Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Solstice: Fire-dancing with the Moon

The night walked down the sky with the moon in her hand. (Frederick L. Knowles)

We are always moving, traveling from one place to another, and although we may not be aware of it, it happens, in the blood pumping through our veins, the breaths we take, the skin we shed and leave behind like a trail of bread crumbs wherever we go. We spin at 1, 038 miles an hour on this planet of ours, which careens around the sun, which, in turn, moves around the center of the galaxy at speeds impossible to imagine. There is no such thing as stillness, not even in the sculpture created by moonlight.

I pulled myself out of bed an hour ago and got dressed while a puzzled Duncan looked on, his head cocked to one side, the hair on one ear askew and sticking up at odd angles from the short time he slept on the pillow next to me. He stretched and followed me to the door where I filled my pockets with treats and leashed him up. There was no urgency, none of the mad chirping and dancing that accompanies my return home each evening. He was quiet and calm, perhaps still dreaming of the snow which has yet to fall thick enough for him to play in. He followed me down the stairs and through the parking lot, where lovers had gathered on patios and in doorways, holding each other and marveling at the deep night above them. He followed me across the empty street and into the darkness of the park, which I was sure belonged entirely to us.

And so we walked, off leash, Dunc following close at my side, reluctant to venture too far away from the sidewalk, uninterested in the goose droppings or the twigs that litter the ground from the newly cut trees. Our footfalls were quiet, without even a near echo, and I wondered if every night at the park was like tonight, so still, so empty, with so little movement.

But the moon told a different story. Fat and bloated, as big high in the sky as it appears when new on the horizon, but red and turning redder each minute, strange in color, as small and easily plucked as a grape or a great burning, orange eye turning further away from us with each step we took. But it was remarkable, the reason I'd climbed from bed and brought Dunc into the center of darkness at the edge of the hill behind the high school, shielded from the lights of the city and the sounds of whatever late traffic worked its way through the streets. It is the solstice, the night when the world turns and our days slowly begin to lengthen, when the promise of walks with sunshine in our face grows ever more clear. I played blind and closed my eyes and imagined the bright spot of the sun on my closed lids and the tug of Duncan's leash guiding me along, a game I play on nearly every summer walk. The moon is no sun, though, and its red glow this night offered nothing in the way of a path, but I felt it there, the shadow of the earth moving across its surface as we moved across this small patch of earth.

And then there was someone else, a woman with her small white dog, both of them bundled up even though it was not that cold. I felt her before I saw her and when I opened my eyes we both paused on the walk and smiled at one another.

"Amazing, isn't it?" she asked, pointing at the moon above with a quick jerk of her chin. I nodded. "I had to see it," she said. "I didn't want to sleep thought it. I guess you felt the same."

"It's a lovely night for a walk," I told her.

She nodded. "Keep moving," and then walked away.

We moved on, in no particular direction, neither Dunc or myself in any hurry to return home to bed. The air felt good on my face, clean and crisp, and the sky was clear and vast above.

Soon there were flashes of light through the trees near the top of the park, at the edge of the playground. Duncan saw them first, pausing mid-step to watch, a low, nearly inaudible whine in his throat. It was an orange glow, then two orange glows, spinning madly around each other, back and forth, slowing and then speeding up until they were bright streaks in the air, like the rotors of a helicopter. Then I smelled smoke and realized it was fire. Someone was dancing and juggling fire at the top of the park under the red moon. I coaxed Duncan forward and moved slowly in the direction of the twin balls of flame and the person who controlled them.

He was shirtless and alone and standing in the grass not far from where he'd parked his car. The night wanted to paint his glowing chest blue but those spinning balls of fire held it at bay, coloring him the color of the moon, rust and red, and yellowed with waving shadows. His eyes were bright and wide but his face was void of expression as he stared forward into the darkness while his arms and hands seemed to move independently of his body, almost without thought.

After a very long time he slowed and the fire lost its momentum and fell loose at his sides, dripping wet, chemical flames into the dirt at his feet.

"That's amazing," I whispered.

"I thought I was alone," he said, breathing hard and jerking his head to flip his hair out of his eyes. At first I thought him older than me, but once he'd slowed I could see he was hardly twenty, his face smooth and without a blemish.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you."

"No, no, you didn't interrupt at all. I just didn't expect to see anyone." He quenched the fire in two cans that rested near his feet. "I came out for the moon. I thought I'd dance and celebrate the solstice in my own way. I didn't want to sleep through the eclipse. I wanted to be a part of it."

I knew what he meant. Movement. Movement. It would be a shame to be still on a night like tonight. I had been pulled from bed and brought my best friend to the darkness to be alone with the movement of the earth's shadow across the face of the moon (oh, how wonderful to be there, watching the world move slowly in front of the sun, its light exploding all around the globe upon totality). The same thing had pulled the woman and her own four-legged companion toward the park, and this young man with his fire dance and desire to stand nearly naked in the cold to watch a once in a lifetime event.

It will be two-hundred ninety-three years before this happens again, a lunar eclipse on the winter solstice, and I am grateful that my best friend was at my side, working our way through the night, the moon and the dog star Sirius bright in our eyes, Orion hunting just below, all the stars spread out and bright as though I'd never seen them before, no destination, only a journey at our feet.

I will never forget this night. We moved through it and deep into memory.


Lori said...

Wow. It was cloudy and snowing here... we didn't get to see it, though I was awake.

Kevi said...

I was also drawn to our moon last evening. I am so glad you had that incredible experience. Every line is vying to be my favorite...they are glowing. I am SO glad you shared. Happy Solstice.

Sisu said...

Thanks for writing about your experience! I did my own fire dance during the winter solstice lunar eclipse, with fire fans. Check it out!