Moon, Sun

Full Moon in the west

I wake early this morning and see the shadows of the two cats, sitting upright together on a small table, gazing out through the semi-sheer curtain to the bright full moon.  The moon is called nipawset kisuhs in Passamaquoddy, the one who walks in the night. The sun is espotewset kisuhs, the one who walks in the day.  The moon and the sun are both considered animate, living beings.  That is how it has always seemed to me as well.

And so I am lying quietly awake, lifted by this beautiful light, this moment of magic, as the moon begins her descent into the west, into the branches of trees. We earth beings, cat and human, love the moon.

These days have felt fraught with fears for me, new coronavirus fears adding to the larger fears of ecological destruction, the resurgence of white nationalism and fascism, the horrors being wrought by our government on innocent children and parents who seek refuge from even larger fears of their own. So many fears. Now that I am retired, now that I am not so occupied with constant pressure from work, the fears have more room to rise up from their subconscious depths to trouble me directly.

Yet, the moon.  The moon eases the fears with her beauty.

Something about the moon calls into my memory a poem I wrote many years ago, back when I lived in Boston. That poem was about the sun, and also about fear. I think I want to share it here this morning, though it feels vulnerable to do so. These sacred moments. But perhaps it will be a blessing for someone else who is living into fear. The moon and the sun shine for us all.

The Sun spoke to her sometimes,
early, mostly at dawn,
though dawn usually meant
first glimpse she got each
morning, maybe standing
on the front porch to get the paper,
maybe looking through the window
between branches and buildings.
The Sun spoke to her then.

Is that a prayer?
Seems like she didn’t call out
or ask for anything–maybe
just a heart full of certain
needs–but the Sun seemed so eager.
The Sun seemed eager to name the day.

It was through the window
between the tree branches one time,
and three story buildings,
the Sun gave her a name too.
She never talked about the name,
seemed like it would sound silly
repeated like ordinary words
into conversation.

When the Sun spoke her name,
that was different,
so clear and simple
like words of power are:
First Afraid.
As soon as she heard those words
she didn’t feel afraid any more,
even though she could see so clear
how true it was,
how fear was always first in line
when things came up,
her heart clutching at the moments,
not wanting to let go or let come.
First Afraid.

And there was the sky turning
from pink to yellow
and night was turning right into day.
She sees the moments passing,
and all quiet-like inside,
knows that even her fear
can’t stop that turning,
and her hands relax a little,
her eyes watch, curious.

She remembers a child learning words
and colors and numbers,
the names of things.
All the world fitting
into the hands and mouth,
touched and eaten and spoken
–her mouth so full of power
she can’t help laughing–
words multiplying like popcorn,
words sweet like candy,
she wants to say everything.

But then her mother’s voice
tightens like a lid on a jar
–be careful, be careful–
as if naming were sharp like a knife
or heavy to drop and crush,
words so hot they might burn.
As if she just might eat up
the whole world and leave nothing left
at all, And so she stops to measure,
stops and measures.
First Afraid.

The Sun doesn’t slow down or speed up,
moves surely, gently, warmly.
Caresses with indifferent generosity
across the words
of morning or noontime.
The Sun speaks her.
Puts words back in her mouth
and on her fingers.
Sky turning from pink to yellow
and night turning into day
through the window
between the tree branches
and three story buildings.
The Sun puts words back in her mouth
and on her fingers.

Sun in winter

The Importance of Naming

Pitch Pine needlesIn my attempts to get closer to the pine in our yard, I made an important discovery today.  It is not a red pine, it is a pitch pine. I discovered that its needles come in groups of three–and the red pine comes in groups of two.  So then I went searching for a resource I remembered from a couple years ago–an identification guide of the pines of Maine, and confirmed everything.

It is a funny thing.  I had used that resource earlier to identify the tree as a pitch pine, especially because of its habit of small patches of needles coming out of the trunk–as in the picture above.  But then the arborist said no, it was a red pine, and so I deferred to their judgment. Perhaps that is one of the lessons for me to learn–arborists don’t necessarily have intimate knowledge of all tree species. Sometimes it takes detective work, which is easier with the many resources that are available online.

So this naming is making a big difference in my relationship with the pine.  Now I understand the prickly feeling–according the guide, “Pitch pine cones have a sharp prickle at the end of each scale.”  They are prickly!  It also says, “Branches are horizontal, rigid, contorted and form an open crown.”  That describes so perfectly the irregular beauty of its shape.  “Pitch pine attains a diameter of 1–2 feet, and a height of only 30–40 feet.”  These height numbers relieve the anxiety I had about the tree possibly growing to shade our solar panels–it is likely fully mature at its current height.

What else?  It is native to eastern North America. It can live to be 200 years old. It tends to grow in acidic, sandy, and low-nutrient soils. It is a “pioneer species” and is often the first tree to vegetate a site after it has been cleared. So perhaps it speaks to the history of this land–that this land was cleared, that it was depleted. The tree can also regenerate itself–if the main trunk is cut or damaged by fire it can re-sprout using epicormic shoots, which is unusual for a conifer.  (This might make it a candidate for coppicing or pollarding–the practice of cutting a tree to use the wood, after which the tree regrows.)

According to Wikipedia, “Pitch pine provides a habitat and offers food for many wildlife species. They are used as cover and nesting for birds such as the pine warbler, wild turkey, blue jays, black-capped chickadees, black-and-white warblers, and chestnut-sided warblers. Small mammals and birds eat the seeds.”

I feel like the tree and I are starting all over again with getting to know each other–now that I know the tree’s actual family and species–now that I know its family name.