The trees arrived on Wednesday, a literal truck load. There were 8 redbuds, 4 Japanese magnolias, 4 sizable pine trees: 2 long needle, 2 short, 4 swamp maples, a celeste fig, 5 sweet olives, and a new hybrid peach, There were 6 flats of creeping fig. And 30 bags of potting soil and 30 cubic feet of peat moss. The truck managed to get into Owen’s driveway and he had the delivery guys carry the trees to the back patio of the pool. It was quite a little forest Nola had planned for his backyard and he couldn’t wait for her to get here tomorrow to look over the trees.
Saturday was scheduled for tree planting and most of the crew that had been a part of the initial planting of the yard would be back. Maurice and his team of folks were coming to layout the basketball court. Joe and Larry would definitely be there. Owen was beginning to think that Joe had a crush on Nola, because he had asked twice this week if she would be there on Saturday.
“And what about you, son?”
“What about you, do you have a crush on Nola?”
“You know I do, pop.” And he smiled and she can’t get here soon enough.
So of course he was waiting for her in the driveway.
“Hello Big Man… how much time do you spend out here? It seems I’m always catching you in the driveway.”
And he gave her a hug before he said, “I’ve been thinking about that grape arbor idea of yours and the more I think about it the more I like it. With everything else so… planted, this stretch of cement seems even more harsh. I’ve drawn up the plans and the next time I have a crew with nothing to do they'll build the arbor and then you can pick the grapes to grow on it.”
All she could do was smile.
“What no comment?”
“I don’t know what to say. I can’t believe that what we put on paper just a few weeks ago it becoming real. I usually have to wait, oh I don’t know, months, actually years for what I envision or ask for to happen.” And she thought about the fact that it was 3 years later and her husband had been essentially unemployed and she had done much of the painting and still the downstairs of her own home still wasn’t finished.
“If you think the idea of putting the grape arbor in is something, come and see what’s in the backyard.”
“The trees are here?!” and she dashed toward the pool only to be stopped by the new pool security gate. “You put the gate in!” she said surprised and pleased.
He smiled and thought, how strange to be so happy for trees delivered to someone else’s backyard. “Doesn’t anyone else listen to what you say? I’m beginning to think that I’m the only one.”
And Nola thought about that silently. Hmmm, No people generally listen to me, at work, when I speak at the neighborhood meetings or for the neighborhood. I guess it’s really just the fact that James is so much in his own mind that often he doesn’t seem to hear me or that even when he does his timeframe for responding is so much longer than… well than anyone else I’ve ever known.
“It’s locked like a good security gate should be.” He put his hand around her shoulder and guided her because she seemed lost in thought. “We can go through the kitchen.” And he opened the side door for her to go in. And she moved quickly to the back door and smiled at him as she went out because she knew she was rushing ahead without him but she couldn’t stop herself. He just smiled at her.
She was on the far pool patio where the trees had been lined up. When he reached her she had her eyes closed lost in the unique scent of the sweet olives. When she opened her eyes and realized he was standing there she gave him a huge hug, and said “They’re perfect.” And he kissed her because he couldn’t resist her or her enthusiasm. And the kiss sobered her a little, which wasn’t what he had expected it to do.
She was thinking that the natural physicality they shared with each other was so unlike what she was experiencing at home these days and it might be good to limit it. He released her and she wandered from tree to tree. “Oh the pines are so much more mature then I imagined you could get, wonderful. … And these little swamp maples will fill out fast. … So we really are planting this weekend?”
And he smiled at that, “Yes, we are. I take it the ‘we’ means you’re going to be here.”
“Of course I wouldn’t miss it. What time are you starting?”
“Oh the guys are used to starting early so 8:30 gives them time to sleep in on Saturday. Maurice is coming to put in your basketball court.”
“My basketball court?”
“Well it was your idea.”
And she shrugged, I guess it was. “I have time to set the trees out tonight... and she began to move the pots around, “that will make it easier on Saturday.”
And she looked up at him like she had been scolded.
