All posts by Kristin Catherwood

I am a storyteller and a folklorist. This is where I share the beauty and wonder of my home place. You can reach me at kristin@fromthegap.com. Thank you for visiting.

Of the Two-Faced God

“No event or mundane circumstance can occur without having first been set in motion by an idea, charged with emotion, and then manifested as an action.”

“…those acquainted with either the esoteric realm or the realm of psychology in its deeper aspects will recognise the fact that there are no coincidences.”

  • Liz Greene, Saturn: A New Look at an Old Devil

I’ve been reading about Saturn lately. In Grade 3, we all had to choose a planet and create a model of it using styrofoam and acrylic paint. I chose Saturn. I was eight years old and knew nothing about Saturn other than I had decided it was my favourite planet, perhaps because of its distinctive rings. Some years later when I started to dabble in astrology and drew up my birth chart for the first time, I discovered that, with Capricorn rising on the horizon at my time of birth, Saturn “rules” my birth chart, and so, according to the more fatalistic interpretations of astrology, determines my life.

Even those not particularly acquainted with astrology have heard of a few common astrological events, like Mercury Retrograde and the Saturn Return. The former happens three or four times a year and is supposed to affect all of us. The latter happens every 27-29 years for each individual, when the planet returns to the segment of an individual’s birth chart where he was at their birth. According to the astrologers, the Saturn Return signifies the time when we must truly grow up and become adults. Mine just finished.

Saturn is a hard planet. Traditional astrologers called it the “Greater Malefic.” There was a sense of fatedness about Saturn’s placement in your chart – wherever he put pressure on your chart was a part of your life that would always be hard, would offer few rewards, would weigh heavily on you, would represent an eternal darkness.

So with Saturn ruling my whole chart, does that mean I am cursed, fated to always dwell in that darkness? I’ve often thought so. Felt resigned to a certain destiny. People born with Saturn on the ascendant are often fatalistic like that. In a way, it’s a relief to absolve yourself of responsibility for the tough things that happen. When they happen to you, what are you but a victim of circumstance?

But as I’ve been reading more about Saturn, and trying to live my life with my face towards the sun, I’m starting to see things in a different way. Today is the Winter Solstice – the longest night, and Saturn reigns over it. This day marks the sun’s change from Sagittarius to Capricorn. The darkest night must be endured before the days can start to lengthen, the sun start to strengthen. The ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia around this time – a time when everything was tipped upside down and revelry ruled the day. Kings became paupers and slaves became lords.

And then there’s Janus, the two-faced Roman god of thresholds, doorways, transitions, time – Saturnian things. Janus, for whom January is named. Janus, who “opens the door of the sky and releases the dawn.” At this time of year, we look backward to see what we managed to accomplish this past year, what we failed to do, what disappointments we endured, and what unexpected moments of joy we were blessed with. We take stock, and then look forward to the year to come. We vow to do better, to make our work more worthwhile, to grow in some way. We accept, with however much difficulty, that time moves on in a linear fashion and we all grow old.

After the darkest, longest night comes the slow returning of the light. The sun edges closer to us each day, even as winter grips us firmly in his hand. As I drove through town tonight, looking at all the Christmas lights people have decorated their houses with, I thought about how no matter how bewilderingly the world changes, we still hold to these ancient and primal traditions. We light up the darkest nights of the year. Soon after Christmas, people will take down those lights, let the sun take over the job.

I am never not amazed and humbled by the perfect geometry of the seasons. How, if you let yourself really pay attention, things make sense. There are no coincidences. A life ruled by Saturn might require more work, more dark nights, a heavier load. But its gift is the sure knowledge that even in the darkest times, there is light glimmering at the edges, the margins. Wait, and it will come. Choose to see it for what it is and act accordingly. Let the sun illuminate those latent ideas, charge them with passion, and set them into motion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is it about cows, anyway?

What is it about cows, anyway?
Something about their lumbering grace
Their propensity for grazing on the
side of hills, or just outside the fence.
Their limpid curiosity, or the hint of feistiness displayed
in a bit of a buck and a running start
to where?
Another patch of grass. The watering hole.

Is it a barnyard full of pungent muck?
Is it the way their great tongues would deftly scrape up the
chop my dad laid out for them
on the flatbed trailer in wintertime?
Is it tiny calves riding in the
passenger seat to the vet in Ogema,
with me in the middle?

