Kalendis Februariis - Brigid's Day - Imbolc

The year hasn't started yet, not really. In the original Roman calendar, the year started with March and ended in December. The in-between period just wasn't part of any month or year. Which is a curious idea. They would have intercalaries all the time when the calendar and the seasons were getting out of sync. But this extended intercalary is something I could get into. Imagine if we had these two months off? I suppose in the old agrarian days, this might have been as quiet as the year was going to get. There's nothing to harvest and nothing to tend. Just stay warm and fed.

Februa was a Roman purification feast for the start of spring, so when February was created they gave it that name. If you think about it, Lent is also a purification of sorts, and it always ends in the spring.  There's also the phenomenon of spring cleaning, which exists because one can't really open the windows and doors in the winter in places like New England. Though we have those odd days here and there, and they are their own celebration. Febris also means fever, which I haven't decided how to absorb.

Today is Imbolc - Brigid's Day, the start of Celtic Spring. Spring starts earlier in Europe, it seems. I have it on good authority that one can see people mowing grass in parts of Ireland in February. We woke up to snow this morning, so clearly all of this has to be taken with a North American grain of salt. Brigid was goddess, later a saint, and patron of poetry, fertility and healing, among other things: including sacred fires. She may have started as a dawn goddess, and it makes sense to celebrate her now. The days are getting longer. This is the dawn of the year. It's time to wake up!

Imbolc, or i mBolg in modern Irish, means "in the belly", referring to the lambs who are yet to be born. I like to think it can also mean that this is a time to plan for the year ahead, the real year. Let the ideas gestate, try out different thoughts.

It's also been thought to derive from words meaning "cleaning" (there's that spring cleaning again!), "milk", and "budding". In any case, we're halfway between the depths of the winter solstice and the spring equinox, when day overtakes night. Things are stirring. I swear last weekend I saw the forsythia seemed to be starting to yellow. The bare stalks always seem to get a yellow tint as they get closer to flowering.

Tomorrow is Candlemas, which finishes the forty-day period that starts with Christmas. It's meant to commemorate the presentation of Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem. It's called by that name because of the tradition of holy candles (there's the sacred fire) to symbolise light returning to the world. Apparently, it's also a tradition to eat crepes, whose round shape recalls the sun. All the greens you may have brought in for Christmas (wreaths, garlands, the tree, etc.) should be taken down. It's a new season and the year is about to start!

And I haven't even mentioned Groundhog Day...

All of which is to say that it seems a good day to take up blogging again. It's good to have one island of my own to cultivate while the Republic burns. At least during this intercalary period. Let the ideas and plans of action gestate, get the house and hearth in order, appeal to the powers that move us, and then prepare for the long days of summer, as far away as they seem.


Still harvesting

Though gardening season is pretty much over, I was still able to harvest some veggies today.  Beets, carrots and turnips today.  I think we can look forward to cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts.  Everything that resists frost, I suppose.

It's been very illuminating to discover what grows when, what conditions what.  I'm hardly an expert, and I'm lucky to have the luxury that I don't need to be one.  We discovered a few years ago when we had a freak Halloween snowstorm that arugula can survive thirty inches of snow, at least if it all disappears quickly.

There's also something empowering about growing your own food.  Not that I think we could grow all the food we need - not yet, anyway.  Still, there's something satisfying in a primal way about eating food that grew because you put the work into it.  It's rewarding in a very direct way.  Everyone should at least grow their own lettuce in the summer.  Even just one head.

So the season is ending, or has ended for most things, but it's nice to get a last harvest.  I'm hoping to save some for Thanksgiving.



This morning I was out changing a bulb when I started noticing little aberrations in the air around me.  Like tiny shadows, or flutters of something not quite solid in the air.  And, of course, it was flurries.  It says a lot about how accustomed I've become that the first flurries of the season exhilarate me so much.

Not so my first snowfall, all the way back in 1993.  Twenty years ago I came to New England, having never experience any temperature colder than the mid-fifties.  It only rarely goes below seventy on St Thomas.  So I was excited and curious to see snow for the first time.

What a let down for my friends.  They called me out, I rushed outside, I felt the first icy sting of the first flake hit my bare cheek, and I ran back inside.  I hadn't anticipated that snow would hurt.  Now, though, I've learned not to think of that feeling as a sting, but as a zap.  Hey!  You're alive.  Winter's coming!  Wake up!

For the first few years I lived in a Cambridge, MA,  I would always mistake the first snowfall for something else: flowers, feathers, volcanic ash.  In my defence, those things are a lot more likely to fall from the skies over St Thomas than snow.  I think it took a few years for my brain to understand that I wasn't home any more.  It took a lot longer for my brain to decide that New England was home.  Or at least permanent residence.