When he saw that he softened and said, “The guys will be here on Saturday. You can point, they can lift.”
“But I’d like to see them placed and then make adjustments and I don’t want your crew waiting on me.”
“From what I can tell they’re going to love waiting on you, hand and foot.” And he hooked her arm and moved her toward the house. “Bring your suit and we’ll all swim when the planting is done. It’ll be fun.”
And she sighed and said, “OK, it’s your house. It’s your crew.” And then she said, “Ok boss, we’ll do it your way.”
“Ok boss. I like that sound of that.” And she shook her head at him but was smiling.
He opened the wine once he got her back inside and he could see she was lost in thought and wondered what was going on in that busy brain of hers.
He handed her a glass and waited. She absentmindedly swirled and sniffed and then she took a sip and looked up, “Chardonnay? Wow it’s hard to find a good Chardonnay they all start off ok and then either end up bland or sharp. What is this?”
And he thought, ‘There she is.’ and moved to the barstool next to her and handed her the bottle.
“Chateau St Michelle” and she nodded “Columbia Valley”. And she took another sip. “hmmm, Buttery. I love a buttery Chardonnay. I had actually stopped drinking Chardonnay because it seemed ‘crisp’ was in and I missed the smooth, soft, buttery base with the mix of lush flavors on top.” And another little sip, eyes closed. And he smiled because he could feel the kiss coming before she even knew she was doing it. “Thank you Owen, it’s a delicious treat.” And pulled her in closer and said, “OK I’ll have to see what I can do about finding some more buttery Chardonnays.”
And she realized that she had done exactly the opposite of limiting physicality. What the hell is wrong with me? Owen, seeing her move back into her own thoughts, wondered what was wrong but then she smiled at him. And he relaxed and grabbed the bottle and said, “Let’s move into the library. All the books you have me reading are there. You can decide which one we’re going to talk about tonight.”
And she just nodded and followed him to the kitchen doorway where he motioned for her to go ahead of him into the library. He smiled as she settled into the same spot on the sofa she did whenever they were in the library. Once he got settled she said, “I thought that we could talk about the Covenant of Aradia. In addition to the Words this is kind of the moral code of Streghe.”
He nodded and reached for the manual and flipped to the page with the Covenant and smiled at her.
“Trying to impress your teacher?”
And he grinned knowing it was working, “Shall I?”
And she waved her hand in invitation to do just that. He read:
“Observe the times of the sacred gatherings, for therein is the foundation of the powers of Stregheria.”
He followed up with, “This is why you’ve focused on the rituals and the mythos. Isn’t it?”
She nodded, “The rituals are the core. We have history and research and science and the web of life to reinforce the layers of knowledge that are in the rituals. But the rituals and associated mythos are where the heart of the path is found. They are where the lessons of the past are encapsulated. They are critical. But I also believe that walking this path requires the personal experience that the rituals can provide. It can’t just all be in your head.”
“Makes perfect sense.” And he kept reading, “When good is done to you, then do good to another. If someone wishes to repay you for a kindness, then bind them to go out of their way to help three others, then this shall clear the debt.”
She said, “It’s a bit like the golden rule and pay it forward wrapped together. Be grateful when good is done to you such that you reach out to do go to another. But when you do, don’t take payment in return for kindness, but encourage kindness and generosity in others. Spread the wealth, spread the positive energy.”
And Owen said, “Too much of what goes on today is about all about monetary payment. I know that folks need money to provide for their families but it is soul sealing when that is all it’s about. When we work on people’s houses we try to give the best product for the best price that can also provide for the people doing the work. But it is so rewarding when we can help people who couldn’t do it with out a little generosity.” And he thought about how he had never really been happy until he was able to run his own business, his own way. He knew he was lucky because he had an untouched fortune should anything go wrong. But so far generosity had been its own reward. The value that his company provided meant word of mouth was keeping his crews busy and his clients were spread across the spectrum from people who had plenty to people who needed his help. It was good to be able to balance the books in his own way.