Is it old Bossy and Lulabelle (a hard milker),
cows I never knew, but they lived on the farm before I did,
they called the same view home and
they were acquainted with my dad
long before I was ever thought of,
and I feel like I know them personally?
Their names live on at the farm, even with the barn long since burned down.
Their spirits must be here too, still.

Boss outside
Not our Bossy, this is another Boss, a Jersey from Arvid’s place, one of the last known milk cows within a 50 mile radius.

Is it that dairy barn in northern Iceland? Full of those Viking cows all
jostling together in an overwhelming mix of manure,
clattering hooves,bellows, and improbably, gallons and gallons of
rich, white milk that made the best
butter and cheese I’ve ever tasted?

Is it that time I drove into Alberta on the back roads,
nothing but me, the open graze land, the cattle, and the road?
Was it that time I was rambling (with permission) through
a badlands pasture when some skittish Black Angus steer
decided to spook and set the whole herd thundering away,
so that I’m sure I felt the ground shake?

Is it that time in rural eastern Quebec,
close to the border with New Brunswick
when traffic on the highway was halted while
some naughty runaway cattle were chased back home?
Or how about that time south of Val Marie when I had to slow
to a crawl behind about fifty head, two ranchers on ATVs
and their Border Collie (who rode on the ATV)?

Calf
One of Stacy’s calves.

Is it all the times I went with Dad, sometimes just me and him,
other times Janelle and Mom crammed into the
maroon Ford pickup too, up to old Joe’s pasture
to check on the cattle, when it always seemed to be
the golden hour and we bumped our heads on the roof of the truck
as it rumbled and crawled over those southern hills?

Is it how when I was a little girl they were always there,
part of my life and the landscape as much as the sun or stars?
Is it because they were the “moos,” as Janelle called them,
and you could hear them day and night
going about their lives, just out there in the barnyard
(still called that even though the barn was 15 years burned?)

i00642
A Hereford bull somewhere in the Big Muddy, seemingly relaxed.

Is it that vague memory I have of a golden morning years ago
before school when some neighbours did a roundup and the cows
went galloping past the farm, down the road and in the ditches,
urged on by horses and riders wearing cowboy hats?
(that really happened, didn’t it? Or was it a dream?)

Is it Charlie, the black and white Holstein,
or Friendly, the good-tempered Charolais,
or perhaps all those curly forelocked red-coated Herefords,
or the calves I named after my cousins,
that made up our moteley herd?

I don’t know what it is about cows, but there’s just something, isn’t there?

Angus
A well-tended herd with a well-developed capacity for curiosity,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These Southern Hills

Down here in the southern hills, things shift, change, are noticeably different.

The roads narrow and get rougher. The hills rise and get higher. Time seems to slow down, somehow.

Haste has no place here, but urgency can arise, when a fire  needs fighting, a calf needs pulling, a crop needs harvesting.

There are spirits dwelling here in these southern hills, deities of some kind that have been here since the last glacier scraped the earth raw, or even before. They are watchful and silent, but if you know where to go, you can feel them, can hear them. If you know how to listen.

Return at High Summer

time poet/to put aside what you came to/leaving all else/behind
Andrew Suknaski, “Western Prayer,” Wood Mountain Poems

Andy,

You would have been 75 today. Seventy-five revolutions around the sun, it should be, but you stopped just short of 70.

It was no surprise to discover your solar return to be at high summer when the sun is at its full strength here in these southern hills, in this western land, when it seems fit to swallow the land whole. More than anything else it’s the sun that makes this place what it is, grows us into who we are, the sun that scorches away all that is unnecessary, the sun that both gives and takes.

I cast your chart, Andy. That’s something I do for people who matter to me, both theliving and dead.  A child of the sun but also a son of Neptune. Fire and water. An uneasy, smouldering combination, two elements at odds but which come together in their mutual obeisance at the altar of emotion. Inwardly watery, outwardly spitting sparks – am I right to deconstruct your character so? Did you ever feel like your inner self was drowning, Andy? Even as your words scorched pages with their searing honesty. Another thing common to water and fire – the ability to purge, cleanse, purify. Burn down to the bone and wash away all trace of any artifice. Getting at the truth, even if it burns you alive, or drowns you from the inside.