So winter's coming.  My shoulder's been tapped.  It's not the cold or the snow that get you, it's the dark.  So I've got plenty of bulbs.


Waiting for Godot

Last night Trevor and I went to see Waiting for Godot.  I first read it in high school, and frequently re-read it in college and right afterward, but this was the first time I finally saw it performed.  The actors were Irish, which does make sense since Samuel Beckett was Irish.  I had only read the play in French, though, and when I last read it I hadn't just spent the last ten years living with an Irishman.  Which is to say I had no way of knowing how much Irish humour there is in the play.  It did underscore for me, though, how much the Irish and French sensibilities overlap.  Oh, the Gauls.

The set was remarkable in its lunar theme.  A gray moon with something of a crater holds all the action and a tree is suspended from above.  A luminous moon hangs in the background.  It's simple, stark, and makes it so the actors had to really carry it, and they did.  The play is one with no easy conclusions, no obvious point, but it really is great at making you come up with explanations.

I think it's about aging, the silence of God, the downfalls of being a master or a slave, the freedom in uncertainty and the futility of life.  But it's not overtly about any of those things, and isn't really about any of them at all.  There are numerous uncomfortable silences throughout the play, and that's probably part of why half the audience didn't come back for the second act when it debuted in London in the fifties.

Last night's crowd, though, most certainly did come back for the second act.  It was a younger crowd, which I find heartening.  And the younger folks outdressed the older folks, which I find telling.  Theatre has its origins in holy rituals, and I think there is still something magical to it.  It was a joy to visit Emerson's new Paramount Theatre.  I forgot to mention yesterday that the whole reason I was at Downtown Crossing was for this play.

Here are some reviews and explanations better than mine:



Downtown Crossing

I have to confess something.  I love Downtown Crossing.  It's kind of run-down, I know, but I like how it's both neglected and the center of things at the same time.  Every now and then, the Globe will run a story on how dead it is and how nobody goes there.  Every time they do, I wonder if the writer only went down there at three in the morning.  I'm glad to say, though, that it's picking up and getting a little more love.

Granted, I think a lot of the negative attitudes come from the preponderance of Black people, specifically teenagers, who come down.  People are much more evasive about what bothers them, so I just put it out there.  Of course I'll always think that crowds of Black people shopping, browsing, up to good and no good, is just, you know, normal.  But what do I know?  I'm just a kid from St Thomas.

And that's probably part of the appeal.  I'm still a guy from a small island in the Caribbean, and walking about Downtown Crossing still fills me with wonder that such a thing can be.  It's no Manhattan, but that makes it manageable for me.  And one is never very far from the Common.

Perhaps the best thing about Downtown Crossing, and Boston in general, is that a view like the picture above can be had only five minutes' walking from the picture previous.


Halfway through Fall

We've reached the halfway point between the fall equinox and the winter solstice.  We've also just set the clocks back, so it's just that much more obvious that we're in the darker part of the year.  Still, this has to be the longest foliage season I remember.  It's still really beautiful, if cold.  I'm lucky to live near Jamaica Pond, where I can observe the seasons when I'm in the city.

We've been at Willowbank for four years now and I think that's how long it takes me to really get used to a place.  I used to walk the Forest Hills Cemetery regularly, and before that the Arboretum.  Both of those are still nearby, but I circumambulate the Pond most frequently.  The trees are starting to reveal their personalities to me.  The other day I noticed for the first time that there are black walnut trees about.

In addition to passing the mid point to solstice, today was also the mayoral election for Boston.  This is the first one in a long time that's counted, so I made sure to vote.  I won't reveal my inclinations here, but I will say that the change is long overdue and that either candidate will bring strengths to the office.  Voting will always make me think of my grandfather, who was jailed in Haiti for requesting free elections.  I'm not thrilled with the state of our democracy, but I'll never take it for granted.


Reviving the blog

So I suddenly decided the other day to write a post again after a long while, I've also been encouraged to keep going by this post: http://www.cassandrapages.com/the_cassandra_pages/2013/11/nablowrimo.html

Apparently, it's National Blog Writing Month.  There are some amazing blogs out there, though I don't follow as many as I used to.  I tend to go through aggregators (Digg or Feedly or somesuch, ever since Google bowed out of that game), which I realise makes me miss out on comments and such.  It's nice to visit each page - it's like going on a social call.