She watched him think. He seemed satisfied somehow. As if how he managed his business aligned with this particular part of the Covenant. There was no doubting that he was doing fine and he seemed to care about his crews and they seemed to like and respect him. His work was fixing peoples homes and their lives in her recovering city and he seemed to like it and be very good at it.
He looked up and smiled at her and raised the book and she nodded to continue.
“Do not use the arts of Stregheria to appear powerful among others. Do not lower the standards of the Art and thereby bring contempt upon the Old ways.”
“When I think about Aradia and the peasants she aligned herself with it’s reasonable that one upmanship would be frowned upon. But there’s a flip side to this. Do not lower the standards. Do what you do well and precisely and with honor. It’s about the balance.”
He nodded and kept reading,
“Do not take the life of anything unless it is to preserve life, yours or another's.”
“This is a much more complex a set of instructions than Do not kill. Or even the alternate translation, Do not murder. 'Do not take the life of anything'.” And she paused for effect. “Anything.” Another slight pause. “Think about that and define for yourself: anything. It could be stretched into a generic Hippocratic-like, First do no harm. But then it is modified with, 'unless it is to preserve life', which I take to mean you can kill to eat or to prevent yourself from being eaten” she smiled “or harmed by another. But it’s about a little more than just protecting yourself. There is an assumption in there that we take care of each other, that you can take life to preserve another’s life.”
And he was thinking and said out loud, “Anything… hmmm, I’m glad Streghe aren’t like the Jainists of India.”
And she smiled again with how well read and aware he was, “Well we aren’t Jainists but when you combine this with Nature is the Great Teacher it makes sense to live as lightly on the earth as we can. We could live more lightly on the earth than we do as moderns. We’d have to give up much of what we know, the internet, computers, cell phones, air conditioning, plane travel, our cars, the list goes on. I’m not ready to go off and live in the woods just yet. I haven’t found the right people to do it with and my daughter likes her life as a modern. But no lawnmower landscaping and recycling and living in an old house and not buying stuff just to have the latest stuff are all a part of how I try to be aligned with the 'don’t take life' philosophy. We moderns don’t realize that when we use a resource it’s a resource that is then unavailable to the rest of life on the planet. We could use our resources more effectively and by doing that live more lightly on the earth.”
“Does your head ever hurt with all those interwoven thoughts bouncing around in it.”
She laughed lightly, “No, not usually. My point was everyone needs to find their own balance and as your teacher I’m just encouraging you to think about it.”
“Ok Chief.” And as he did he thought about how he could incorporate more green insulation and solar into his business. New Orleans wouldn’t always be in recovery mode.
And she smiled at his use of her grandfather’s term and waited as he thought, then asked, “What are you thinking about?”
And she looked a bit confused. So he said, “You’ve made me think about how I can adjust my business plan so that we can do more green insulation and solar. I’ve dabbled in Solar. I’ve been thinking installing solar panels for the garage. I’ll have to do some research and probably take some training but it shouldn’t be hard. My business could help others to live more lightly on the earth.”
And she smiled at him and then asked teasingly, “Does your head ever hurt with all those interwoven thoughts bouncing around in it?”
He laughed and continued reading,
“Do not give your word of honour lightly, for you are bound by your words and by your oaths.”
"This is directly related to the 'thoughts are things' concept. If our thoughts are things how much more powerful are our words?" and she paused for effect. And she could see he hadn't thought about it quite like that before. "We Streghe keep our promises, so many in the world do not. One of the things I learned as a supervisor, in a large corporation responsible for customer service of various technical specialties over the years, was never promise what you know you can not deliver. Be as specific as possible in what you say you will do or try to do and then followup. Do what you say you will do. This has been reinforced as a parent. As parenting advice I say, 'Never do once that which you are not willing to do repeatedly'. That first yes is treated like a promise or oath by children."
He said, "I'm beginning to see what you mean when you say the Covenant is like a code of ethics or morals."
