The Tree People at Night: the Oldest Dance

The priestesses of Dionysus frolicked with satyrs in the night, in processions lit by pine pitch torches.P1010350x It’s still going on!

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The old myth was not about people, or, better put, it was about people who took their identity from trees, and were, for all purposes, the trees that got up and danced. Which, by the way, pines can do very well on their own.

 

The Garden at Night

Ah, the August Moon, with her old face above the black hills, riding clouds as she has since humans first looked up to the night.

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Nectarine Moon

I used to walk out with her for hours, night after night, and even run with her in the wind. I kept doing it, too, for forty years more , until I came upon a bear in the dark one night, that had come down from the Black Sage Hills to eat  peaches by moonlight.

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Red Haven Peaches, Still Warm in the Dark

The bear woofed from a couple metres away, and bolted into the trees with a crash of cat-scented leaves, and I returned to the farmhouse, its pale green mercury light, and the dog who had abandoned this walk just behind the shed when the wind curled down from the peach block and the hot asphalt road.

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Sunflower Hiding the Moon

You have to trust a dog, I guess, it would be foolish not to, but I don’t have one now and it’s August and the sweet grapes are ripe, and hips, and the wild nuts in the ditch.

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Filberts Breathing the Dark

When I was a young man, I would walk out under that moon and pick grapes in the dark, then walk up to the soapstone and sagebrush and eat them in the cold desert wind as the scent of apples blew out of the orchards into the sky. So I went out last night, for a bit of that, with grapes picked from under their big black leaves, like leather laid hand over hand. As I walked under that big white moon, I tasted the sweetest summer sun and stopped now and then to marvel.

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Rose Hips in the Night Wind

The dark soon got to me, though, over by the choke cherries on the hill, in the crack of cottonwood leaves and the wind blowing up through drying branches and inky shadows, that lay over the bunchgrass like water. It was as if anyone stepping in there, would drown.

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Red Havens, Waiting for the Bear to Come

If I were a bear up on the mountain, I thought, I’d have been there last night, in the cherries, where the scent of peaches blew up the hill like coyote song, and I remembered what Chief Willie told me at Tsatsicknukwomi, in the Broughton Archipelago, outside of the big house he had built the old way, with hand tools, when he had brought his grandchildren back to the village his people had left when he was five years old, seventy-five years before. “Trust a grizzly,” he said. “They think, like a man. But don’t trust a black bear. They’re crazy.”

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Crazy Old Sun, Staring into the Dark

So I went back to the garden, and I saw it with the eyes of the night, like I had never seen it before. It was like a gift given to me by the memory of a bear that touched me with its breath so long ago that it is still present.

P1200650Gloriosa Daisy and Icelandic Poppies

During the day, the garden doesn’t look like this.

P1200675But then, during the day, it’s facing the light. In the night, it’s facing the dark.

P1200672And what is in the dark? Life, of course, and death.

P1200685 And sometimes both at once.

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Life is a sculpture made out of time, with its tides and flows, and long bouts of just being present.

P1200674I was present, last night, under that old moon that Dionysus carried in a wine sack out of Turkey all those years ago and then threw up into the air above the pine trees, to light the dances of people who had come out into the light.

P1200682What a beautiful thing he did, leading us like that away from the sun just far enough that we can find our way back.

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