the deep tones of his voice? Or how the combination of these and, when at last he did, the way his smile played upon his face so entrancingly?
My mother dressed his leg. She moistened healing herbs to place around his hand and wrapped these in place with a soft cloth. “And now what for you?” she asked.
“I will continue now.” As he stood, his balance was off and he held tightly to the table with one hand and placed the other against the back of his head. Then he sat down again.
“I will prepare a resting bed,” my mother replied.
“I don’t want to bother you.”
My mother clicked her tongue. “Of course you want to bother me. Why else would you fall from your horse so near to my home?” She walked away to prepare his sickbed.
We could have been Conn and Ana or anyone…
Sometimes people pass by a town or a chance or anything they don’t have their eyes set upon. But not Conn. His decision, to stay in the valley, was gradual. His healing took longer than expected.
“You’ve taken a bad fall to your head,” my mother told him the morning after he’d fallen and spent the night resting on pillows scented with lavender and was eating sweet cakes for breakfast.
“I should get on Miss…Lady…” Conn stumbled over what to call the woman I called mother.
“Emily,” my mother said. “Feel free to just call me Emily. And why should you get on so quickly.?”
“I don’t want to be a bother.”
I passed Conn the plate of sweet cakes and the jar of warm syrup and a smile. He smiled back. My mother stood up and walked to the hearth. My father cleared his throat.
“Have you something to rush off for that you would not stay a few more days for good healing?” my father asked.
I saw the grateful look Conn gave my father. “I have no way to pay you.”
“We can talk about that when you are well.” My father stood up. “There is plenty of work here that needs doing. Can you build fences?”
“Good then. I may be in need of a fence soon and some land to be cleared.”
“There’s always something needs doing around here,” my father said. “But the fence and clearing the land would make a good payment – once you’re healed, of course.”
Conn stood up and held out his hand. He and my father clasped hands. “Thank you, sir.”
My father grinned. “Just call me Sam.”
“Thank you, Sam.”
It took several weeks for Conn to regain his strength and his balance. He didn’t take well to being taken care of. He especially didn’t like to hear my mother say he had no choice. “You shall do as I say, Mr. Skelly, until you are again well. I don’t see what other choice you have. For another day or two you will rest.”
“But,” he began.
“Ana can show you the Runes and the cards and share the picture stories. You can help us wrap the smudging sticks. Plenty of work to do inside the house as well.”
In the late afternoons, Conn and I would sit on a fallen tree stump out in the back yard. My mother would be there, too, picking herbs and checking her gardens. Everything surrounding us was green and fresh and pure. The sky was so blue and the clouds so white and his laughter so contagious. He’d run his fingers over the rune symbols and gaze upon the tarot card pictures. The scent of my mother’s freshly picked herbs seemed quite strong. The lavender and mint especially. Mixed with the sage.
Years later, he would tell people that a spell had been cast upon him and that he couldn’t have left even if he’d wanted to. It would make me smile to hear him describe falling in love that way.
On the day we married…
Ana IV – That Kiss
The time Conn spent healing wasn’t lost time. It was needed time and found time. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry to leave and my father, hoping for another man to help with the farm, used Conn’s healing days for slow walks together. My mother, too, seemed more cheerful than ever she had since we first set sail for Soto Valley. She and I would sit out in the front yard watching Conn and my father walking the road down to Wide Creek. I could see my father waving and pointing just beyond where they stood, and I could sense Conn’s deep respect for what had been planned and built and made into fields and homes and barns.
All of this I saw through moments of greens and browns and fields of wild blue-eyed grasses and purple Butterwort that ended, most always, with Conn’s now often smiling face and the gentle way he’d touch my father’s shoulder as they spoke.
Suppers were spent discussing the next planting season. Listening to my mother. Up and down. Looking in her storage bins of beans and grains. Not listening to me wanting beets except to wonder why and me saying I needed red coloring for my card painting. I was seldom taken seriously during planting discussions and was always promised, by my mother, that she would help me make the paints I needed right from our small house garden. And the wild Hawthorne and blueberries. It was important that I had my plant pastes for the picture cards I was learning from a recent islander to settle in the valley. The ways she described nature and life and outcomes…I so wanted to paint those sorts of cards.