And he continued reading,
"Do not accept any authority over you unless it is of the Gods. Instead, cooperate with others but do not be a slave and always preserve your honour. Give respect to others and expect respect in return."
"The concept of freedom from oppression, from slavery of the body, mind or spirit, freedom to do as you see fit as an honorable person is a large part of what it means to be Streghe. But again there is always the balance, cooperate with others. Give respect first and expect respect in return. This is so much more robust in its approach than 'Render unto Ceasar'."
And he smiled at the biblical reference and kept reading.
"Teach all who appear worthy and aid the continuance of the Old Religion."
"So I have to assume that I am worthy." He said with a grin.
"Yes, you are worthy and I hope that what we do aids in the continuance of the Old Ways. Many students get hung up on worthy. Who decides what constitutes worthy? What if the student is sure that they are worthy and the teacher is hesitant or unsure about taking the next step? The teacher gets the last word. But the teacher bound to aid in the continuance of the Old Ways so students to seek generally get taught. But this is one of the reasons why it's important for the student to have questions, to think about the lessons, to work what is taught into their own lives. This is how the teacher determines worth." And he thought well that was a much more serious response than I expected.
And he paused then kept reading.
"Do not belittle another's religious beliefs, but simply state your own truths. Strive to be at peace with those who differ."
"This is essentially what you said to me on that first plane ride. Isn't it?"
She nodded and he said, "You speak your own truths. You don't label these truths. You don't insist that other people see the world through your filters. You live and let them live with their assumptions. You cooperate with others."
And she said, "Yes and my life is generally peaceful as a result. Aradia has Words on Christianity that give more specific guidance on how to deal with Christians. But the Covenant is the more generic approach to dealing with those whose beliefs are different from yours or mine. We can talk about the Words on Christianity another night."
He nodded and continued:
"Do not purposely cause harm to another, unless it is to prevent true harm to yourself or another."
And he said, "So we don't take life and we do not purposely cause harm. I see how this could expand the definition of "anything" in the ‘don't take life’ statement."
And she smiled and nodded, "Yes there is that aspect. But we Streghe know that thoughts are things and our words have power and we can influence the world magically as well. So don't do harm takes on an even broader context than just don't hurt people physically or don't hurt their feelings. Yet even with this statement, Streghe do not hesitate to use any means necessary, up to and including magic, to prevent harm to themselves or their loved ones or the things they value."
And he said, "Tough witches."
And she smiled, "When necessary."
And he nodded and read,
"Strive to be compassionate to others, and to be aware of the hearts and minds of those around you."
and said, "And this is the softer side."
"Well yes. But it's not just the softer side, it's the whole picture. Hearts and minds. Mind, Body, Spirit: the 3 levels of how we humans can be affected. We are told to take into account the whole picture, to be aware. And there is that charge for compassion, for cooperation, for honor, for respect."
And he read,
"Be true to your own understanding and turn away from those things which oppose the good in you, or are harmful to you. Hold reverence to all within Nature. Destroy nothing, scar nothing, waste nothing, live in harmony with Nature, for the ways of Nature are our own ways."
And then said, "To your own self be true."
And she smiled and said, "Yes. It also refers back to Aradia Words on Nature and the Earth. It refers back to don't take life unnecessarily, don't purposely do harm. But this is also why it's so important to be still and listen. How can you know what opposes the good in your or is harmful to you if you don't think about it? As Streghe we must choose for ourselves. The Ways are available to us. We choose the path we walk."
And he thought, Yes we do. And, my she is serious tonight.
The he finished reading with,
"Remain open in your heart and in your mind to the Great Ones who created all that is, and to your brothers and sisters alike."
And said, "Be still and listen."
And she said, "By George I think he's got it."
The finished the wine while they talked about personal philosophies. But Nola managed to leave early and Owen didn't push her because he knew she'd be back on Saturday. And because she had been so serious, he found himself thinking more seriously about his ethics and personal life philosophy than he had in a long time. And as he did he realized that while he had come to New Orleans in a mad rush, the things he had done since arriving we exactly in line with Streghe philosophy.