What do you do when you find yourself alone on the year’s biggest fertility holiday?
I love Beltane. Nothing is more alive-ly green than the forest in May: the canopy of the leaves is a chlorophyll cathedral, staining the light a green that glows so bright you can hardly look at it. It’s past the fresh baby green of early spring, but not yet darkened into the full depth of its summer hue. The forest floor is ferns and unfurling leaves and cushiony carpets of moss, everything unabashed, succulent, seductive, revelatory. The color is fae magic and has the sound of violins and trumpets playing. It launches your heart, makes your blood race, makes you tremble with alive, flush and surge with every good feeling in the world.
It’s May Day: time to dance the Maypole, leap the fire, and go a-Maying into the greenwood and come back disheveled with green stains on your clothes. It is time for coupling. You are in a rut, but not in the usual sense of the term.
It’s plumb gorgeous, but not a comfortable time if you are alone.
I’m in a long-distance relationship now, since I moved to New England from the South. New England is in its first big bloom of late spring, and Tennessee has been a lush and humid jungle for a while. New England woods I walk alone. Tennessee woods I used to walk together: long photo walks with my boyfriend, meandering hikes, photo safaris, bike rides. Moving together through beauty was part of our normal life. I used to do this, I used to do that….
Now, while I await his visits, I hike by myself, going deep inward, expanded outward, no-one to converse with or share the experience with me. There is no other filter, no other set of eyes. I miss having Jeff’s photographic view and his intuition that pulled me off on side paths, not part of the original intended route, but unfailingly right. But without him there, I have to become fully responsible for what I see and feel. The only ‘us’ on the hike path is just the world and myself.
I have been undergoing a hermetic phase in my life. This is not a state of being that comes easily to me, especially at Maytide. Over the last few months, when I would get a Tarot reading and The Hermit would appear, I would growl in resistance, balk and buck inside. I’m a Lover: Taurus Sun and Venus in Taurus, and body so hopping with Shukra that my Ayurvedic therapist says that if he only saw that data, he would think I was a man.
What I want is paws on my skin, and pairing. What I want is the smell of my boyfriend’s neck in summer, the shape of his wet body in a swimming pool, the bark of his laugh in my ears, his thick ginger hair in my hands. (I’d better stop now.)
So to deal with the gnawing energy of longing, I started exploring on my own: hikes and photo treks. I had to move or I would go nuts. For those treks, I laughingly embraced The Hermit. I had no choice.
What started to happen was the world began to reveal itself to me in an ever more sensual way: on the descent from the top of Mt. Monadnock, as I steadied myself on the mountain’s bare rock, a patch of grass filled my palm and it felt like the mountain’s fur on its strong back. On a recent visit to a draft horse sanctuary, a herd of mighty horses surrounded me in the pasture, 30 all told, all refugees like me, all rescues, and I was dazzled by their shapes and colors and sizes, strong backs and manes and velvet whiskery muzzles, their great dark eyes, wheeling around me and each other like planets in huge but delicately negotiated orbits. I’ve been sitting on moss-covered stumps and snacking on fiddleheads in the woods.
Aloneness circulates self-reflection, sometimes like a hall of mirrors. There is no other lens but yours, until you relax into lenslessness. My friend Megan just completed a project where she took a portrait of herself every day for a year. Some of her photos are simple, some elaborately conceived and costumed. She sets up her camera with a timer and stages herself in front of it.
There is no-one behind the camera except her later self, who will appear during the editing process, and the anticipated world. You see her as she sees herself. You stand in place of her and also the place of the world. The process is self-contained but also exploded open quite wide. There is no other mediator, which is quite different from the loverly relationship of photographer and muse bouncing impressions off of each other, creatively escalating each other, assisting each other, taking each other in.
Maybe for some, being alone is easy, but for me it can be grueling. Hence, let me tire myself out scaling mountains. Hence, my hurtling trips down to the seacoast.
What I want is union and re-union.
But I know these times are necessary. I know we have to have periods of the Hermit so we can plunge fully juiced into the life of a lover, fully a person, fully ourselves.
In the absence of a mate, you have to be your own mate, your own photographer, your own audience: to give yourself the experiences that you would want to share with someone else. I always say, be your own boyfriend. Be the kind of person you would want to have. Embody strength and patience and gentleness and valor, creativity and courage. Practice these qualities in yourself until you shine.
I am starting to understand contrast, that it is the starkness of the winter that makes spring in New England the subject of so much poetry. It makes you long for it, and all you have read and dreamed over the winter makes you ready to receive it.
And I am starting to understand the mysteries: that nothing is ultimate; that the Lovers are pre-Hermit, the Hermit is pre-Lovers. It’s your job to be good at both, to have the fullness of a Hermit so you can be a better Lover. And to have the sensitivity and responsiveness of a Lover with which to apprehend the world, even when alone. The archetypes alternate. What is constant is the loving energy of the world.
Still there is longing. I’ll figure it out.
The world feeds you, the world restores you. It is your lover and you are its beloved. On Beltane, alone or in pairs, let yourself be deeply and thoroughly loved—by the breath of horses, by the fur of mountains, by the stained-glass membranous light of trees, by the singing ocean.
And by your lover, be they by your side or coming to you from a long voyage.
Blessed be, and Love you, Lover!
Editor: Brianna Bemel