I left home before sunrise, heading south like a migrating bird seeking sunshine and warmth. Paper maps guided my journey. Hiking boots, backpack, water bottles, granola bars, and a coffee mug were piled in the passenger seat. I kept checking to be sure I hadn’t misplaced the coupon I’d cut out from the back of a cereal box: two nights for the price of one at a bed-n-breakfast in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Cell phones, wi-fi, and internet cafes were things of the future. On this particular roadtrip way back when, I was in graduate school, on spring break, and so hungry for a respite from endless assignments and due dates, job schedules, university politics, and my dissertation looming overhead. The fresh mountain air and wide-open vistas called to my spirit and heart.

As evening began to darken the skies, I stopped singing along with the radio. Curiosity about the changing landscapes was dwindling away. My eyes were weary and my cramped body yearned to move. “Almost there,” I kept telling myself.

Orange detour signs suddenly glared in the headlights. The blockades and arrows directed me east off the highway. I found myself traveling away from my destination and going who knows where.

The narrow two-lane road climbed into higher elevations. As I rounded each curve, I felt queasy looking over the steep drop-offs from the sides of the road. No gas stations. No pay phones. No exit ramps. Passing through each tiny dot on the map, hopeful to find a crossroads that carried me back to the highway, I only met up with one after another orange detour sign directing me deeper into the mountains.

Rather than igniting my sense of adventure, the unknown terrain felt threatening and uninviting. Fears tightened my grip on the steering wheel. If I accidentally missed a turn and veered off the road, my car would tumble downhill and get buried under the overgrowth of Kudzu. I’d never be found. Never heard from again. That was one of the milder renditions of my demise that treaded heavily on my mind.

Winding around another twist and turn, I braked and stopped abruptly in the middle of the road. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Full Moon was rising over the mountain peaks. The Moon was huge. So bright. So close. Seemingly within arm’s reach. I peered out the windshield, awestruck.

The Moon’s unbound, exuberant, bold presence woke me up. Revived me. In that sweet and simple moment, soaking in the beauty and wonder, there wasn’t anything else I had to do. Nothing to resolve or achieve or figure out. Sighing a breath of relief, I felt something come alive, unravel the grip of fear, and set me back on track.

I drove on through the mountain roads and the moon drifted out of sight. Every now and then, as I rounded another bend, Full Moon would appear. The moon was higher above the horizon each time we crossed paths. The moon’s circle grew smaller, still beaming bright moonlight, as she moved deeper into the night skies. Each reunion with the moon was a celebration, a reassurance, a remembering that I was not lost or alone.

The detour signs eventually directed me back down the mountain pass. I caught glimpses of the moon in my rearview mirror, and offered my thank yous and goodbyes. Much to my surprise, over the coming days – even as I got occupied with the next parts of my adventure, even as Full Moon shifted into the waning crescent, even when I hadn’t noticed the moon in the sky – the Spirit of the Moon stayed with me through my travels and followed me back home to Kalamazoo.

In the decades since, the Moon has been circling around in my awareness, a bold and subtle presence, a guide through many seasons and passages in my life.

I’ve come to know the Moon as brilliant marker of time, opening the door to the flow that exists beyond calendars and clocks. She’s a teacher about natural cycles. She’s an Ancestor, an Ancient One, a collaborator with the Sun and Earth long before humans showed up.

She shapes the movement of bodies of water, including our own. Our Moon is the closest-in celestial being whose shiftings in the sky touch each of us, everyone everywhere, on earth.

She’s a companion in our spiraling dance in the cosmos. A Guardian, always watching over.