Excerpt: A YEAR OF MOONS



Spring Rain


The spring rain is so light this morning that it’s almost mist. Just barely visible, as it falls on the bare skin of my arms, small reflective drops form on the hair of my wrist.

It’s good to walk in the rain on a day such as this. Neither too cold nor too hot, feeling this life-giving moisture becoming part of my breath.

One small basswood tree overarching the trail already has leaves as large as both of my hands held together, spread out. There’s a place along its slender trunk where something, perhaps the falling of that larger pine branch on the ground below it, tore along the trunk, disclosing the inner bark of the tree. That bark is supple, resilient. When it is stripped out, it’s stronger than an average rope. In the past it was used to make cordage and was woven into baskets. I’ve done both. Wigbimezi is the tree’s Abenaki name. Basket Tree.

I remember Maurice Dennis showing me how strong a piece of basswood can be. He took a length about eight feet long, looped it over the top of the branch of a maple, and tied a knot in it. Then he said, “Here’s a swing, Joe.”

And it truly was. It held my 200 pounds as I sat in it and swung back and forth while he continued working on the pole he was carving, working on the shape of a turtle with its thirteen plates on its back. One for each moon, he told me. And it was from his words that my first published picture book, coauthored with my friend Jonathan London, arose.

Just one small tree . . . and seeing it brings so many stories to me. It’s like that with everything around me. Everything has its own tale to tell or at least to help us tell.

Like the stones I see on the dead-end dirt road that passes our cabin. Each morning I pick one up, feel its smoothness in my hand. Some of them clearly were lithic tools, fitting so well between fingers and wrist that I know they were used for scraping or pounding. Others just have a familiar feeling as if they were meant to be carried for a while. Beside the turnaround at the end of the road I have a small pile of them, each stone chosen for its color, its smoothness, or just the way it seemed to indicate it wanted to accompany me on my walk.

Some of those stones glisten, almost as bright as glass, even when they are not moistened by rain. They have quartz in them, mica and feldspar. I feel blessed each day by them. What a privilege it is to have so many stones to see, to pick up and carry for a while. Though some seem to want to just be put back down and left where I saw them at the road’s edge. While others in the middle of the road just want to be removed from where the tires of all-terrain vehicles kick them up and sometimes break them.

As I look down, I see something else. It’s a feather. Tip banded with rusty red, the rest a sandy cinnamon color, I know where it came from. It was dropped by the red-tailed hawk that nests not far from here. I’ve seen it and its mate circling high in the sky, heard their calls that Walt Whitman described so well as a barbaric yawp. Though, to be perfectly honest, the real barbarians are not the hawks. As another late, great Walt (cartoonist Walt Kelly) put it through his philosopher possum Pogo, “We have met the enemy and they is us.”

The rain is letting up a bit now. The sky turning light, high wisps of cloud scudding across it. Perhaps the sun will break through, and I’ll see off toward the east the arc of a rainbow. Managwon, “The Arch on Its Own” is our old Abenaki word for it. In the Old Testament story of Noah, the rainbow was a sign. It still is today. Not just an emblem of survival but also a reminder that we need to take better care of the earth or it will be the fire next time.

Although not today—as the rain keeps spattering on my cap.

There’s no rainbow yet, but I don’t mind waiting for one.



Bark peels from the birch

popping free all on its own

as the light rain falls



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