Deep in the thicket of the forest, the dancer stood on the moist, sweet earth, waiting for the moon to rise. She was barefoot, white tights running down her lanky legs, her corn yellow hair flowing down her back in waves. Down her torso, she was draped in a silver leotard, with a loose organza skirt tied around her waist. She stood in first position, patiently waiting for the moon to reach above the mountain’s horizon.
Slowly, the moon began to crawl above the tree line, and the dancer, beginning with a leap, gave herself in rhythm to the moon. For hours, she professed her love with her body, arms long, legs lifted, curved and rolled in circles. Finally, when her muscles could sustain her no more, she fell to the forest floor and inhaled the savory dampness of the moss, rotten stumps and dying leaves. She looked up, hoping the moon’s gentle light would be upon her, but the moon had drifted above the horizon, slowly meandering away toward morning.
For weeks, the dancer came every night. Even if the moon sat hidden behind clumps of backlit clouds, or if rain pounded down and snuck its way beneath the fabric of her costume, she danced until exhaustion came and overtook her body, until she felt she might break.
One night, after dancing what she was convinced was her very best routine, the girl sat on the forest bed breathing with force. Overwhelmed by the moon’s ambivalence and her endless effort to display her love, her tears began to soak the ground. She lay chest down with her cheek against the soil, and let the watery frustration of her heart pour from her eyes. From somewhere deep and distant, she heard a soft voice:
“My dear child, what ails you so?” asked Mother Earth.
“My heart has been torn to bits. Every night I come to dance my love for the moon, and every night the moon continues to rise without even a glance my way. She does not love me,” replied the dancer.
“How much do you love the moon?”
“Oh, I would give anything to bask in her light and know her affection. Can you help me?” The girl pleaded with Mother Earth.
“Stand up, dear heart,” Mother Earth directed. After dancer pushed her tired muscles to a stand, Mother Earth asked “What is your name?”
“Aspen,” the dancer replied quietly.
“Ah, Aspen, take your feet and push them into my skin.”
Finding a patch of soil, Aspen buried her feet into the dirt and stood waiting. Slowly, she felt her toes growing downward into the earth, stretching deeper and deeper through multiple layers. Her body began to stiffen, and her torso began to sprout upward toward the sky; her arms shot out from her sockets, and her fingers began to divide and push upward in wavy lines. When her body was finished growing, she felt tiny, small buds gathering along the branches of her fingers and arms, where spade shaped leaves sprouted. They were golden like her hair and reflected silver in the fading moonlight.
Aspen spent the day basking in the sun, feeling the energy shift and pulse through her elegant limbs as she inhaled its light and breathed out through her cloistered, golden leaves. She practiced shimmying in the wind, and waited patiently as the sun gently fell into the hillside and brought on the black blanket night. Finally the object of her affection began to appear along the mountainside.
Looking up, Aspen shook her top limbs, swaying her appendages; she caught the inquisitive eye of the moon, sitting in the corner of the sky, playing peek-a-boo between the metallic clouds that wandered haphazardly through the night.
When the moon’s attention fell on her, Aspen began to dance in the wind, shimmering and shaking for her love. With concentration and ferocity, the moon turned all her light toward the aspen, focusing a small, passionate beam longingly on each nook and cranny of the tree. As she honed in on her, Aspen moved her branches, the spade shaped leaves glittering in the moon’s attention. The more Aspen trembled, the more she reflected back to the moon; the more the moon shone, the greater Aspen glimmered, dancing with iridescence.
Finally the moon spoke, “What is your name?”
Shyly, the tree replied, “Aspen.”
“Where did you come from?” asked the moon.
“Every evening, when you would rise, I would dance for you on the forest floor but your light never reached me enough for you to see me. Mother Earth took pity on me and transformed me into this tree so that I could be close enough for you to know my love.
“Aspen, you have stolen my heart. I want to admire you from the clear night sky and reach your tender limbs as they reach for the sky to touch me. I want to feel you close and find you always in the deep evening velvet that covers the hills. I want you to show how delicate and startling our love is to the world, and know that when I seek you with my light, you are always reflecting the most loving part of myself back to remind me that you make me whole.”
Aspen shivered with requited love, and the moon laughed. “I love you, my dear moon, and want nothing more than to feel the grace of your moonshine.”
Each evening, the moon, when the clouds allowed, would scour the earth for its beloved Aspen, searching for her blanched trunk and silver, lustrous leaves. As their love grew and time passed, Aspen shed across the mountain’s forest floor during the winter, when she felt the most intimate with her beloved during the extended cold nights; in summer, she shimmied and danced with joyous abandon.
One year, the Aspen fell prey to pests rooting through the mountain trees, and she grew weak, her branches and leaves slashed. Her loving moon tried to heal her with her light, but Aspen could no longer fight. On a warm summer night, as her love rose full, she shook for the very last time in the light of her love.
As she faded away, the moon screamed out into the night sky as though she would crack in half, “I will never shine again!”
Aspen, before leaving, lifted her branches as far as she could stretch to try to touch the moon, and told her, “Oh, but my moon, how could I have loved you if I never knew your light?” The moon flooded Aspen, lighting every inch, watching as she slowly shrank beneath the tree line until she lie upon the earth in her human form, barely noticeable in the moon’s focused beam. Gently, Mother Earth swallowed Aspen, and then she was gone.
The moon was distraught with heartbreak, and refused to shine for many years, hiding behind the horizon and clouds. Finally transcending her grief, the moon rose above the familiar hillside where her treasured Aspen once stood. She felt solitary and heartsick at the waves of ordinary trees shaking in the wind. As the forest greeted the moon, the moon began to feel her loneliness subside, and she threw her beams across the mountain.
To her awe, dotting the forest, rising slowly but shining fiercely, Aspen’s tiny saplings waved to the moon as they stood in her luminosity.
Taken aback, the moon watched aspens spread across the hills and country in every direction, dancing in the moon’s bright glow. Her heart leapt in joy and love, drinking in their mother’s beauty, slowly replacing the hole her Aspen left behind. Every night thereafter, the moon rose to remember her beloved by watching her children grow, and felt forever touched by her magic.
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