One late afternoon Conn sat beside me outside…
I was drawing under a poplar tree. It’s green leaves were made almost transparent by the setting sun and the world seemed bathed in the finest of reds and golds. I did not hear him approach.
“Quite lovely,” Conn said quietly.
My papers were spread all out on the table. Drawings of unknown rhyme or reason. Rough suns and butterflies and fire circles. Silver moons and golden stars. Fields of grain. Circles uniting.
I leaned back against my chair. Adding to the blush I felt, some sort of sweet rosy glow was framing his face.
“Which one?” I asked?
He pointed to the egret I was working on just then. “They are beautiful resting in the trees around here,” you said.
“Yes!” I shook my head in agreement. “Sleeping on some bare tree. Making snow branches against a red sky.”
“But they are so small.” You held a drawing up to examine.
“Yes. Cards. Tarot cards. Story book pages.” I pointed out the card showing the rock being overtaken by the swift current of a creek.
“And what does one do with these?” There was a slight tone of exasperation in his voice. That same tone my father used with mother when discussing the stars and the sun and the ways the moon spoke.
“Why…” I shook my head side to side. “One thinks upon them and wonders and lays them down to create a story.”
And then…I’m not sure…We both looked up from the cards. Our faces so close together and intense. I moved my head side to side again just to see you so close and to feel your breath so warm against my face. I’m not sure. I may have, during some moment I could not possibly ever have imagined, leaned over and kissed him.
“And then, she put again upon me a spell. And I kissed her and was bound to her even more and forever.” Years later, that’s how you told it.
Ana V – Echoes of Sadness
Sometimes, even during the most joyful moments, there echoes sadness. I wasn’t able to see into this truth until after our two sons had died and we were burying my mother.
Early one morning Conn answered the door to find my father in a state of shock and grief. My mother had passed in her sleep. Our little girl, Sorina, was not yet 13. The four of us gathered into a circle and embraced. We knelt and prayed and cried. Just a month before, Conn and I had buried our sons too early in their lives.
I stayed with my father while Conn went out to gather and tell neighbors. Sorina sat quietly and to herself near the hearth. My father noticed this and walked close to her and knelt on one knee.
“What’s this?” he asked. Always the observant and strong one. He took his handkerchief and wiped her tears.
“Everyone is dying,” Sorina replied softly.
“I know. I know.” He brought her to his knee and then sat with her on the floor and motioned to me. We all sat near the warmth of the hearth. His lips brushed against both our foreheads. “But!” he pointed to himself and to me and even to Sorina. Then he raised his arms and made circling waving and lively motions directed to the windows. “Not everyone. Only those who have fulfilled their purpose here,” he touched the floor. I saw the wetness in his eyes.
The village women arrived. We went to my mother’s body and washed it and rubbed it with nut oils scented with rose and sage and mint. These were my mother’s favorite scents. We wrapped her body in soft woven gauze. We prayed. We shared stories of having known her and loved her. We laughed. Sometimes we cried. This was our first story circle.
Late, that evening, after my father was finally sleeping, Conn took Sorina and me to where my mother’s body lay. We kissed her heart area and closed her coffin. Conn noticed Sorina’s wet teary cheeks. He bent low to her.
“That is the way of life,” he said softly.
“That she has gone to the ever after?” Sorina asked.
“That she is gone.” Conn answered.
“Like Jon and Sam?”
Later that evening, certain that my father and Sorina were sleeping, I lay with Conn. It was winter. He had added new logs to the fire. “I have never known a stronger woman,” he said. “She was a bright light upon our lives.” He kissed the lids of my eyes and each of my cheeks and then he put his lips to mine for barely a moment.
