“You are tough!” said the woman admiringly. She was riding in the pickup full of a neighbor and his family, another truck behind them, both chained up on all four wheels. They were coming out and I was going in, my chains in the form of snowshoes; my extra clothes, journals and food for the weekend on my back. The sunshine and long uphill hike softened the zero-degree temperatures. I had chosen two miles on foot over putting chains on my Pathfinder to drive any further on the rapidly drifting mountain road. As it was, the vehicle had mostly sledded down the last hill through foot-high drifts.
It hadn’t occurred to me I was tough, but I could see her point. A 57-year-old woman, alone on a snowy back road wearing backpack and snowshoes might well appear to be a strong, hardened mountain woman. But the woman in the truck hadn’t been inside my head for the past few days to hear all the anxious thoughts mixed with sheer desire, dedication and commitment.
My Christmas plans had fallen through only days earlier and I was desperate for some solitude in the wilderness.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t know the risks. I could easily have gotten stuck in a snowdrift, or worse. One red flag in the back of my mind that kept me from driving further than I did was the memory of a friend’s car nose-down in the creek. He had missed the bridge.
And those were just the risks of getting in to the family cabin. Once there, I faced the likely possibility of further snow and wind cementing my vehicle into place where I had left it, not to mention the usual potential hazards of being in the mountains alone at any time, such as a turned ankle.
Capricorn: bringing the soul’s purpose into form
I was born in mid-Capricorn season, my natal Sun joined by Saturn in this sign it is said to ‘rule’, along with two additional planets. In astrologer talk, this combination makes me somewhat of an incarnation of Saturn and Capricorn characteristics. Both the sign and the planet have garnered a bad reputation over eons of Western/tropical astrology. As an earth sign, meaning Capricorn is associated with the element of earth, Capricorn’s qualities are cold, dry, hard rather like the northern climate at the winter solstice commensurate with the Sun’s entry into the sign.
Yet, the ancient archetype contained in Capricorn is that of the wise woman healer, whose intimate connection with nature and the Earth give her access to natural wisdom. Rather than a mountain goat, the original glyph for this sign was that of a sea-goat, symbolizing the manifestation into earthly form of the watery, unconscious world of the soul.
The sea-goat has shed its association with the sea in more modern times, coming to look and feel more like a mountain creature, exacerbating the over-identification with anything hard. Yet for a Capricorn, dedication and hard work are the way to take a desire of the soul, such as a winter weekend at a remote mountain cabin, and make it concrete. My Capricorn make-up contains dedication to the solitude of the wilds on a regular basis to restore my connection to natural wisdom.
All those Capricorn planets of mine are also in my sixth house of preparation and discernment. Between Capricorn organization and 6th house preparation, I had not taken my mountain sojourn lightly. I knew I had heat via a good supply of firewood to complement the electric baseboard; there was food enough for at least a few more days than I planned to be there; and a landline with which to stay in contact with the world given the lack of cell or internet service in our little draw.
It turned out I would need all my back-up supplies on this Christmas weekend. In other words, Saturn got involved, unsurprisingly given His recent entry into Capricorn. (Uranus, planet of sudden breakthroughs, breakdowns, and liberation was likely involved, too, given His long-term challenge in my chart, but that’s another story.)
Enter Saturn, the manifester
The planet Saturn, so closely aligned with Capricorn, is known in more traditional astrology as the great ‘malefic’. As the last visible planet of the solar system, surrounded by a lovely assortment of rings, Saturn is associated with limits, boundaries, and fear as well as the Capricorn-like qualities of dry cold. Saturn represents authority and the archetype of teacher. It’s purpose is to show us how to claim our sovereignty over ourselves and our lives, and to master the realities of this material world in order to aspire to our higher spiritual ideals. Saturn prevents us from sidestepping into spiritual bypassing, often through showing us cold, hard reality. Saturn crystallizes and manifests the results of our work, supporting us to reap what we sow.
Like Saturn, the Montana mountain winter exposes limitations and boundaries. I wouldn’t call it harsh, simply direct and unyielding. When the thermometer read ten degrees below zero, as it did on Christmas Day, my boundaries became the walls of the cabin except for short sojourns. My limitations were the volume of firewood split and ready to burn, and the food remaining in the cabinets. To add to the restrictions, I returned from a walk in the sun to find I was without power.
As I said, I had been prepared, at least to a point. Part of my preparation was the knowledge I have friends and neighbors with snowmobiles and track machines who can and do make the trek into my mountain neighborhood when they can. My main back-up plan, however, was related to the logging crew who had been working at the end of the road and would soon be working on our family place. With all of their equipment in the same predicament as my vehicle, I was reasonably certain of getting plowed out at some point. I even had an appointment with one of them the morning after Christmas, at the cabin.
In the shadow of Saturnian fear
Every sign and planet have both positive, useful qualities as well as shadows. One of Capricorn’s shadows is the confusion of mastery with control, and the resultant abuse of power. The dark expression follows, generally, from fear. Fear and control are also Saturn’s realm. The teaching of fear comes along when we need to be reminded that control is nothing more than delusion.
On my theoretical last night in, with the darkness settling on my power-less home, I felt my anxiety building. The feeling was visceral, uncoupled from the reassuring words in my head. Underneath the warmth of the fire and belly full of stew, there was a primitive dread of the closeness of cold darkness, a knowing so easily forgotten in the company of community in town and the conveniences of our modern lives.
My Saturnian fear abated somewhat with the restoration of the electricity, but the discomfort remained as I loaded up the woodstove and went to bed, hoping the needle pointing to zero-degrees would go up by morning. In the middle of the night, I got up to stoke the stove and use the bathroom, and bundled up enough for a short trip off the porch to see the stars. As I looked up above the trees, a meteor shot past, its unexpected magic signaling everything was under control, just not mine.
In the morning, the temperature had gone down and I learned it was too cold for loggers, who call it quits at about ten degrees below zero. My appointment was pushed back another day, enforcing an extended vacation. I pulled out the last of my fresh food supplies for the day’s meals, made a trip to the shed to haul a few armloads of wood back to the porch, and pulled out my notebook and knitting, sitting next to the woodstove. Resistance gave way to surrender, which engendered trust; the fear abated, and the silence wrapped me in its cold comfort.
As the bard said, all’s well that ends well. The Wednesday after Christmas brought above-zero temperatures and cloudy skies, and a wonderful three-hour tramp through the family lands with the logger who would be translating our forest management wishes into action. It had taken them a full day of digging and plowing to get in; as he gave me a ride back to the Pathfinder, his colleagues continued their machine dance with the wind to keep the road open. I got home that afternoon to snowy streets and the loneliness that sets in when I leave the solitude of the mountains, held in abeyance by the warmth and camaraderie of a beer at my favorite bar.