Autumn Equinox.

October 3, 2010 at 1:57 pm (a gentleman farmer, books, fishmongering, the gods)

I barely had time for the equinox. I took a few stolen glances at that gorgeous, pregnant harvest moon. I savoured a few guilty thoughts about how much better I’d like to care for my garden next year. I was in a bit of a frenzy at the time. The cold months are when I sell the most fish, and as the world turns darker and my customers more ravenous, my boys and I seem to have been caught a little unprepared. I’ve worked summers where every afternoon is a long lull, a desperate search to find something to clean in order to have something to do. I only experienced that once this year, and on that day I scrubbed so many things that the fishmonger with whom I shared the shift laughed at me. So our slowly getting back to business has us really quite busy. I enjoy it, but my body, I’m afraid, isn’t quite used to the pacing. And when I could have been biking into the coming fall, finding the patches of collected dried leaves to stomp in, to roll and play and worship in, I was attempting to do honour to my household gods, putting things in order, making things ready for the approach of my ladyfriend and her youngest daughter. And that felt right, somehow. Spring cleaning is nice, I suppose, for chasing the winter out. But I prefer making preparations. I want to gather in, to set my house in order for my long stay there. I’ve picked up my knitting needles again, and I am, for the first time, looking suspiciously at patterns. Up until now I’ve basically been practising various stitches in swatches and calling the results a scarf, or tearing them out and using the yarn to attempt something else. And I suddenly find myself in possession of a somewhat sizeable stack of books on gardening so that I can be better prepared for the first workable soil next year. And I scrubbed, and set things in order, and made some (mostly inadequate) attempt at hiding the things that a particularly destructive three-year-old might get into, or break, or on which she might impale herself. I planned recipes. I hauled food home in what felt like massive quantities, given that I’m only used to feeding myself. So it is possible, I suppose, that what I experienced was actually one of the more honest and encompassing second harvests in my memory.


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A snake in the garden.

July 20, 2010 at 11:05 am (a gentleman farmer, the gods)

There is a snake in the garden.

Last year, just before my birthday, three keys were left on the ledge next to my door. I left them there, not wanting to take them from whomever may have lost them. But when three of my neighbours tried to return them to me, including an old man with a python coiled about his shoulders, I felt certain of the shape of the ritual and accepted the gift. I have those keys, still. This year, on the day before my birthday, my neighbours knocked three times again. The first time they informed us that quite a large snake, possibly two large snakes, had been seen crawling into my garden. The second time they told us that they’d called the police. And the third time we learned that the police wouldn’t be helping us, and that we should really be careful.

I live in the ghetto, and my garden is only a few raised beds in an abandoned lot. To protect from the rare less well-intentioned of my neighbours, I’ve allowed the front half of the lot to be claimed by underbrush and weeds, low-growing paulownia trees, a tangled net of grasping green. Anything lurking there would be quite invisible.

What happens, I wonder, next year, on my third birthday with this snake spirit that clearly coils in threes? For now I’ll wear my fishmongering boots when I’m outdoors checking on my tomatoes and kale, and hope that the snake, if angered or frightened, is feeling lethargic and not up to lunging above the level of my knees in this heat.

Horrible death--a man eaten by rattlesnakes, near West Chazy...

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Zeus in the form of a cloud.

June 24, 2010 at 7:06 pm (books, quotations, the gods, the sky gods)

I spent this morning in the company of The Cloudspotter’s Guide, which I’m only getting to now, approximately four years after I was made aware of the fact that I’d quite like it. Reading the chapter on cumulonimbus clouds, I idly wondered what an approaching storm of that type might look like. My apologies to my city; such thoughts are dangerous.

I was biking home from the market a few hours ago, vaguely considering riding a bit out of my way to explore a garden shop I’d not visited before. But the sky seemed to be darkening, and I thought it best to return home. Turning onto my block I saw the first line of lightning, but all was still dry.

The raindrops began to fall as I lifted my bicycle inside and pulled the door shut behind me. Not a minute later the trees were bent by the wind, their branches flailing as if fending off an attack. The rain came next in terrible waves, and my windows shook with the onslaught of hail. The wind pressed at my door, driving in the rain beneath it: it crept into my house, making its way halfway across the room. The pretty girl with whom I live and I joked that it was like a Hitchcock film, all subtly threatening incursions of nature and unresolved homosexual plots. We were certain that we’d be slowly drowned.

The book indicated that unless one is at some distance, one can only know the shapeless black covering of the cumulonimbus by its sudden violence, by rain and hail and noise. Quite so. It also states that the Japanese god Raiden, the god of thunder and lightning, prefers to feast on human navels, and that Japanese children cover theirs with their hands upon hearing thunder. A wise precaution, certainly, and one that I intend to adopt. How my navel, of which I happen to be quite fond, lasted as long as it did without such safeguards is certainly only a matter of luck and rigourous personal shielding of a more general nature.

I may have to look into the referenced book, The Man Who Rode the Thunder, by  William Rankin, the only pilot to survive falling through the entirety of a cumulonimbus cloud. His engine died while attempting to fly over a storm in 1959. His recollections of his suffering at the hands of the sky gods are magnificent and beautiful.

