"Where you going?" Boy in Black asked as I grabbed the car keys off the bookshelf near the front door.
"A moon ceremony," I said. "With a bunch of my friends."
He looked up from his laptop and grinned. "Oh, that's RIGHT. You're at the height of your mystical powers."
"Maybe you ought to play Ultimate with us tonight. See how those powers affect your game."
"Not sure you boys could handle it."
Leaving behind the teasing teenage sons, I drove through evening sun past cornfields and red barns and at least one Christmas tree farm. I passed a cardboard sign that advertised "Free Kittens" and a gas station that has "Fresh donuts daily." I listened to the CD I've had in my car all summer, Wilco's Sky Blue Sky, and turned it off only when the pavement ended and my tires were crunching on a gravel road through the woods. At dusk, I arrived at Panther Lake, where eight of my friends were gathered on the shore.
QuiltArtist had been swimming, floating through the lily pads in the shallow lake. Wrapped in a towel, her hair pulled up off her face, the stress of the work week washed away, she was talking and slapping at mosquitoes. PsychicWoman had prepared for the ceremony by bringing tobacco and sweetgrass as well as brownies and ice cream. Gorgeous Eyes had taken her sandals off the moment she had stepped from her car, saying that she'd been thinking all day about how great it would feel to be barefoot.
Healer Man showed me a childhood photo of him and his five siblings sitting at a kitchen table inside the camp. The land has been in his family since he was about two. The small lake is lined with camps, some partially hidden by the big trees, with a few marshy, wilder areas. Lily pads and weedy patches fill in the shallow spots, and small docks reach into the quiet waters.
When it was time for the moon ceremony to begin, Healer Man disappeared quietly, as is his way, leaving the circle around the fire for the women. Psychic Woman smudged us, one at a time, telling us to leave the anxiety and stress of the week behind. We joked, as we entered the sacred circle, that perhaps the smoke from the smudge stick would keep away some of the mosquitoes. It had gotten dark, but the moon was still hidden behind a tree that leaned over the lake's edge. Signing Woman added a few sticks to the fire, causing the flames to jump with little snapping noises.
We began with the traditional prayer of thanksgiving, a custom begun by the native peoples in this area. Lights shone in the windows of little camps along the lake, but it was so quiet that I could her fish jumping in the shallows. The aroma of burning sweetgrass almost but not quite drowned out the smell of the bug spray some of my friends were wearing. My hands were fragrant with tobacco.
Moving counter-clockwise around the circle, we each took a turn to walk to the fire and make our prayers — some aloud and some silently. I knelt in front of the fire, close to the flames, before releasing my bit of tobacco into the burning.
We finished, of course, with gratitude, thankful for each other, for friends inside and outside of the circle, for family, for the beautiful world we inhabit. When the ceremony ended, Psychic Woman suggested that we stay until the fire had burned completely away, and she invited everyone to sing or dance. She'd brought handmade music-makers that made soft rhythmic noises.
The moonlight was diffuse, coming through a hazy layer of clouds, which made the dock seem a fairly private place despite the other camps around us. I slipped my clothes off and left them in a heap on the shore so that I could walk into the moonlight naked. At the end of the dock, I knelt to wash my face three times in the moonlit water. Allowing anxiety to sink slowly into the lake, I stood up into the darkness, feeling just the barest touch of the moon on my shoulders and hair. Then, following the rhythms my friends were shaking into night air, I began to dance.