Kage Baker drew enormous encouragement from the yearly amble of the seasons round the horological wheel.
“I don’t mean the Circle of Life; that’s a Hallmark sentiment,” she said once, dismissively. “I like the annual movements of the Zodiac, the rotation of Time above the Western horizon. Gimme those pyramid-builders’ charts and Swiss watch gears! The Precession of the Equinox rules!”
She was particularly taken with the idea that the eternal stars – aren’t. Usually, Kage objected strenuously to change of any sort; but for some reason, she was charmed with the image of the constellations and their component parts shifting in a long, slow, stately dance. You just never know what will strike someone as elegant, I guess … the idea that the Pole Star, especially, was not a fixed item just thrilled her. It’s Polaris now, and that is just fine – she knew how to find it by sighting off the handle of the Great Wain*, and felt very accomplished about that.
But 5,000 years ago – when the Minoans were getting started, and Egypt was only on its 3rd Pharaoh, and ground was being broken for Stonehenge – then, it was a modest white sparkler named Thuban, in Alpha Draconis. And in 13,00 years it will be blue Vega, the 3rd brightest star in the sky. (Kage was wistful about missing that, as she thought it would be quite a sight; also, easier to find.) And the mere idea that the very symbol of constancy, the linch-pin of the night sky, was variable, just thrilled her.
I thought this attitude was especially peculiar, since Kage was dreadfully depressed by the idea that the Universe itself might eventually expand fatally. The heat-death of the Universe was a big science theme in the 1950’s and 60’s, and it upset her. She didn’t see the point of the Universe expanding until it was just luke-warm hydrogen porridge, bereft of light and life. Fortunately for her peace of mind, the cycling Universe theory came along later in her life: she liked that much better, the idea that the Universe would reach a limit and bungee cord back to a point-source of matter and energy, and then: BOOM! A new Universe would explode into existence.
A cycling, explosive Universe was much more comforting to Kage. So you never know what someone will find warm and fuzzy, either …
Anyway, in all these rhythms, what pleased Kage was the CYCLE. Events happened over and over. They could be predicted, anticipated, planned for and welcomed in as their times came round. That’s what she liked about Time. And since, to Kage, all the partitions of Time were completely arbitrary – direction, duration, borders and edges and boundaries – she considered all those limits as merely aesthetics. Time happened everywhere, all at once; what you chose to view as beginning or endings were simply what you thought looked best.
Kage really felt that personal aesthetics were the ultimate arbiter of Life in general.
So, obviously, the seasonal cycle of the year was of huge personal import to her. She celebrated the four Equinoxes and Solstices faithfully. For extra elegance, she also borrowed from her own Northern European ancestry and inserted the Quarter Days into her personal calendar as well. Lughnasadh, Samhain, Imbolc and Beltane came along between the Four Biggies and broke up the year nicely. Kage, as I’ve said, was always ready for an excuse for a party.
She had rituals – mostly based on colours and appropriate food and drink – for all eight of these. We celebrated them all her life. Degree of complexity depended on where the hell we were on a given date – pizza or mead might not always be convenient, let alone anythiung she could set on fire – but even if we drank water and ate bread, it was from the appropriately-hued vessels, and by firelight.
Aesthetics as the basis of ritual, Dear Readers – because how can you look for the Divine unless you can tell what edges between human and divinity look like? For Kage, all those sign posts were brightly coloured, decoratively engineered and glowed in the dark.
We are only a week or so from the Vernal Equinox right now; in Los Angeles, it will fall on Mar 20, 2017, 3:28 AM. The weather is perfect, for a Southern California Spring – soft, warm air, everything green and blossoming and alive. Spring has not been so evident or so welcome here in nearly a decade! The air around my house smells of orange blossoms and poppies and camphor buds and new grass; our windows are open all night, and even the moonlight seems stronger suddenly.
Friday, Tomatomania is being held at Tapia Brothers in the San Fernando Valley: we will be going out to get our annual tomatoes for the year. And on Saturday, we’re going to Theodore Paine (a famous local native plant nursery) to acquire poppies and other wonderful native flowering plants.
And I may indulge in a new rose bush, too. Personal aesthetics, you see. It’s how we carve out the shape of Time. And now, it’s time for Spring.
*You may know it as the Big Dipper. Or the Great Bear. Or Ursa Major. I learned my stars from a Welsh grandfather, and to me it is the Great Wain.