The next afternoon, just as the sun was setting and the sky was blue and purple – and just after a storm had passed – we buried my mother. I sat near her grave for a very long time. She, too, had lost sons to battles but had never spoken of it to me.
Sirona’s Story I
When our caravan reached the foothills, we went further until we reached the higher mountains. One side of one mountain had several caverns. Looking out, we could see a valley and just beyond, a river. The forest was so green. Even the mist was green. We called the area Alta. My people called it home for many years. Many generations grew strong there. Healed there. Married there and raised children.
My name is Sirona, like the spring in the valley that bears my name. This is my story. A new beginning flavored with old hopes, and dreams. Woven on the loom of memory with threads of letting go and reaching forward and not knowing.
When some of us set out from Soto, the old valley, we were about 100 people following our men to a safer place. Wooden donkey carts carried our provisions. Our children played along the side of the path. We had set out at harvest time. Our provisions were plentiful. Our hopes were high. This was not a new experience. We lived in times of battles and the laying of claims to pieces of earth. Peace would last many years and then it would slowly unravel. Although necessary, not all people were meant to be warriors. Journeys – moving away from battle – happened frequently.
During our first night, at Alta, the older ones claimed to hear echoing chanting and, some said, dreams were – that night – not fretful. We slept under a canopy of tree branches and delicate green leaves. There was a light breeze and the mist moved back and forth between the valley and the foothills. Night sounds surrounded us. Leaves moving. Night birds’ songs. Crickets. When we woke, the men started an outdoor cooking fire near one of the caves. The women gathered provisions for the morning meal. The young men hunted. The older men sat round the table in deep talking. Over the morning meal, the older men pointed out the good and the positive of our location. They pointed out the caves that could be used during battles and, as well, to shelter us while our new village was raised. The river. The forests for hunting. We spent several hours in conversation. Our men and women and young did, eventually decide to lay claim to this we had stumbled upon.
It took us several days to clear the caverns and level the ground inside them. We planned the living spaces and the cooking spaces. The storage spaces were filled with our provisions. Healing herbs were hung in the medicine rooms. Indoor and outdoor fire circles were built. The young men went hunting. Women smudged the caverns with sage and chanted. There was a celebration. There was joy. Later, during the celebration, we entered the cavern set aside as the sacred space. Echoing flutes and bells. Tambourines. Dancing. Colorful flowing silk banners and gowns. And then there was silence. The oldest one stepped up to the cavern wall. He painted a sliver of a circle on the wall. Almost as an afterthought, he added a straight line.
“We are reaching for light that will be less harsh,” he began. “Let’s not make it difficult.” There was that smile about him. That way of saying we would do better.
The oldest one was named Conn. He was my father. Like many others, he had tired of the battles and the limitations and sudden disruptions they created. Like his father, a good many people in Soto looked to him for guidance. Sought his opinion. Followed his advice.
So it was only natural that he one day planned a supper to which many of us were invited. And it was that evening that some of us decided to make another journey. It was decided that we’d leave Soto two weeks after harvest.
Conn played a big part in planning and organizing our departure. He formed a group of seven older ones and it is to Conn and these seven men that my people owe our future. We did not leave Soto and travel a few days or a week. We traveled for many weeks.
“We are reaching for light that will be less harsh,” Conn began again. He opened his arms wide and motioned us all to come closer together. “We are thankful for our safety and for those we love and for the friendship and love surrounding us.”
“Amen,” someone said.
Later that evening I lay with my husband, Finn, and listened to his breathing. I watched his chest rise and fall. His hair was still blonde then. Blonde and wavy. Our little daughter, Irene, slept next to me. She had her father’s blue eyes and my dark hair. It was a moment that lingered for a very long time.
