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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 28, 2002 - Issue 77


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Prairie Moon Lights Peaceful Path Across State

by Dorreen Yellow Bird Grand Forks Herald
credits: photo courtesy of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands administered by the Forest Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Dakota Prairie MoonWhen the moon was teetering between first quarter and full half, I saw it hanging just above the housing units at Spirit Lake reservation Tuesday. I was awestruck. The moon looked like an orange peeled and sectioned, only it was the color of a hot, hot ember. She leaned back like a woman resting in a lounge chair after a long day of chasing children. As I drove across the undulating pavement toward Spirit Lake, the moon seemed to move across the sky toward the horizon almost as fast as some celestial spaceship.

This isn't the first time I have been caught in the magic of the moon over Spirit Lake. During the summer, when she has a bigger arc through the sky, she will sit just above the lake peering into the water like a young woman primping before a date. When the water is dead still, the lake becomes a mirror where only the moon can find her full and true face. When she is at her fullest and roundest, she reflects so much light you can see the night birds perched in the stark branches of the dead trees that stayed with the lake as it consumed them.

The moon always has been a grandmother to me because that is what I learned as a child.

I was taught by stories I heard while sitting on the floor next to my grandmother. She spun tales of what had been - our history. She told us stories of the animal beings, the spirits, like the moon, sun and stars - those spirits that influenced our world, she would say. She told us the moon was a grandmother and a teacher. She comes and goes in our world, she told us.

Some late evenings, when I am returning from my home in the western part of the state, I come face to face with the full moon. I remember one night in August when combines and tractors still were reaping the harvest of the summer, the moon was sitting on the horizon, watching and musing, I suppose, at the triviality of our struggles.

One night last summer, when the moon was full, we were in ceremony, and we were in prayer. The grandmother was our nightlight, our confessor, and she would give us absolution, too. When the praying was done and we started to return to our sleeping bags, She danced on the horizon for us. I remember the twittering and the "ohs!" among those who saw the phenomenon of moon dance.

Even the coyotes that howl and sing in the hills surrounding our camp, sat up and watched Grandmother Moon that night. They sang, too.

Then, she disappeared behind Earth's rounded edge, leaving us to the darkest part of the night. I thought she nodded her approval of the ceremony. She rejoiced with our sacrifice.

There is another side to the moon spirit. When we were children, our grandmother warned us that the moon has her dark side, too. Staring too long into her face will let her play tricks on you, she said. Sometimes, she will reach down and take you up with her star children, and you then will be her servant forever. Everything must be done with balance and prudence, she said.

I believed her stories because there are times when the moon is full and bright, and I catch myself staring. Then, I realize that I had lost track of time and place.

The power of Grandmother Moon isn't just in Native American stories. There are stories from people today who say when she is full, people do strange things - there is a little bit of lunacy that is spread to everyone. Crimes and strange behaviors are attributed to the moon. Wolves, dogs and coyotes talk to her in howls and song. These creatures seem to know her best.

The moon is a beautiful spirit that teaches about spirituality and inspires wonder for me. I look forward to the full moon Dec. 19 and hope for a clear sky.

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