Litscope: Pisces & Kazim Ali’s Northern Light

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With snow days behind us (hopefully), March will usher in the first day of Spring on the 20th, also known as Spring Equinox. Yay! But unfortunately—although some cases emerged earlier in 2020 in the US—many of us also associate this month with the one-year anniversary of Covid-19. It may seem as if time is frozen, but we’ve changed exponentially as a country and a globe since last year. Speaking of time, on the 14th make sure to push those clocks forward one hour for daylight savings time, or as we casually call it “spring forward.” This month, the astrological air is crystal clear considering all the planets are moving directly, with no retrogrades.

Late February through the third week of March brings in Pisces season! This water sign is 12th in the Zodiac and brings an ending to the astrological year. Consequently, Pisces have absorbed all the lessons of all the other eleven signs. Ruled by Jupiter (planet of expansion) and Neptune (God of the Sea), this sign is symbolically represented as two fish swimming in opposite directions; Pisces is all about water.

From the practical tears sometimes brimming in their eyes, to their ability to dive deeply into whatever idea or endeavor they’re exploring, Pisces is seldom short on emotions. These sensitive types are often highly creative and intuitive. On the negative side, Pisces can daydream too much and be a little self-destructive (even addiction-prone) if left alone too long. But just turn on some cool tunes if you need to lift a Pisces’ spirit; music is one of their favorite escapes. 

This month’s book has a deeply spiritual nature (very Piscean), and even uses “water” in the title! Northern Light: Power, Land, and the Memory of Water is the new gorgeous memoir by Kazim Ali. Ali, who is Muslim and of South Asian descent, grew up in Jenpeg, Manitoba, a temporary town made for those, like Ali’s father, who constructed the hydroelectric dam there. After reflecting on his childhood and wondering if Jenpeg was truly his home—and after some thorough research—Ali discovered the temporary town that he and his family lived in was on unceded Pimicikamak land. Curious about his childhood home, and the challenges that faced the nearby Cross Lake area and the Indigenous people living there, Ali reached out to Chief Cathy Merrick. So began his journey and this memoir.  

As soon as Ali leaves his Ohio home for Cross Lake, the story takes off. Readers will gravitate to the dramatic points of this book, such as when Ali is invited to participate in a traditional Sweat Lodge ceremony. Full details are provided for those who may be curious about what actually takes place inside: “The lodge is built of willow wood and has blankets thrown over the wood frame to keep the heat in.” Readers will also be drawn to Ali’s visit to Mikisew, one of two Cross Lake high schools. Ali engages with one student who is enjoying recounting summer memories, and another whose troubles at home necessitate finding a new place to sleep. These opposing experiences aren’t easy to reconcile; the image of those two Pisces fish swimming in opposing directions comes to mind.  

Kazim Ali, photo by Tanya Rosen-Jones

However, these aren’t the reasons you should buy this book—purchase it for Ali’s gorgeous metaphors and well-paced prose, such as this description of the land: “blue smoke of the clouds, and then luminous and dark gray, the soft heavy sky billows, pulsing with incipient light above. The lake—broken branches rising here and there above the water—seems resentful, treacherous, resigned.”

Passages like this sizzle with gorgeous poetic language. But that beauty will be muted by the inescapable melancholy that settles in when all the tensions between the Canadian government and the Pimicikamak are revealed. The eroding shoreline (caused by the reoriented water source), the lack of sustainable fishing, hunting, and trapping, the disappearing Cree language and cultural traditions (because of residential schooling and family separation), and the absence of any local hospitals are all issues the Pimicikamak face, along with mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse. The list of woes seems insurmountable; as a reader, you may feel as if you’re emotionally drowning with no life raft. 

Ultimately, Northern Light is many things: equal parts anthropology, ethnography, memoir, journalism, and homegoing. The questions Ali poses and explores about where home is for an individual (and himself, specifically) are complex. Returning to the beginning, in order to perhaps understand the future, is not easy.

Like Ali’s talisman, the orange origami crane that he carried with him everywhere in Cross Lake and eventually releases into the lake, all of us have left parts of ourselves in the places we called home or adopted as homes. Through Northern Light, Ali educates readers about the injustices the Pimicikamak face. As we close out this astrological season, Northern Light is an ideal companion for the journey’s end. And after reading this, much like Pisces, a few tears may brim in our eyes as well.

The card pulled for the collective this month is the Ten of Wands. In the Rider Waite deck, we see a man carrying, or perhaps trying to hold up, ten wands, signifying creative energy. These wands indicate that the collective has been extremely busy. But pay attention to the images on this card. The sky is blue and the road looks clear, but his head is down! Why is he so put upon? Probably because this man has brought on all the burdens himself. So, lighten that load! This card is a clear warning to give yourself a break and to scale back some of those creative endeavors. You could schedule a massage, as I did (at an establishment that is taking proper pandemic precautions), or go for a long day-hike. Whatever you do, remember to pare down and give yourself a breather. Even doodling in a sketchbook or coloring book can provide a small respite before Spring arrives.


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