Synchronicity, and a persistent unexpected patron

Hi there, internauts; it’s been a while.  It’s full on summer now where I live, replete with the requisite heat waves, wildfires, power outages and the usual diluvian catastrophes.

Not all is chaos, though.  I mentioned a few posts back that the boy and I moved to a new place on Halloween night, and we’re settling into our home quite nicely, enjoying getting to know it some more with each new season.  We have a lovely, sprawling container garden taking over the back yard with squash, cucumbers, melons, beans, peas, radishes, potatoes, umpteen varieties of tomatoes and peppers, wonderberries, gooseberries, broccoli, greens, and as many herbs as I could comfortably fit into a giant round raised bed in the front.  The boy’s application of biodynamic agricultural techniques and square foot/companion planting plus organic compost tea have resulted in a surprisingly productive first attempt at urban farming.  Farm your yards!

The 2012 shift is shaking up plans and lives right and left.  Six of my closest group of eight friends are quitting their jobs and moving, with three returning to school for new fields of study, myself included.  Throughout the thrillingly disruptive process of breaking out of my cocoon for a new form, though, I’ve been surprised to notice a certain recurring element, and am taking comfort in the idea that this synchronicity is a sign that I am moving in the right direction.  This post is dedicated to that figure.

If any of you listen to the tremendous podcast Standing Stone and Garden Gate, you may have heard Brendan’s segment on the philosopher Hypatia back in 2010.  I had heard of Hypatia previously, but Brendan’s thoughtful and thorough exploration renewed my interest, and I found myself thinking more and more of this renowned mathematician as a sort of personal ideal and historical role model.  Her death, in my mind, made of her a martyr for the values of universal access to intellectual pursuits and freedom from the confinements of socially imposed gender roles.  Her position as the last librarian of the great library at Alexandria spoke to my devotion to the preservation and fostering of knowledge, and my undying love for ancient Egypt.

While reading about Hypatia, I started looking more closely at her relationship to the supposedly contemporary Christian Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a reputed student at that same great library, a formidable opponent in theological debate, patron figure for philosophers and libraries, and martyr from her desire to remain an unwed scholar.  The parallels between them, and the only much later appearance of stories of Catherine point to her being a Christian adoption/appropriation of Hypatia’s story.  Even the terrible wheel, the instrument of torture designed for Catherine personally by her persecutor, in descriptions eerily resembles the astrolabe created by Hypatia as an instrument for precisely measuring the movement of the stars and planets.

The more I learned, it was beginning to feel as though each detail of their lives was written as a personal appeal to my interests.  Catherine was enormously popular during the middle ages in France, particularly as she was one of two saints who  appeared to the young Joan of Arc, and at whose shrine Joan found her sword (be still my heart).  Even at Catherine’s execution, milk instead of blood flowed out of her wound.  (More on my ties to milk in a later post, perhaps.)  I started to suspect I was being deliberately led on when I looked at images of the traditional rings given to pilgrims at her shrine on Mount Sinai and saw that they are inscribed with my initials and that of the boy, surrounded by a heart.

All this led me here.  One night, the boy and I on impulse agreed to attend a late dinner out with some friends, although out of my usual custom for a weekday evening.  At this dinner, I was seated next to an acquaintance who randomly asked if we knew anyone looking for a place to live.  His parents owned a duplex on the other side of town, and they were looking to move someone in within the month.

The boy and I out of curiosity looked over the pictures on his phone, and found ourselves looking at what suddenly felt like “our home.”  We had been casually talking about moving for a while, but had not started looking in earnest.  We were no longer under a lease.  The landlords wanted someone who would be interested in gardening – we wanted a space to garden.  The house was blocks from the boy’s studio, and closer to our jobs.

The only hitch was that I had been planning to apply to a graduate program out of state for that next year, and the owners were looking for long term residents.  We had to make a decision that night.

I went straight home, and made one last effort to see if there might be a suitable program locally, but my hopes were not high.  I knew of only one in the entire state, and it did have the accreditation I insisted on.  But!  I discovered much to my surprise that the local program had earned the accreditation only months before, and I would never have thought to look again if it weren’t for this sudden opportunity.

What next?  We paid the deposit.  We discovered more and more things to love about this place.  We left on good terms with our former landlords.  I applied for the nearby program.

I picked up a book I had forgotten about, found again while unpacking from our move.  I had purchased it on a whim years and years ago, simply because the description on the back was alluringly unintelligible.  It had been shuffled unread onto donate piles time and again, but always held back at the last.  I got caught up in the story instantly.  I found myself cackling a bit with delighted disbelief when, several chapters in, the narration inexplicably launched into a several-page digression about the life of St. Catherine of Alexandria.

The next morning I received my acceptance letter to the library and information science program at the University of St. Catherine of Alexandria.

Where does that leave us?  In 17 days, I will be quitting the job I have held for six years that has no relation to my interests.  I will be escaping the cubicle to pursue my love of learning, and my love of helping others to learn.  I will be paying homage to Hypatia and Saint Catherine, who guided me here with expert and persistent ways.  And I will continue to stumble across the clues I didn’t know I was searching for on this ridiculous coincidence scavenger hunt that is my life.

Welcome to the next chapter, a digression on the lives of Hypatia and St. Catherine and this budding new librarian under their patronage.


