Howlin’ at the Moon

Yuma, Arizona
January 31, 2018

During the winter months, Stumbo has been parked in a neighborhood at the very far southeast corner of the Yuma metro area, on the very southeast edge of the neighborhood.  So just across the street from where we’ve been staying is the desert, parts of it privately owned, but largely it’s BLM land complete with saguaro cactuses,  ATV’ers, coyotes, people boon docking in their RV’s, and trails that Brad takes to head up into the mountains.  It’s in this slightly tamed wilderness area that people gather every month on the evening of the full moon at an event called Howlin’ at the Moon.  People bring their camping chairs and their booze, they eat, drink, listen to live music, dance, and wait for the moon to rise.  As it does, the entire crowd howls at it for several minutes, and then everyone goes home.  It was described to us as “a tailgate party in the desert”, and I was determined not to miss it.

From the descriptions I’d heard, I was picturing a dusty farmers’ market type scenario with circles of fiddle players and people eating chili out of the back of trucks.  What we found ourselves in the middle of, instead, was a group of several thousand senior citizens crowded around a small stage where a man with an illuminated guitar sang country songs, drones flew overhead dropping prizes, and a bunch of old people sang Red Solo Cup together.

I could not believe how huge the crowd was that created this full moon festival in the desert!

The band leader asked, “What if your kids could see you now?!” and loud cheers were the response. “It’s like a Senior Citizen Woodstock!” he called out, which was met with more robust cheering from the crowd.https://youtu.be/xaqH3nCuTJI

As soon as the girls and I walked into the crowd, a man from the T-shirt booth walked past us, saw my adorable daughters, and told us if we swung by his tent he would give them free shirts.  I think that his goal was to get event marketing on people who might wear it in front of a new clientele.  I only saw 2 other kids at the event.  But when we found him at the shirt counter he said he had nothing in their size.  He apologized and gave them each a hat instead, and then offered me & Brad shirts instead.

Rockin’ our shirts like locals.

After he gave us all our free swag, he said, “This is what it’s all about, ya know?  Getting families out here.  Just families having fun – this is the point.  Kids need this, ya know?  They need to be at non-conflicting events like this with the whole family.  So we just want to get a lot more families out here.  I mean, there are a lot of guns here.  But, ya know, they’re here for the right reason.”  He said some more confusing things after that, but my brain kinda got locked on imagining how many guns were strapped to all of these drunk, old people in this giant crowd, “for the right reason”… so I missed most of the rest of what he said.  Really nice guy.  We really appreciated the shirts.

Dancing the night away with these cuties.

The girls and I spent a lot of time dancing.  We danced to Sweet Home Alabama, Blue Suede Shoes, Miss American Pie, and a bunch of other songs that the rest of the crowd seemed to know better than me.  From the stage the lead singer called out, “I”m so thankful to live here in America, where I can go worship on Sunday morning because we live in a free country!” (Many cheers from the crowd.) “And I’m so thankful that on Sunday afternoon, I can go out and shoot my gun because I live in a free country!” (Way more cheers from the crowd.)  At one point while Brad was sitting in his camping chair behind the stage, someone’s car alarm started going off.  It was so close to the stage that the noise was drowned out by the music, so it kept going on for quite awhile.  After the car had been honking for awhile, a couple of men walked by it, and Brad overheard one of them say, “If this was Montana, someone would have shot it by now.”  Part of me oscilates between feeling repulsed or laughing at all of this traditional, gun-slinging, conservatism.  But the other part of me just wanted to enjoy the sweet Americana of dancing to classic songs with my daughters in the dirt, watching the sun set in the west, in a rising cloud of dust glowing in the dusky light.

Dancing in the dirt at dusk.

One old woman touched Brad’s arm when he was dancing with Coral to stop him and say that he was a great dad.  The cynical part of me thinks that since the only thing she knew about us was that we brought our small children to this event, I found it interesting that she jumped to this assessment so easily.   But I want to let the other half of my brain win that tells me – she’s right, he is a great dad – dancing with his little girl to There’s a Bad Moon on the Rise at this unique festival in the Yuma desert. As the evening sky grew darker the crowd watched the mountains to the east with more and more anticipation.  When it was almost time the band started playing a song called “Arizona Moon” that is mostly just saying “Doo chickie doo chickie doo chickie doo” over and over.  I don’t know if it’s a real song or if was invented for this festival, and I decided not to find out. It seemed like the glow behind the hill got brighter and brighter and brighter for an excruciatingly long time before the giant, full, super moon finally appeared.

We howled at it for awhile with everyone else – all these crazy, funny people.  Some so much like us, and some very different from us…all of us just howling at the moon together.  And I have to admit…it was pretty great.

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