Irene’s Story and a Poem
Approaching Alta (Irene’s Story- The Initial Poem)
When first I sensed him,
resting at the far edge of my forest,
everything about him
far beneath the trembling pause
Without sight or sound
yet ever so familiar
he called me
as the woodsy winds floated
through delicate fronds of fern;
that i might gaze upon him
and he upon me
and that we shall gaze so
The Story Tellers – Irene’s Story
It took a year or more for Alta Valley to begin to resemble a village. Our men worked building homes. Our homes were wooden framed filled in with wattle and daub. The walls were whitewashed for water proofing. Two families of our early settlers were skilled in the craft of thatch making. They crafted the roofing for the early village. Farmland had to be readied for planting for the next harvest. Roads planned. The village square and the church. A schoolhouse was built. Two families built small ferry boats and, as the years passed, they busied themselves ferrying travelers from Alta across the river.
My father was Finn, the leather worker. A man of few words. An honest and faithful man. My mother was Sirona. People came to her for healing herbs. They came to talk and to dream. To be heard and to listen the stories. Stories in the picture cards and in the stars.
My name is Irene. I was 16 when we left Soto and arrived in Alta Valley. Once the school was built, I helped the teacher with the art class twice a week. I helped my mother cut and dry herbs and bake and cook and set out the seeds in our farm plot. I helped my father with our livestock and fowl.
During quiet times, my mother would tell me stories. Or we would discuss my lack of marriage prospects – even in Soto – and convents. Many afternoons she read my fortune. The same old fortune. One of bliss.
As a daughter, I respected my mother’s healing gifts and her way with words. I saw people become well and whole and joyful under my mother’s care. I knew her deep caring and concern. But there was much I didn’t understand until much later.
It was especially upsetting to me when she’d lay out the cards and ask me what I thought each card was saying to me. Afterwords she sometimes said, “No reason to get so huffy with me, Irene. You told the story yourself. You know what the cards mean.”
“Mamaí, I am not being huffy. Perhaps you have gotten me in an unpleasant moment.” On one of these afternoons, I reached out for her hand and brought it to my cheek. “I just wish, for once, we could read the cards my way.”
“Lay them all down at once?”
“Yes. Just once so I could see it fully beginning to end.”
She moved her hand away from my cheek. She poured herself more tea, took her cup, and walked to the front window. For a long moment she stared out the window and remained silent. “That would be nice.”
“It would be, Mamaí! Let’s try it that way now. It is early still.” I was gathering the cards back into a deck and chatting idly.
“I’ll go check on the herbs we have drying.” She was still standing near the window. “You will lay the cards yourself?”
Árón’s Story – The Runes (son of Sirona and Finn)
When Conn was very old, I sat with him in the story cave up on Alta Mountain. I was thirteen. Conn was my mother’s uncle. The oldest of our people from the valley Soto. His hair was as white as soft clouds in the sky and his eyes so blue one was often lost to them. My name is Árón. Son of Sirona and Finn and younger brother to Irene. Conn was my hero.
That night was cool and damp. From the cave’s opening I could see a bright moon. Golden flames glowed in the outside fire circle. Tree shadows and transparent leaves. Purple heather crept almost to the caves. Soft green windswept ferns.
“I would like to say that those of us, in Soto, were peaceful.” There was that bit of mischief in his expression. “At least we prided ourselves in that belief. Tired. Like a still small child needing a nap. Restless. So often restless. On edge in a moment. And tiring the battles became. Attacks and retreats. The taking of our hard worked harvests and our fattened livestock. Often there would be deaths or injuries that neared death. We were not – we are not – a people seeking to battle. That doesn’t always matter.” Here, Conn’s voice faded away as though dreaming.
“She was beautiful – your Aunt. All of her was beautiful. Her face and her spirit. She could spin a story like a weaver spins yarn…”
Her name was Ana. While running home, at the start of a battle, she fell. Her head hit against a boulder and she died. I was but a dream yet to be born.
“And that is the way of life,” Uncle said
He gave me a small cloth bag. The cloth was black and embroidered, in reds and yellows, with triangles and circles and squares. It was closed with a thin silver cord. Inside were runes carved on polished pieces of poplar wood.
