Moonlight marks the cycle of night-lurches with the pups. Right now, sickle moon, waxing, low in the sky at 10:30, when I gather us together for our pre-bed ritual. Chloe tends to pull back at these times, insisting on a little more quality time with this whiff of schnauzer-pee, or that cat-turd. Elliot, meanwhile, tends to pull forward, yanking onward to new adventures in weed-hosing and spirit-sniffing. Sometimes I want to spank them both. Stop, you curs! I am ready for bed, and need no further nonsense today. Let the moon chill you out. Walk with me.
But of course moonlight doesn't necessarily chill dogs out, at all. They go into nocturnal overdrive, turning on the spooky lanterns at the backs of their eyes. Black dogs, like mine, have the added advantage of literally melting into the dark, each hairtip growing endings that join with the space filling everything between here and the moon.
Without them, my incidences of being out under the moon at night would rush asymptotically towards zero, as the nights get colder, as rain buckets down on the roof, as long sections of sidewalk turn into secret toboggan runs, invisible by sodium vapor light, or by moonshade. Without my dogs, I would spend almost all my night-time either under electric light, or asleep.
Without me, who knows what the dogs would do at night? Commando raids on sleeping squirrel-nests. Wild runs in the woods, guided by their supersnouts and the odd phosphorescent mushroom. Without me, they would spend more time navigating by their own extra senses, and less time flopped out on duvet, carpet, and pillow.
Sharing the bed with Chloe and Elliot is a relatively new thing. I had felt for a while that it was what I wanted. A few times, when Elliot was younger, and suffered from Restless Dog Syndrome, I'd gone downstairs with a blanket and busted both of them out of their crates, creating a dense dog/lady pile on the couch. This took real skill: one long dog (Elliot) mashed between my body and the back cushions; one chunky dog (Chloe) curled into a tight ball at my feet. To sleep this way is to be an acrobat in suspension, a bound unit of fur, bone, flesh, and skin. I loved it, but the custom remained: dogs sleep in crates downstairs, humans sleep in rooms upstairs.
Then one night, when it came time to shut Elliot in his crate, with a last treat of the day for being a good dog, I found I could not do it. I found I cared not at all for the carpet upstairs, or for the maybe-bad things that might happen if the dogs started to think my bed was theirs. I opened up the gate at the top of the stairs, closed the toilet lid, and welcomed the beasties. A moonlight festival! No one slept especially well at first, because everything was so exciting, and because both dogs are total blanket-hogs. Then we settled down into a pattern: Chloe and Elliot on the left side of the bed, me on the right. Timothy reserves the right to dog-free carpet in his spaces, and that is fine.
By moonlight, certain forms of logic and separation simply lose their power. Oh, well. That was an OK idea, but look around… The trees are dancing their leafshadows silver on the quiet street. The metal roofs beam beacons back to the sky. What could be here, could be there also.
Maybe what is so activating about full moon light is the way it bridges night and day. I remember the summer solstice full moon, twenty-six years ago, when my friends and I walked late into the night, westwards towards Santiago de Compostela. We had been walking for so long that it was as easy as breathing, and the wide, flat path across fields called us on and on, dark shadows following, gleaming earth ahead.
In the morning there would be blisters, still, and a strange combination of tuna, peaches in syrup, and old bread for breakfast. But that would be then. Then, we would split up, as I obeyed some compulsion to follow my family's grief, my friend wound up in the hospital, and only one of us walked of her own volition to the gates of the cathedral. Meanwhile, now, we were strong, and the moon reminded us of all the spaces in-between the events we tend to fixate on.
Now, now, sitting in what is definitely early Fall, my toes are frozen in my sandals, the moon and earth are rolling on, towards another full moon, and another empty one. Last night, in the bath, celebrating the end of yet another round of coursework, I felt a part of me that dreads winter moan up inside me. Just as quickly, the one who’s known winters, moons come and gone, summers begun and ended, smiled. Let it all come, and go, and come again. In the space between earth, moon, and sun, there is room for everything, unobstructed. In the space between bones, moods, dogs’ bodies and mine, there is room for every state, suffering, healing, beginning and end, without end.
This is how I keep the moon-days now. Before, a nun, it was head-shaving day, sauna day, quiet day. Now it's pack day, writing day, knowing day, the rhythm of footfalls and breaths in this aging, knowing, loving body-mind, sharp as a crescent moon’s horns, round as a full moon’s belly.
Really, this is an essay everyone writes, and writes again. Last week, after I had finished yet another round of Chen style tai chi in the junkie park outside the Manchester library, a man stopped me to say, not in any weird way, that he'd seen me week after week, and he thought it was amazing. He told me he, too, spends time sending energy back down into the earth, where it belongs. Yes, I said, we all know how to do it – it’s just a question of whether and how we choose to follow through, taking care of our shared world. You watch, he said, sometime I’ll come join you. Of course, I said, and we’ll dance as dragons together. This wasn’t just some nicey-nicing, I could see from the movement of his weathered hands that he does know how to move energy. Some grounded, wise presence shone out from his long-secret hobo being.
So it is. This morning Chloe came to meditate with me, laying her nose on my calf. Benefactor practice, this way, is quite direct. All the beings who’ve led to Chloe. All the beings who’ve led to me. All those we’ll in turn love and support, feed and keep safe, tangle with and re-shape. This web, this endless series of meetings and transmutings, always under the changing moon.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now