Monthly Archives: February 2013

Lupercalia, Tranquility, and another Mouse

Ah, Valentine’s Day. A day of kissy-faced fealty, bitter compatriotism of the solitary, and rampant emotional eating.

I took a lovely morning stroll along the Huntington River with Bubo and marveled at Mount Mansfield. I do believe Great Great Uncle O. Underhill knew a thing or two about serenity; this land does quiet the storms of the mind.

It also makes Bubo a good deal less cantankerous, which is miraculous and delightful. She’s still a curmudgeonly thing, but with a twinkle in her eyes.

Scholars have long bandied about the origins of the modern Valentine’s Day; clearly man has not been handing out chocolates and greeting cards since the beginnings of time. There is a good deal of debate about whether or not Valentine’s Day has anything to do with the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia; some scholars assert it is a natural explanation, and some argue that the only thing these two celebrations have in common is the date. Never-the-less, I find Lupercalia fascinating.

Celebrated during the Ides of February (the 13th through the 15th), Lupercalia was a pastoral festival to avert evil spirits, purify the city (Rome), and celebrate fertility and health. The Luperci (an order of Roman priests) would start the festival off by gathering at the LupercalĀ  cave, where Romulus and Remus (the founders of Rome) were suckled by the She-Wolf. (Some claim the She-Wolf’s name was Lupa.) The Luperci would sacrifice goats and dogs, for fertility. Then, after rituals and a meal, the priests would make crude whips (thongs) out of the sacrificial animals’ hides and then run through the streets, striking anyone they met, especially women. And the women would line up to be touched or hit with these thongs, believing this act would increase their fertility and would make childbirth easier.

The goat-skin was called februum and the month during which this Lupercalia festival took place? Februarius. Have you connected the dots, m’dears?

This purification and fertility festival was important to a land full of shepherds, dependent on their flocks and their own fertility, as they were.

I’m sure things got rather raucous. I can’t imagine a gaggle of mostly naked men running pell-mell through the streets whipping people (mostly women) with februum being anything but raucous.

I am content to spend today quietly. I have just uncovered Uncle Underhill’s stash of field journals and I intend to spend the evening reading in front of the fire with a glass of port and my best owl.

Below is a photo of another field mouse. This one Bubo claims was too sweet and so she did not snatch it. There was some discussion of my wrapping the little thing in bacon. Bubo, wouldn’t you know, is on the hunt for umami.

Quite the model

Quite the model

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While coffee is a truly lovely elixir to inspire morning alertness, there is truly no substitute for finding a rather rotund field mouse in one’s slipper to snap one awake in the morn.

This is precisely how my morning started. Lucky for the little fellow, I am slow-moving in the morning, and was tentatively guiding my toes into my slippers when I detected minute whiskers and fur in the toe box of my old house shoes.

I know what you’re thinking: this would have made a nice gift for Bubo, it being the day before St. Valentine’s Day and all, but I am a bit of a softy in the morning and I thought the little rodent deserved a fighting chance. This house, for countless years, has not been a home for a fierce and sardonic owl. How was the mouse to know that a new resident would like to use his whiskers for dental floss?

I collected him (in the slipper) and took him out to the fields and set him free. My, but he bounded over the snow quickly. I’m sure he’ll be back, this time as a snack in Bubo’s beak. But he deserves a breath of gorgeous northern air before that! (The air here truly is invigorating. Makes me feel eons younger and more energized!)

Which brings me to today’s word.

Septentrional is an adjective meaning, quite simply, northern. Pronounced thusly: sep-TEN-tree-uh-nuhl.

It hails from the Latin word septentriones, which is what some call the seven stars in the Great Bear (Ursa Major) constellation that appears in the northern sky. Septentriones actually means seven ploughing oxen and itself comes from the Latin septem forĀ seven plus triones for ploughing oxen.

Now that I abide in a septentrional home, away from the ambient light of the city, I expect I’ll be able to do quite a bit of star gazing.

Provided I keep my shoes clear of creatures.


Can you spot the mouse?

Can you spot the mouse?


Bounding towards freedom!

Bounding towards freedom!




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Good Green Mountains

Well, oddlings, I must admit, things were a bit rough there.

There was the mysteriously roving hole in the roof.

There was the fissure in the foundation that multiplied each night.

There was the morning I discovered that the pet gravestones in the front garden had been sucked underground.

There was the note from Cousin Cate that our Great Great Uncle O. Underhill had gone missing. Again.

There was the call from Mordecai that he had relocated most of my creatures from the Laboratory to the Underhill House when the wallpaper had turned itself into curtains and the curtains turned themselves into a chair.


And then there was the morning I came back from a pre-dawn promenade in the cemetery with Bubo to discover that the house was gone. Instead, there was a smoldering pile of rubble and a stench of potpouri and whiskey.

And so we left. We got in my jalopy and sputtered to Great Great Uncle O. Underhill’s house in the mountains of Vermont.

We have houses all over the world, you know. The Underhill House is laid out exactly like my Brooklyn House in mirror image. Rather…odd, wouldn’t you say?

Weary from our journey, I collapsed in an armchair (exactly like the one in my Brooklyn parlor) in front of the wood-burning stove. There was a bottle of whiskey on the side table with a card tied round its neck.

The card read: Mine is yours. O.U.

I do believe I am home.

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