Some of my favourites (in alphabetical order):

The Archdruid Report - a blog about the future of industrial society, or the lack of one
Cassandra Pages - art, poetry, writing, montrĂ©al, among many other things
Henry David Thoreau - excerpts from HDT's journals
Hermit's Thatch - reflections on the solitary life
Magnus Incognito - a friend of mine whose interests are wide-ranging
Renfusa - another friend of mine - great way to become fascinated about new things
Via Negativa - "a personal web log with delusions of grandeur"
Whiskey River - a commonplace book
Zen Habits - "finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives"

I'm not really sure why I'm blogging, but even if it's just to serve as a release for my creative impulses, then that's good enough.  At least I'm in good company.


A walk in our woods

Life in Jaffrey can be busy.  Today I gathered kindling, split some wood (with a contraption, not the old-fashioned way), did laundry, weatherised some more windows.  But it's not all toil.  We took some time this afternoon to walk through our woods.

Our property is on both sides of the road.  I've taken to calling the part across the street from the house the West Bank.  I don't know why, besides that it's west of the road.  We've cleared a field there, two really, but there are still acres of woods.  Our neighbour Charles has been creating trails in the nearby woods for years, and I'm delighted that this summer he cleared some trails on our land.

There are lots of cool stone walls, some with remnants of barbwire.  The swamp is still no-go, but there is a clearing with large stones at the very western edge of our land.  I don't think it will ever get old to walk in my own woods, though I'm happy that they connect to other woods now, too.  The more the merrier.

After our walk, we spent the half hour before sunset creating a giant woodpile for burning.  We plan to have some pretty cool bonfires for the winter solstice!  Stay tuned.


A good place to sit

At Ramble's End, in the study, sitting by the wood stove.  This is a good place.  We spend a lot of evenings sitting here quietly.  This has become my spot, though I do switch it up and sit next to Trevor on the couch sometimes.  I've come to realise that Trevor and I are very quiet people, which would surprise a lot of people who know that I'm a chatterbox.

This is also a room full of books, which is probably why we spend so much time in here: two sets of Encyclopaedia Brittanica, all my Calvin & Hobbes, books on gardening, writing, philosophy, etc.  Pipes and cigar boxes galore, along with all the accoutrements for the stove.

Today is All Souls' Day.  This room has a soul.  I'm thankful for what I have.


Kalends November - Samhain - All Saints

This is a tree I've been admiring on my somewhat daily walks around Jamaica Pond.  With my animistic worldview, I can't help thinking it's a feminine spirit.  So I paid her a visit this blustery morning, all the leaves blowing past us, and paid my respects.  It feels like the start of a new year.

This is where the veil between the worlds is supposedly at its thinnest, which is why we take this day to think about our departed, the spirit realm, the saints above, anyone we want to commune with who isn't in this world entirely.  I'm thinking of my grandparents and playing the song "La Paloma" to bring their memories closer to me.

Summer is completely over, the harvesting is pretty much done.  Now to hunker down for winter and use this dark half of the year to preserve what we've got and plan for the lighter times ahead.


A misty day today. Every day when I walk from the Bunker Hill T to the office, I pass by North Point. It's been slated for development since at least 2001. Back when I was going to be an urban planner, one of my projects at Harvard GSD's Career Discovery Program was to make a design for North Point.

A few parts have been developed, but I've slowly fallen in love with the parts that are still "wild". I have to put "wild" in quotes because this whole area was originally a swamp. Then a rail yard. So it's hardly in its natural state. Every time it rains, I think the swamp tries to come back. The vernal pond you see below had dried up, but it came back with the recent rains.

I like to imagine what it's like to be a small creature on that rock at the edge of it. On my way home today, I think it was a cardinal roosting there. It flew away before I could photograph it. The light to the west was sublime.

As I was nearing home, these lilies just jumped at me. Today has been a good day. I'm off to walk the dog.


A wonderful evening

Wonderful night. After work, I walked over to the I got to lay on my back as the sun set, enjoy the purple and orange light in the western sky, then watch the stars appear. They don’t just pop out, they drift in and out of sight so that you wonder if you’re imagining them into place. The moon stayed right over my sister’s right shoulder.

Bats overhead flew through the beams cast by the stage lights. A red-tailed hawk flew from behind the Hatch Shell directly above us – beautiful bird. The air was cool enough that I was glad to be wearing a sweater, but I was comfortable. What may be the best part of all, though, is that the whole time I was enjoying my surroundings, the Boston Landmarks Orchestra was playing Verdi’s Requiem.

It’s a wonderful piece – the person who introduced the piece said that a criticism of Verdi’s Requiem is that it’s rather dramatic for a requiem, which tend to the peaceful, somber side of things. Well dramatic it is, but not to any detriment! I found it rather moving. Nights like tonight are why I’m so glad to live in the city.

Requiem aeternam, dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.