It was hot today, Andy. The sun was everything and everywhere until it finally dropped down into the horizon in a glory of magenta. Even it seemed glad to be gone, to relinquish itself to the brief  respite of a hot and windy summer night. We know now that the sun never really leaves, that it’s always shining somewhere. But the ancients did not know that; what they knew was that the sun departed before the night. It gave way to the wisdom of the moon and stars. It rested as we mortals rest.

And they knew, too, that the sun returns every year to the same places and shines in the same kind of way and imbues those born at that particular time with a certain set of traits, predilections, capacities, potentials. Of course you were born when you were, with the sun like it always is on July 30th in this particular intersection of latitude and longitude. Son of the sun, borne of the highest heat and driest dry, a true child of this place.

As the sun rests at night, so do I hope you rest now.

 

 

A Particular Shade of Mauve

Trouble sleeping, and eating, and concentrating on necessary tasks. Scatter-brained, daydreamy, just a touch out of sorts. All the symptoms of falling in love, but it’s not a man who has captured my attention. It’s the land.

Sometimes it’s a Monday evening and it’s been a long day and you really just need to get home, make yourself a proper meal, get to bed early for once, and make a “to-do” list for tomorrow so all the things that need to be done aren’t just rattling around un-tethered in your brain.

But to get home you have to drive through sixty miles or so of prairie in June, when the sun is angling itself down towards dusk. And then you get into the Gap, and you’re almost home and then you see that the twilit eastern sky is settling into a particular shade of mauve behind the creek bank for a few brief moments before darkening to amaranth. What can a person do but stop and be in that moment? And try to clumsily capture a few photographs. But the prairie sky, photogenic as it is, refuses to be held captive by something as aloof and obtuse as a camera, and so the results are never quite what it was really like to be there beside that crick, with all the birds singing their evensongs and the mosquitoes buzzing around with a certain anxious grace, and some cows meditatively munching grass in the nearby pasture. Not to mention the quality of the air – the tenderness it offered, an accommodating softness few human lovers could manage.

Needless to say, my supper went uncooked, my bedtime was delayed, and the “to-do” list didn’t get done. So yeah, it’s sort of like being in love, living through these long June evenings down here in the Gap. It feels like those first blissful moments of a new romance, when everything seems like it’s going to turn out all right after all.

Mauve1
Kristin Catherwood. June 26, 2017.
Mauve 3.JPG
Kristin Catherwood. June 26, 2017.
Mauve 2
Kristin Catherwood. June 26, 2017.

 

Why Walk?

somethinggrand

IMG_8662

‘Pilgrimage’ is such a tired metaphor it’s hard to remember sometimes that it’s based on actually doing something.  “Let’s go on a pilgrimage to my favourite restaurant”. “Life is a pilgrimage from birth to death.” Yes, sure. But…But what keeps me interested in not just studying journeys, but also walking them, is the way the brain unhooks at 5 km/hr. Without even trying to, you begin to notice geography, and your own body, and the relationship between the two (as you walk up a long prairie hill, for instance, or start to sweat in the sun). You pay attention in a different way to nature. Or better, nature presents itself to you, when you are available: coyotes sleeping in a burrow, badgers running ahead along the fallow-line, the meadowlark calling from a grey fence-post, a family of otters playing as they cross your path from the river, some old abandoned…

View original post 183 more words

The Common in the Rare

I always thought that crocuses were rare things, endangered things. A source of early spring delight, always, for their brave appearance long before any other bloom is a sure sign that winter is truly on its way out.

I’ve only ever seen crocuses in small, lonely bunches, a few blooms huddled together, half-hidden among grass that has yet to go green. This spring, I went up to the Sidehill to look for some on “the hill.” I found a few, isolated clumps of them, each discovery inspiring a thrill of excitement.

Then I wandered a little farther afield, into the adjoining pasture land, a place of native prairie. And stopped. For on either side of me was a carpet of crocus, hundreds of them. More than I ever thought could have existed in one place at one time. A flower so fragile as to be rare almost everywhere thrives here.

And I wondered why I hadn’t known about this place before. In all my years of wandering in those hills, how had I not known that this was a place of abundance for the delicate, prairie crocus? Had I truly lived through so many dull springs, some of them with an utter absence of crocuses?

Or did they come out just for me just this once, never to be seen in such profusion again? How will I know except to wait through another long winter, and make sure that I get up in those hills at just the right time again. To see if what is rare can be common.