Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Moon of My Belonging -- by Elizabeth Ayres

Who can lay claim to the moon? Despite the footsteps imprinted in her dust and the flags hanging limp above her windless surface, the moon belongs to all humankind. So says the United Nations in a 1967 treaty which forbids individual nations from appropriating parts of the moonscape, but fails to exclude private ownership. A surprising number of people have tried to take advantage of this loophole, insisting on their right to buy, sell, swap or otherwise profit from an exchange of extraterrestrial real estate. You laugh? So did I. But then the sadness kicked in: human nature at its avaricious worst.

Quick! Make a list of book or song or movie titles with the word ‘moon’ in them. This chunk of lifeless rock carries our hearts and longings with her on her 28 day journey. She governs our plantings and our thievings, our emotions and our tides. Earth spins round and round. Earth’s oceans spin round and round. Heaping up towards the moon, emptying out away from the moon. Increasing with her light, diminishing with her strength. High tide, low tide. Lunar push, lunar pull.

Through my lifetime I have known three moons. In New York City I could hardly find her among the street lights. Amidst the ebb and flow of traffic and ambition, what power could the moon possess?
moon and statue of Liberty, photo by Steven Pinker
In the high desert of northern New Mexico, the moon was sterling silver in an onyx sky.
NM moon, photographer unidentified, in travelpod
I gauged her size with words I’d formerly reserved for olives: gargantuan, colossal, mammoth. She gave me a house of baked clay. Plunked me down in a barren, cratered landscape uncannily like her own: the white sandstone of Plaza Blanca. Flecked with silver mica. Pocked with ancient rocks. Even at her first quarter, the very ground swelled with light. By the full, I who had once dismissed the moon learned my own insignificance.

Now I live in St. Mary’s County, which juts into the Bay across three rivers like a long narrow pier. The sky is a blue-black mussel shell; the moon, its mother-of-pearl glow. Rising over our rippled, wavering waters, she sees herself reflected in a thousand silver chips. Hears herself discussed in a thousand conversations: between soft night breezes and sea grass; murmuring insects and creaking pines; dry leaves and prowling critters; waves and the foam-gilt shore.

moon over Chesapeake, photo: Aaron Denu
This is her family. She is at home here. Her magnetic fingers twine throughout our countryside, pulling at our rivers, tugging at our creeks. At the syzygy, the new and the full, the moon’s face turns directly on us and we receive the abundant spring tides. At the quadrature, when her face slants away, our neap tides are scanty. More reliable than any legal contract, these risings and fallings. A treasure continually replenishing itself. An inheritance beyond price.Who can lay claim to the moon? In my lifetime I have known three. This last, over southern Maryland, is the moon of my belonging. I give it to you.
from Elizabeth Ayres' latest book, Invitation to Wonder: A Journey Through the Seasons. Her Center for Creative Writing is now in its 20th year. She is also the creator of Writing the Wave, Know the Way and two Sounds True audio albums.

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