The year was 1995. I was staying in the shepherd’s room, the upstairs loft above the wool room, on the Vermont sheep farm run by two lesbian women in their fifties. There were 5 rams (all named after visionary men, like Malcolm and Martin) and about 100 ewes.
Mornings on the farm entailed peanut butter on toasted English muffins, coffee and American Spirit cigarettes. We always watched a little news on TV and then reviewed the day’s tasks.
I loved being in nature but I never fully found my groove with all the penned up livestock. I also never quite relaxed under the watchful eyes of the women, sort of waiting for me to exit the proverbial closet. Thursday nights were ‘dyke movie night’ and they would select some VHS tape from the extensive library of films by and about gay men and women.
Was it just me, or was there always a bit of thickness in the air when some love scene came on between two women? Like they were waiting for me to either get visibly uncomfortable (proof of my intolerance), or simply blurt out in confession (proof of my true nature).
The truth is, I was open to the idea of being a lesbian. My heart was broken from a break up with a boyfriend in New Hampshire who’d kind of gone off the deep end. I was twenty-four, confused and shoveling sheep shit. I had even forged friendships with a couple of women my age. But that was what they were- friendships. The potential of my lesbianism was purely conceptual. There was no closet from which to emerge, though eventually I moved out of the shepherd’s room and off the farm.
Six paragraphs in to this, and I’m wondering what it is that has me spinning the tale of the lesbian sheep farm this morning.
Oh, right! Dagaz. The ‘breakthrough’ rune (more info on this ancient alphabet system of Northern Europe here).
It was in that Vermont shepherd’s room when I experienced the magic of the breakthrough. I was alone, with low lights and heavy soul-searching. My boyfriend was gone, I was sick of the sheep and my work trade had trade-offs that didn’t balance. I was short on cash with limited options.
I had a few personal items with me, one of them being a box my aunt had gifted me years before. It looked to be African in origin, but I didn’t know for sure. It held special stones, a certain pine cone, a few feathers and my bag of runes. As I was about to spread a few of them upon the top, I suddenly saw the cowry pattern there in a new light. It was the same design as the rune known as Dagaz. Inspired, I pulled a stone from my bag. Out came that very symbol.
My body flooded in the reverberation. All moments collided. The breakthrough. A clear sign. A signal that there was magic in my midst. I was not without hope. Despite my confusion, there felt to be a promise of a way out. I could trust.
Looking back, I was clearly desperate. I needed to put my faith in something. Anything. Having the rune symbol emerge from the design on a box I’d seen a hundred times before, followed by that very rune being pulled with my own hand, seemed proof enough to me at the time that I could trust in something, however ill-defined.
So that shepherd’s room story of the box and runes has stayed with me for more than 16 years. And it is only this morning as I type it, looking at the Dagaz symbol, taking in the shell pattern on the box top, that I realize: these designs are totally different. The outline made on the box could look slightly similar, but it is not the same pattern of the Dagaz rune.
In fact, looking at all of the rune symbols, I see none that resemble the design on my box. If there are any rune experts out there, steer me in the right direction if I’m wrong. But this morning, after all of these years, I have another breakthrough. My breakthrough moment in the shepherd’s room that night was, technically, an illusion.
None the less, I’ll embrace it. Illusion, or not, it did the job.
Not long after my magical divination eve, I packed up my car in the warmth of June. Hit Highgate, Vermont for Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. Filled up with love and music. Met a few new friends. Worked mornings at the bagel shop in Middlebury and began camping at night in the nearby forest from my Subaru. It wasn’t easy, but I broke through.
Time and space suggest it is now 2011 and I am 38 years old, currently residing on a tropical island at least 6000 miles away from Vermont and sheep and the bagelry.
Timelines, illusions and long-held stories. What gifts.
I’m still getting breakthroughs.