P.S. While at a medieval studies conference this spring, shortly after I received my acceptance letter, I came across a new translation of the Life of St. Catherine.  More on that conference and a book review soon, I expect.  *g*



Baby Crow Moon

So today is the first day of the waxing Crow Moon, and I am reminded of a little anecdote my mom once told me.

As the esteemed and intellectually crush-worthy Russian etymologist Anatoly Liberman once said, “Squirrely is never a complimentary epithet.”  However, back in the ’70s, Anatoly was only just en route to the U.S., and my mom had a good friend with a spectacularly bushy mustache, slightly buck teeth (or so I imagine), and the unfortunate moniker of “Squirrely.”

It was late June, and my mom’s identical twin had just given birth to her first child, a daughter.  Mother and baby were glowing, and the friends had come to pay a visit the new addition to the family.  My aunt beamed at her little girl and said tearfully, “Isn’t she just the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?”

Squirrely leaned over the bassinet, looked at my aunt, and stated with the deepest sincerity, “…Well, Darlin’…  Every crow thinks her chick’s the blackest.”

As appalling as this might have sounded to the new mother, I think this story illustrates quite accurately the mood of this new growing moon.  At the Crow Moon, the snow and ice of the previous months are finally teasing us with a slight thaw, and everything is humming with the potential energy of the approaching spring.  With Pisces ruling both sun and moon, we are filled with the excitement, hope and pride of a new parent, dreaming of the future achievements of the warmer days ahead.

Our eyes may be dazzled by the bright return of the sun, blinding us to our perhaps over zealous notions of the joy that is coming our way and the beauty of our own potential, but we shouldn’t let the Squirrelys of the world make us feel remotely ashamed of this feeling.  Your spring *is* the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, and it has all the amazing potential you can imagine.

Embrace the child of your aspirations, hold her tight, and tell her that she can grow to become absolutely anything in the world.  You’re the mommy, and you know best.

Welcome, dreamy eyes, and congratulations.


Ice Moon

Last Friday was the night of the Ice Moon.

It seemed like the drive was endless.  The snow was still deep in the city, and past the highway the moon was rising — swollen and glowing orange behind the trees.  It was hard to take my eyes off of it, but I had to watch the road.

Hours passed with quiet music and pleasant conversation.  The roads were clear, even along the icy shores of the great lake, churning under the moonlight.

About four hours after dusk we made our turn into the woods.  The road was suddenly invisible under the packed snow, and traction was more of a hope than a certainty.  We were lucky — the bridge was still in place over the rushing creek even after the heavy melt of the past week.

We crossed the bridge, and as we eased onto the right fork back towards our lot, we discovered that the road, in this neck of the woods, had turned to solid ice.  We made it over one slight hill only to stall on the next and slide back down.  As we contemplated our best plan of action, a visiting neighbor drove past on the left fork, didn’t quite make it, lost control, slid out into a spin and planted firmly in a snow bank.

It was time to seek some help.

Luckily, my partner and his friend had arrived safely at the cabin just ahead of us, since they were driving a four-wheel vehicle that tackled these frozen slopes with ease.  With no reliable cell phone service this far north, we had few options.  The cabin was about a mile deeper into the woods.  I set out on foot.  Alone.

I was grateful for the full Ice Moon — without her I would have been lost in the darkness.  Instead, my path was bright and blue and sparkling with cold.  The ice barely made a sound under my pounding feet.  But in the woods to my right, the pack was howling its welcome.  Their eerie song echoed in the hollow air, widening the empty space around me.  Despite my frozen legs, aching lungs, and the prospect of the labor waiting for my return, I couldn’t help but look toward the wild and mournful sounds, toward the moon, and smile.


The Whetting Stone

Just to get the juices stirring on our topic of keys, here is a favorite little tale of mine from the collection of the masters of folk and fairy, the Brother’s Grimm:

The Golden Key

In the winter time, when deep snow lay on the ground, a poor boy was forced to go out on a sledge to fetch wood.  When he had gathered it together, and packed it, he wished, as he was so frozen with cold, not to go home at once, but to light a fire and warm himself a little.  So he scraped away the snow, and as he was thus clearing the ground, he found a tiny, gold key.  Hereupon he thought that where the key was, the lock must be also, and dug in the ground and found an iron chest.  “If the key does but fit it!” thought he; “no doubt there are precious things in that little box.”  He searched, but no keyhole was there.  At last he discovered one, but so small that it was hardly visible.  He tried it, and the key fitted it exactly.  Then he turned it once round, and now we must wait until he has quite unlocked it and opened the lid, and then we shall learn what wonderful things were lying in that box.


Here’s to the key of possibilities, the key of imagination… Knowing to look for something to be unlocked, and knowing that it can be.


The Stolen Child

On the subject of changelings, I read a lovely novel about changelings not so long ago, that I really ought to recommend. It’s called “The Stolen Child” by Keith Donohue.  If you are remotely drawn to the fairy tale genre geared towards adults, this is a thought-provoking and colorful read.

But now for your instant reading gratification, here is a rather somber poem, from the compassionate changeling himself:

WHERE dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

– W. B. Yeats

With a faery, hand in hand,

P.S.  A painting entitled “Changeling 2” – an unsettling image of a young girl’s glowing face – won the London National Gallery’s BP Portrait Award in 2009.  I’m sensing a comeback.