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Hunting the Moon

By Mary Sojourner

Buffalo Park trail curves in a figure eight through a meadow below the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona. In a wet May, spring peepers sing from a little ephemeral wetland. In a generous monsoon summer, Evening Primrose and Sego Lilies lie in the deep grass like fallen stars. In October, grasses have gone gold and silver; evening is the heart of a tourmaline. No matter what season, the moon traces time across the vast Northern Arizona sky. And, I hunt the moon.

I track the lunar arc. I watch what drifts across the pale stony face: monsoon clouds and jet trails. I pursue the shape-shifting radiance for comfort, beauty, medicine and for the reminder of the nature of my own existence.

Once, when I was a pioneer in this high desert, carrying city time in me as measured by clocks and calendars, I walked Buffalo Park at sunset. I raised my arms to banners of scarlet and purple. I said, “Thank you for this day.” The light seemed to alchemize forever. When only a ribbon of pale green stretched across the horizon I turned and followed the eastern curve back toward the trailhead.

I was stopped by an impossible sight. The edge of what seemed to be a huge searchlight burned just above the lower slope of Mount Elden. I stood transfixed. And, as I imagined a plane crash, a celestial visitor from who-knew-where, the full moon lifted steadily above the dark mountain. I knew I was held in a great prayer.

Years later, I would watch a desert moonset from my sleeping bag on a Mohave playa and I would understand that it was the earth beneath me that fell toward that radiance, and away. But then, on the trail at Buffalo Park, I was six months new to Arizona. I was a woman who knew little of lunar cycles and less of her own. I was forty-five years old.

Now I am sixty-seven. The forest between the meadow and the mountain is pocked with huge houses. There are now over 65,000 of us living in Flagstaff. I am one of them, and I am no longer a woman who believes she is a pioneer.

I am a settler. I have walked Buffalo Park over 5600 times. I have walked through seasons---racing monsoon clouds to the trailhead; pushing into ferocious November winds; moving silently toward a red-tail hawk dancing on the carcass of a rabbit; going terrified and joyful into the brilliance of lightning in a snowstorm white-out.

Once a month for 258 months I have walked at Full Moon sunset. Never again have I found myself gloriously paralyzed by a mysterious light rising from the mountain. Miracles cannot repeat themselves. That is the knowledge of the settler. It is the unwelcome gift to one willing to grow old.

I will never again be the innocent of twenty-two years ago. The West will never again be the echo of a frontier it was that miraculous evening. And still, I am held in a great prayer. To worship in this New West is to pray with a rosary strung with Black Holes. Lacunae slip through our fingers.

Where a wetland once gleamed, there is dust. Where a persimmon canyon curved, there is a golf course. Where ironwood wove its shimmering leaves, there is a red tile roof malpais.

We touch the beads and feel nothing. Still, we gaze unflinching. To be aware and bearing witness in the New West for the last twenty-two years is to look into a mirror. Beauty. Attrition. Weathering and scars. There is no miracle that will stop what is happening.

An old woman takes herself to a little ponderosa in Buffalo Park. She and the west wind have been walking into the hope of the moon. The sky is empty azure. "Where are You?" she asks.

She waits out her radiant prey. She settles into the pine needles at the eastern side of the young tree. The sun drops behind her. She stretches out her arms and sees the shadow of a tree with arms. The shadow shrinks and is gone. She presses her hands into the dark earth.

When she looks up, she sees the moon floating above a bank of wood-stove smoke. She knows she will never again see just that shadow of a tree with arms or a silver miracle surfing a violet haze. “Thank you,” she says. She rises to her feet and begins the long walk home.


Mary Sojourner sends along the folowing bio note: "I seem to be one of many intersections in a web of words and beauty and sorrow.  We are being given hard knowledge: our species is devouring the earth, air and water beyond reclamation. The only thing that is really important about what I believe is this: we must stop (you know how to fill in the blank.)."

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photo by Dinty W. Moore