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Summer Astrology: Tectonics

by April Elliott Kent I was born in southern Indiana and spent the first ten years of my life living on a farm between two rivers. We lived a couple of miles from them, and every few years you’d hear that the rivers were rising and flooding “the bottoms,” that lush acreage near their banks. So experience taught me not that rivers are roadways that can carry you far away, so much as they are forces that periodically overwhelm you. Really, though, I rarely gave the rivers much thought. Mine was a flat, landlocked world of wheat, corn, and soybean fields, large expanses of flat midwestern topography, full of stillness and yellow light and insects.

Not much happens on a farm in southern Indiana… or anyway, it didn’t in the 1960s. Our world was very small. I remember one day a car with a New York license plate drove by our house, and we all talked about it for days, as though we’d seen a UFO or something. But all that, the sameness, the smallness, the stillness, suited me. I was a shy kid. When people came to visit—even relatives, family friends who’d known me since I was in the womb—I would run and hide. Timid.

Why did I love the storms, then? They were amazing, especially the summer storms, the clouds black as pitch and the air electric. We’d wait eagerly for them, feeling the air charge up, keeping one ear pinned to the television for tornado warnings. But the tornadoes always passed us by, touching down in Evansville or Carmi or Louisville…close, yes, but not close enough. “It’s because of the rivers,” my parents always said. “Tornadoes jump over water.” I was an intrinsically scared kid, but this disappointed me in a way. Guess I’d seen The Wizard of Oz on TV too many times, and figured tornadoes were a one-way ticket to a place with green horses and winged monkeys, which intrigued me very much. Or maybe deep down I knew that someday I’d have to leave and see more of the world, but also knew I was going to have to be pushed into doing it. Maybe a tornado would help me out.

Instead, as it happened, my father died in an accident the summer I turned nine. The rest of us stayed on the farm another year, wandering around like ghosts, and then mom moved us to Los Angeles to live with her sister. I suppose you could say I got my tornado after all: It picked me up and set me down in a completely foreign land of preternaturally tanned, thin people, where you couldn’t see the horizon, where there were no still, black, heavy summer afternoons of excited terror, where instead the damn ground would periodically shake without warning. My tornado blew me to a place where not only were there no winged monkeys (we lived in the suburbs, not Hollywood), but where I was a homesick and uneasy Dorothy, always looking for a solid place to set my bare hillbilly feet.

I came from a prairie land with rising rivers and violent storms and wind and funnel clouds that will pick you up and shake you and throw you back down on the ground, but that was no preparation for earthquakes. Earthquakes pick you up and shake you too, but psychologically it’s a very different experience. Tornadoes, at least, assume a world where the earth is constant, stable, reliable—something to be picked up from. But earthquakes rob you of even that reliability. The earth, steady beneath my feet, was not a given, as I found that out when my father was killed; and moving to hyperseismic California reinforced this perception.

In time I grew up and married a man from New Zealand. If you’d told a shy Indiana farm girl who was awed by an out-of-state license plate that she would someday visit the South Pacific, let alone marry someone from such an exotic place, she would have laughed. Or, more likely, run to hide in a closet somewhere. My husband is from a beautiful but tempestuous land, volcanic and seismically troubled, and his life hasn’t followed a peaceful trajectory either. Yet– born with the Sun in the fourth house (Cancer’s natural domain) and a Taurus Moon– he’s secure in a way I’ll never be. Psychologists would point to complex factors in our respective upbringings, and as an astrologer I point to his natal chart; but perhaps it’s simply that when you grow up in such a geologically volatile place, you develop “sea legs,” an internal gravity that makes it impossible to throw you off balance. He learned to ride the waves of seismic unrest at such an early age that he never developed insecurity. He moved all the way around the world, settled in an alien land and embraces it without fear. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, whatever: he grew up in one of the most volatile places on earth, so nothing scares him. Physics and the attraction of opposites being what they are, I suppose it was inevitable our plate boundaries would eventually merge.

Each time I’ve moved, each time I’ve lost someone I loved, I’ve developed a little more gravity, a confidence born of survival. My life has become a series of tremors punctuated by the occasional 7.5 catastrophe, and if one is inclined to be metaphysical, I suppose you could say it’s because I needed to learn to stand on my own two feet; and if you’re a benevolent universe, how are you going to help a kid achieve this incarnational imperative? Forget The Wizard of Oz: The occasional tornado alone is not enough to do the trick. To really develop inner security, some people need to be set down in a place and in a life that systematically undermine their external security, then be given a life partner who is a good role model for navigating change with élan.

During this season of eclipses in Cancer and Capricorn – the signs of security and home, and of the larger world outside it – here is some food for thought: As much as we seek security, our souls know we need movement in order to keep growing. Even the earth – our home – is not a given, not a solid platform we stand upon. Like life, it’s a relatively thin and fragile thing, broken into big pieces that bang together, drift apart, and graze each other in passing – full of movement and change, designed to put us exactly where we need to be and to keep us wondering where, precisely, that is. Our tectonic home is our intermediary between the air that invites us to fly, and the gravity that gives us our reference point when we come back down to earth. Its plates are boats we sail into destiny, bobbing along on the ionosphere of happenstance, looking for our sea legs.

© 2001 April Elliott Kent. All rights reserved

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