“She made these,” Conn said as he gave me the bag. “There wasn’t a day went by that she didn’t touch them.” I was young and very disappointed that night. I had wanted a battle story. The runes eventually passed to my niece.
Story Echoes – Yvonne’s Story
My people learned quite a bit during our many years in Alta Valley. From each other, from the many others who joined our community, and from those passing through – to and from distant regions. We learned new trades and fashions and what was going on in the world surrounding Alta. We learned new stories and were able to weave together a community.
My name is Yvonne. I am descended from Sirona and her daughter Irene and all the many daughters who came after. Our stories are those of the stars. The mysteries held in the sky. The thin silver cord that connects us to our dreams. Stories longing to be told. My cousins and I grew and dried healing herbs and told fortunes.
I was married to Cass from Hidden Pines. Alta had become busy with travelers using the ferries, and Cass had come out to help his uncles with the ferry traffic during a harvest season. There was something about those blue eyes and that red hair and that bridge of freckles across his nose and my heart that was destined to last forever.
When I was eight months pregnant with our first child, I moved into one of the retreat homes up on Alta Mountain. Near the Story Caves. My Aunt Celia and Cousin Ro came with me. The idea, originally, was that the Aunt took care of the mother-to-be and more or less brought a sense of calmness leading up to motherhood. When I was pregnant, that was still the idea. We just added bits through the years. Week end parties. Sewing circles for the baby’s clothes.
I sent perfumed notes to Cass just like I’d done when we courted. Some afternoons, after work, he walked up the path to the retreat home. We bathed in a large tub and called out echoing baby names and fell asleep laughing. I slept late into the mornings. Sometimes I dreamed.
One night, after calling out baby names I dreamed:
I enter a circular white marble temple. The temple has a domed ceiling and many, many familiar and unfamiliar symbols are carved on the walls. I see a group of men and women standing near a carving. We are all dressed in white gowns with silver cords tied round our waists. I approach the group. A man is pointing to a symbol. He’s saying it’s a recently carved symbol and wondering about it. I make my way through the small crowd.
“What are we to make of this?” he asks.
I step forward. “That is not new.” I was surprised at how soft yet certain my voice sounded.
Some people in the group turned to face me. They stared and pointed in mocking tones and walked away. I walk up to the symbol and run my fingers over it. A straight line leading to a crescent moon.
The next morning Celia and Ro and I ate sweet breakfast cakes brushed with butter and warm syrup. We sipped warm nut milk spiced with cinnamon and ginger.
Our baby was born on a Monday. Alta was in a peaceful time. We named her Crescent.
Seen Through The Mist – Merritt’s Story.1
When our ship reached New Orleans, we traveled southeast until we reached my brother’s raised cottage. The night air was damp. A cold wind, from the Gulf, had set in.
I am Merritt. Husband of Crescent and father of Eilise. Crofton, our son, had died of typhus during our passage to New Orleans. Weary but hopeful, we took supper and then sat around my brother’s fire. A mixture of joy and grief surrounded us. And the warmth of the fire. And undeniable affection. Eilise was tired, but she begged a story.
“A long time ago a mother and a father took their children on an exciting journey,” I began.
“Crofton died.” Eilise looked at my brother, Don, and continued. “He got sick and then he died one day.” She was 5 and didn’t adorn her facts. “That part has to go in there, Dada.”
I looked at Crescent and she nodded. “It does have to. Our Crofton was such a brave little boy.” She put her arm around Eilise’s shoulders and drew her close.
“A long time ago a mother and a father took their two children, Eilise and Crofton, on a long journey. Eilise was 5 years old. Crofton was 4,” I began again. The loss stuck in my throat.
“Crofton was such a brave little boy.” Crescent’s voice floated through the air and I felt her hand on mine. “A beautiful little boy. One day, on the ship to New Orleans, he got sick. Eilise and her mother and her father took such good care of Crofton. But he was just too sick. And one day he died.”
Crescent looked down. Eilise had fallen asleep. I carried her to the bed my brother had made for us and pulled the covers over her and kissed her forehead…