Yesterday I got a very pleasantly written email informing me that of the $1,000 security deposit I handed over in November, $300 is going to repair a minor crack in a shower door, $200 is going to repair a "shaky" aluminum sliding door, and another $200-odd is going to replace doodads like solar lamps, which admittedly Anainn mistook for baby-sized bludgeoning tools. Added to the nearly $100 I spent getting the carpet cleaned, and the gas and internet bills they are going to deduct, a hefty chunk of money I'd been counting on for summer rent just went up in poufy beige smoke.
I received this email mere minutes before setting out on an outing with the boys, an evening stroll celebrating Big Sunday during which we planned to picnic at the Ballonna Creek Bike trail and collect trash along the way. It was weighing heavily on me as Xir skipped along, chatting about dragons, and by the time we arrived at the bike trail only to find that some bastards had come along before us and cleaned up ALL THE TRASH, it had blossomed into a full-blown bad mood.
There is kind of a long back story to this particular outing. It started in Greece, eight years ago. I was a circle-dancing-organic-farming Yogini in my early twenties with a roaring case of Nasty-Spotted Hubris. Traveling with me was J., my long-suffering, violin-building, Italian-speaking boyfriend. We were poor circle-dancing Yogis (is there any other kind?), so our basic traveling strategy was to arrive at a tiny village, whittle away the hours until dusk eating Greek salads and casing the outlying meadows, then put up camp in some likely-looking pasture and try to disappear by dewfall the next morning. One of these early, fog-drenched mornings, I was unsuccessful in rousting J., so I set off up a nearby hill. This particular hill happened to be crowned with a ruined temple; the rock ended in perfectly symmetrical pillars and they ended in sky. A hollowed altar-stone took pride of place and offerings had been left here: candles, chunks of frankincense, wilted flowers. I had brought no offerings, so like any self-respecting circle-dancing Yogini I immediately danced a round of the Kritikos followed by a couple of sun salutations on the temple floor. Oh, and I happened to be menstruating at the time.
Flash forward seven years, a seven years in which pretty much everything I touched had turned to stinking doo-doo. I had met some friends who attended Sacred Fire gatherings in Santa Monica and had begun attending them myself, more for the potluck honestly than for any particular attraction to the Sacred. On one evening, after we had all offered our gifts to the fire and were sitting around contemplating it, we were honored by the surprise arrival of one of the foremost Shamans of the tradition. Folks asked him questions and were answered, and I nursed my baby, half-drowsing. Then he looked right at me and said
"People can get themselves into a lot of trouble giving inappropriate offerings."
Immediately the circle around him began to buzz. I was still oblivious. "For example, you have to be careful giving offerings to the ocean. Give the wrong offering to the ocean, you might end up with storms, tsunamis." People begged him for specifics, so he went on: "Stay away from chocolate as an offering. And for heaven's sakes, stay out of other people's temples, traditions you don't belong to. Especially when you're menstruating. If you offend the old gods, boy are you in for it." And then he looked at me again and shook his head, as though he'd heard there were people that stupid out there, but hadn't believed it until now.
He had my attention. I don't really believe in all that crap, but a recent incident had shaken me somewhat. I'd gone up to Malibu Creek Canyon State Park to harvest elderberries. They were so abundant that year, you could hardly stretch out your hand without knocking a huge umbel of ripe berries down. I was in a hurry; I had an overtired, red-faced 4-year-old in tow and a stink-bottomed baby in a sling. So I cut corners. I didn't ask the trees first, I didn't offer water, I didn't even harvest with respect, just tore berries down helter-skelter into my gathering baskets, sometimes tearing whole branches off in my haste. As I passed out of that grove a twig from one of the trees lashed out like a slap across the face, and I felt a weight settle into my stomach. I knew I'd done wrong.
Later, I was walking my baby in his stroller along the bike trail, a steep section that ran away down a concrete slope to the rain-swollen creek. I noticed an elder tree that stretched out across the trail and reached up to pick a cluster of blossoms. In that moment, the stroller spun away from my hand and raced, out of control, down toward the water. It overturned at great speed and by the time I reached my infant, heart in my throat, his head was horribly swollen and the side of his face was the color of elderberry juice. I had that same feeling in my stomach. I remembered that slap.
So, when I'd gone harvesting cattails last week, this incident and the warning of the shaman were strong in my mind. I made sure to offer water, and to ask before I harvested. And, noticing that trash choked the stream, I made a commitment to return to the trail and gather it up. Which brings us back to the bike trail on Big Sunday.
I had made a commitment to the cattails, and here I was in a horrible mood, with all the trash collected already. I brought out our picnic in silence. We sat, eating pasta and broccoli, watching the ducks and crows and pigeons in the concrete trench that used to be a creek.
"I feel sad," I said.
"I can take the sad feeling away," said Xir. He gave me a hug. Then he asked "what made you sad?"
"I think it was that email I just read. We have to pay a lot of money and that put me in a bad mood." He considered this for a minute, then said
"Are you sad too because all the trash is gone already?" I admitted this, and saying it out loud made me realize how absurd I was being. We laughed for a long time. Then he said, earnestly, "Well I asked the Earth about that and she said inside my mind that all she really wants is for us to go home and watch a movie. Because we are part of the Earth and what makes us happy makes the Earth happy."
So that's what we did. And on the way we gathered up nearly a full bag of garbage we hadn't noticed.
It turns out that money doesn't matter, that much. Really. A good laugh on the side of a broken creek is a pretty good substitute.
favorite thing about my house today: the tomatoes and radishes are almost ready! and an unknown neighbor hung beautiful fish flags all along the lightposts which gave the neighborhood a carnival atmosphere.
least favorite: I'm pretty sure the neighbors are already rolling their eyes when they see me walk by with my sunburned boys and heavy-laden stroller. for the seventh time in four hours.