When is a year not a year?

December 31, 2023

One of the things I like about traditional Irish spirituality is the use of riddles to impart wisdom.

I’ve been musing on how a “year” can be a period of time, and not necessarily a complete revolution of the earth around the sun. It can be a period of time, say a period that starts in one year, continues for the whole next year, and completes in the following year.

Al Stewart’s song “The Year of the Cat” is like that. You get the feeling that he’s not talking about an exact year–it could even be two or three years. In this song, the year is a place to visit. Not home, but a new and different experience that isn’t “you,” but that you would cherish. It’s about going into the mystery of uncharted experience, and metaphysical time is different from earth time, usually longer.

When I got notice that I had to leave my old apartment in 2022, I kept seeing cat signs everywhere. I saw a bobcat dead in the road, and I ran across the scent of bobcat in the woods. (They really stink!) On one hike to a secluded canoe launch on Lake Champlain, I heard that song, coming from a boat on the lake. I though, wow, the cat is coming into my life strongly. I meditated a lot on what a cat meant to me at that juncture, when I needed to move and didn’t know where I was going. The Year of the Cat seemed like a journey into the unknowable.

Last week, on two trails, I ran across lots of bobcat tracks. They brought to my mind the song. I wrote in Divining with Animal Guides about how an image in popular culture cat be a sign from an animal, but in this case, the animal sign made me think of the song.

I’ve decided that I’m living in a place, now, where I cannot stay for a very long time, as I did before. This is a sojourn, not a homecoming. And that’s okay.

Here’s an odd bit of trivia about my life in the context of this song. I’m hardly a world traveler, and I haven’t left the North American continent since 1978, but I have been to Morocco! It was an unforgettable experience I wouldn’t have missed.