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In the Circle of Life

March 22, 2010

There are some stories, some ideas that dig their claws into a person and never let go again.

One such thing, for me, was the Lion King. I was in primary school when the movie came out, and I still find myself singing I Just Can’t Wait to Be King and Hakuna Matata when I’m working by myself.

And, of course, The Circle of Life. I still remember the excitement of hearing a familiar-sounding song on the radio as a kid and understanding just enough with my first bit of English to realize that this was the original version of the song I’d known in German for so long.

Scilla bifolia

“There’s more to see than can ever be seen…” – Scilla bifolia (Alpine Squill)

I wonder and wonder and just can’t tell… how much of my respect for nature, how much of my belief that every living creature is valuable was taught to me by my parents, and how much comes from the Lion King.

But I’m relatively certain that it was this movie that first introduced me to the idea of life moving in circles.

As a gardener from an early age, I grew up with many of these circles – from seed to plant, to flower fruit and back to seed; from soil to plant to compost pile and back to soil (from where it is a small step to antelope to lion, and dead lion to grass, and back to antelope, as Mufasa explains it); and most importantly, the circle of seasons.

Which, I believe, shapes my life much more than that of most (if not all) of my friends. Even without a garden of my own, they give a rhythm to my life, the excitement of spring, the heat and hard work of summer, the satisfaction of the autumn harvest, resting and dreaming during the winter, and back to the buds and flowers of spring.

This always meant so much more to me than abstract concepts like months and weeks.

Primula vulgaris

“More to do than can ever be done…” – Primula vulgaris (primroses) to be planted on the balcony

Which is probably why, when the Kivailo came into my life, I never bothered making up names for the months.

I like to joke that the Kivailo are to me what elves were to Tolkien – I started to write about them when I was, what, thirteen or so, and in the ten years since, their world has grown in every direction, developing an increasingly complex geography and history, language and mythology… and a wickedly complex calendar.

It all started off so simply. The Kivailo would not have months, I decided early on – they would be measuring their time in seasons. The solstices and equinoxes would be their High Holidays, marking the beginning of a new season, and then the days would simply be numbered, making my birth date, for example, the 60th day of Winter.

However, things rarely stay simple, and after a couple of years, I about five pages of hideously complicated notes about how to make a calendar – taking into account the equinoxes and solstices and the full moons, juggling eleven-day weeks and holidays.

    "There's far too much to take in here" - Anemone ranunculoides (Yellow Wood Anemone) buds

“There’s far too much to take in here” – Anemone ranunculoides (Yellow Wood Anemone) buds

But the basic system of dividing the year into seasons has stayed the same, and so have the names of the seasons.

When I first decided on them, I had just begun working on Old Kivailo, and the words I made up were just random aggregations of letters that just sounded … right to me. Sitikay sounded to me of the birdsong and balmy air of Spring, Anmakay like the heat and long days of Summer, Layakay like the ripe fruits and soft sunshine of Autumn, and Tarakay like the stark black and white world of Winter.

Only later it occurred to me that the names might mean something, and Sitikay, Anmakay, Layakay and Tarakay became Waking, Being Awake, Falling Asleep and Sleeping.

Some time after that, I found I needed words for the times of the day, and figured that just as the years move in circles, so do the days – so the Waking, Being Awake, Falling Asleep and Sleeping of the Light became morning, day, evening and night.

Not long after, Waking, Being Awake, Falling Asleep and Sleeping of the Sun became East, South, West and North.

Just this past winter I discovered another circle as I thought about the Kivailo religion, about their belief in rebirth – thus the Waking, Being Awake, Falling Asleep and Sleeping of Life became childhood, adulthood, old age and death.

I had a creepy moment this winter – on my way home from somewhere, walking because I had no money for the bus, I took a shortcut across a graveyard. A forest graveyard deeply covered in snow, red grave candles burning and the sky above nearly dark.

It was beautiful – calm and magical, and just the tiniest bit eerie – with the deep, pure white snow, the trees and headstones black in the near-darkness, stars coming out in the dark sky, and the flickering red lights on the graves.

Being in a graveyard didn’t bother me. I enjoyed the silence and the beauty surrounding me and thought… wasn’t this the epitome of Tarakay, I thought, of Sleeping?  A winter night in the place of death?

It was merely interesting at first, until I thought to check my map, and realized I was walking north, too – now that was kind of creepy!

    "More to find than can ever be found..." - guerrilla bulbs - crocuses, iris, grape hyacinth and tulip buds...

“More to find than can ever be found…” – guerrilla bulbs – crocuses, iris, grape hyacinth and tulip buds…

But now the wheel has turned, the season of sleep has passed, and the world is waking again.

Snowdrops and crocuses blooming and the birds singing, the fields greening up and full of hares, the woods carpeted with wild garlic, and I myself filled again with that childish excitement.

Having long ago adopted some of my story-people’s traditions, I have cleaned my part of the flat, put on pretty clothes to celebrate the equinox and started the season by sitting down at the open window on the first morning of spring and thinking about the season that has passed and the one that is to come – feeling grateful for what has happened, reminding myself of what I hope for, what I have to work towards.

And I believe I have found my personal epitome of Sitikay. Nothing so universal as walking across a graveyard on a winter night (what would be the equivalent to that? Walking east, on a spring morning, across a … what? A playground?)

But my personal Sitikay… thing is something else. I listened to The Circle of Life again as I began to write this post, and realized, not only is this song so full of childhood for me, not only is it sung at sunrise, at the beginning of the movie, but listening to it brings exactly the same feelings as the first few days of spring – that inexplicable excitement, that giddy, tingly feeling, bubbling over with happiness because now – whatever will happen latter – right now, everything is so unbearably beautiful that I have to laugh for no particular reason.

Clown Brother in mum-made lion costume, February 1995

And looking at these old pictures, it appears I was actually a little Lion King fangirl… Well, there are worse things!

My stuffed lions, Christmas 1994. (I’d still have the one on the right if I hadn’t had to throw out a lot of things when we moved. They just don’t make cute stuffed toys like that any more!)

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