This was nature’s bedlam… an ugly black cage of screaming, violent, fanatical lunatics… beating me with big flat sticks, roaring at me, screeching, trying to crush me or rip me with their hands… I didn’t hear the thunder… I felt it.

My full admiration goes to those who have fought the gods and survived, but, as for me, if I take on a storm like a mad old Lear, I don’t see the thing as a true antagonist. I might feel differently if I ever get so close to one as that. The storm gods are trusted friends, rather, of the sort that will let you wrestle them when your fury has grown too impotent and must be released with shouting, with a good friendly fight. They’re good enough to give me something against which I can struggle and press, to play their role in crashing and irreversible rituals. The sky gods feel too distant for me to know them properly, but I long for them. I embrace them, then, when they come nearer to my low realm.

A diversion: while writing this, I went to sit outside on my steps and watch the sky. It cleared almost immediately after the storm, and the sun is looking undaunted and annoyingly self-assured. The debris of felled branches and leaves are everywhere, and I’m afraid to check on the state of my garden. A half-blind grey cat was watching me. My neighbourhood is owned by its strays: there are more of them than us by far, and only they know the secrets of this place. This one was only barely more than a kitten, or perhaps it was hungry too much when it was young. One eye was a curious pale green, a setting for a line of onyx, and the other a shocking but useless blue, like labradorite held to the light just so, and an old scar ruined it. It was too affectionate for a stray. If I stopped giving it my attention, it reached up with its paws to embrace my wrist. I could feel its claws, but it was such a gentle thing. For which of the gods are you named, blind little cat? Odin? Bowie? Are you always page to the storm? One eye for the lightning, one eye for the rain? Be safe, little thing, and be well.

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And before this image hundreds of human hearts were offered up each year.

June 2, 2010 at 12:22 pm (books, hedonism, quotations, the ancient world, the gods)

I am a fishmonger, and the day’s catch calls me early. Most days, I’m shovelling ice and sharpening my knives well before the sun has plotted its ascent. I get them so rarely that when I find myself in possession of a free morning, I toy with it for hours like a housecat who doesn’t know what to do with a mouse. Today is one such morning. I lazed in bed to watch the sky shift and change with the awakening sun. I enjoyed a floral green tea sweetened with a thought of raw honey, and a great quantity of berries with fresh whipped cream left here after last night’s gathering of friends. And I perused my favourite bookshelf for something I’d not yet enjoyed.

What I found today was Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels: The Occident, published in 1937. It’s precisely the sort of book a child ought to have: lush, lurid, and inspiring the sort of morbid curiosity about the past and the world that burns in the mind of anyone with whom it might be worth spending an hour’s conversation.

Behold, an excerpt on the Aztec’s sacrificial pyramidal temple:

…Popo, to the Aztecs, was the most sacred and the most commanding, because it smoked and roared. Then, too, it played a grim role in their religious ceremonies. This volcano was directly west of the Cholula teocalli, so that the sun, if one watched it from the great pyramid, sank right into the smoking crater and was gobbled up. And when the last gleam disappeared – that was the signal for the priest to strike.

Popo is still there, still soaring above Cholula, still smoking, still crowned with clouds and snow. The brush-covered teocalli at its base is still there too.

And we are going to Mexico from Fort Jefferson, to see for ourselves this wonderful pyramid and this wonderful Popo.

We get off our bot at Vera Cruz, and travel inland. What glorious scenery – wild mountains and canyons, smothered in hanging moss and ferns and flowers! Arriving at Cholula we easily spot the teocalli because it is 180 feet high. Today, it looks like one more forested hill, but its pyramidal shape has not changed.

In the late afternoon we reach the base and find the steps that zigzag up the face of the teocalli. Up these same steps, five hundred years ago, the Aztec sacrificial procession began its climb. We can imagine what such a procession was like – chanting priests in their barbaric feather headdress and feathered cloaks, escorting the victim and followed by many worshipers.

Higher and higher climb the Aztec multitude. The summit is reached. The sacrificial stone beside the image of the god is ready. There is no time to lose. The sun is all but touching Popo’s snows.

Standing on the summit ourselves, and using our imagination, we see the victim seized, his garments stripped away, his body stretched, chest up, on top of the stone block. We see five priests press down his limbs and head. A sixth is poised, knife in hand, above the waiting breast…

A thousand people hold their breath.

Popo, in respect to the Aztec gods, is pouring forth a shaft of smoke into the high heavens. The sun has dipped into the crater crest… a half remains – a rim – a final gleam.

The knife descends…

Mount Popocatepetl seen from near Amecameca

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Perhaps it’s the gods who have flawed taste.

May 29, 2010 at 8:11 pm (the ancient world, the gods, the standard of questionable taste)

We pagans have always had terrible taste. This pagan altar found in Israel looks like something that one could find on a lawn in New Jersey. The article hardly need mention that this was purchased by an upper-middle class family; it’s more than obvious.

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