Sunday, April 17, 2011

Chapter 43 – Elemental Summer Solstice Lesson

Owen thought that Nola had been perfect with the clients of the Second Street house. The owners were both there and armed with her questionnaire she had been able to walk the fine line between reading the wife’s mind on what she wanted and the husband mind about how much money he was willing to spend. Owen and Joe had finished taking the final measurements that Owen would use to draw up the plans. As he and Joe had watched Nola talk about the large fruit trees the wife wanted and the husband had balked at cost, it seemed Nola had walked between the worlds or become 2 Nola’s to interact with their clients. Owen recalled the conversation.
“Yes, sir I understand concerns about cost for larger established plants especially the trees. If you don’t want to put all the trees in at one time, we can phase them in. We can also retain or even reuse and move some of your existing plantings. Not all plants will survive a move but I successfully moved and reused azaleas and plumbago. But you have to be willing to water these transplants carefully. If there are plants that you absolutely want to eliminate then let us know and we’ll work with you. But if you really want to change the way the garden feels to you then I think the most important thing is to have the walkways established and the beds laid out with some key plantings, like the larger fruit trees, and then heavily mulched. You can then phase in additions or changes over time.”
And the husband had agreed about the walkways and when he did Joe had discretely nudged Owen because they knew that that was where they made their money. That and maintenance.
And she had looked to the wife and said, “Sometimes it is better to let some of the bones grown in before you add more large plants. As the plants fill in and you live with the space sometimes you change you mind on what you want. If we are able to lay out the beds and we mulch like crazy, then we can use naturally reseeding plants so you can have seasonal change rather than the same bushes all year long. Using seeds is for people who like to see a garden change. It’s for people who don’t mind when a garden looks a little bare because they enjoy watching the seeds sprout and having different flowers at different times of the year. I personally find it fun, but then I like putting my hands in the dirt.”
And then turning to the husband, “Have you seen Owen’s garden?”
And he had indicated they hadn’t. “Well before you decide on the approach you’d like to take, it might be a good idea to take a ride and see it in person. It’s only about 15 minutes away. The before and after, for his yard, was more drastic than yours will be. But it will give you an idea about what your yard will look like when we’re done and help you decide on the size of the plants you want to use.”
The wife was looking forward to a garden tour and the husband felt like he had made his point. Nola had turned to Owen, “Why don’t you talk to Owen about a tour while Joe & I take another look around you yard? It will help us work out the details so that Owen will be able to draw up the suggestions.”
While Owen had given instructions on how to get to his home, Joe and Nola walked to the back of the house and then slowly worked their way forward. Joe was a natural. He understood where the issues would be with laying walkways and he was beginning to understand Nola’s approach to how she decided which plants to use where. By the time they left the clients had decided that Nola was the most practical understanding planner they had ever worked with and were looking forward to a garden tour of Owen’s home on Saturday after Nola looked at the Lakeview house. Joe was sure they were in and that he’d get that Garden District feather for his cap. Owen had been more than a little pleased himself. He had known that Nola would be able to handle herself and the clients. He could also see that Joe liked working landscaping almost as much as Nola did and that eventually Joe would be managing this end of the business just like Roger managed the repair and renovation work. Owen was never happier than when those around him were happy and successful.

As Nola drove to Owen’s for the Thursday lesson she thought about the amount of time she had spent with Owen the past weekend, up to and including his charming her daughter with another sushi dinner. This was getting out of hand. She was felt like she was spending too much time with him. And Settrano popped into her head and said, “Yes, but it’s fun.” And she thought, yes it is. But I’m not sure it’s smart. We have Solstice coming up. The lessons need to get back on track. And she pulled into the driveway and got out of her truck.

Owen was on the phone and didn’t realize she was there until she rang the front door bell.
“Hey there, sorry I was on the phone. LeBlanc just called and he wants you to do some site assessments this weekend.”
Nola’s stomach flipped. Owen could see that she was already working strategy.
“I did just what you said and told him sure you’d be glad too. I just needed contact you and confirm when you could be there and get back to him. I didn’t tell him that Joe and I will be there with you.”
She sighed and said, “Ok. Where are the houses?”
He handed her the list that he had in his hand. “Come all the way in. I’ll get you some wine. I should let you get all the way in the door before you start working.” And he took her by the arm and ushered her in and they headed to the kitchen.
Nola had glanced at the list. Most were sprinkled in the uptown area with a few in MidCity and Lakeview. As she sat on the bar stool she said, “Could I please have some water instead of wine?”
She was still looking at the list. “Did he say which sites he wants done this weekend?”
“Well…” and Owen put the glass of iced San Pellegrino water in front of her, “he said this one” and he pointed to a Lakefront area house, “should be first.”
Nola shook her head. “Of course.”
“Of course?”
“Yep, this area is still pretty empty. Dare I say, secluded? The man is a worm.”
And Owen realized that LeBlanc was essentially trying to use him to get to Nola in a compromised and even potentially dangerous situation.
Nola could see Owen’s mind starting to spin and said, “Owen, its fine. I knew this was coming. You and Joe will be there. LeBlanc will realize he’s lost. We’ll take a look at his properties…” and she looked down at the list and counted, “… his 10 properties, all in one day. Saturday or Sunday. And then you will take his money.”
“Just like that?”
“Yes. Just like that. Joe will get a crash course on site assessment. You’ll draw up some simple plans and a maintenance contract for all of the properties. He’ll sign and you’ll take his money. After this your landscaping business will be big enough to make Joe head landscape specialist. He’s earned it and he’s a natural.”
Owen’s head was spinning. He had already assumed that Joe would manage the landscaping, but having Nola say it out loud as if it was a foregone conclusion was… was… well…
“Owen? Are you alright?”
And he looked up as she said, “I know Joe wants to do the landscaping. Do you still want to do the landscaping?”
“Yes. Yes woman I do. But I’m usually the one who does the planning.”
She smiled at him, “But this is different. LeBlanc is a worm. Use him like a worm. Let him work the soil for you but don’t think to hard about him.”
“Nature is the Great Teacher. You can’t change who LeBlanc is at his core. He is a worm. Worms can be useful. I can use these properties to train Joe. We’ll make the properties look good for LeBlanc’s tenants and their neighbors. The properties will be low maintenance. Joe can establish a presence in the area as he works maintenance and folks will see the signs you had made for the side of his truck. Joe will probably begin to generate business on his own. He is a natural with clients: friendly, easy going, professional. LeBlanc will simply have worked the soil so this aspect of your business can grow. In the process we will get rid of him as a problem and turn him into an asset.”
“Nature and worms as a business model?”
“Well I wouldn’t have put it quite like that.” And she smiled, “but, yes.”
“Woman, you are amazing.”
She smiled at him, “I don’t know about amazing, but thank you.”
She could see that his mind was still working but wanted to get to the lesson in preparation for next week’s Treguenda. “Do you think that Joe can start working with us around 8AM at” and she pointed to an uptown house, “this house?”
Owen snapped out of it as he looked at the list, “I think so. I’ll have to confirm.”
“Why don’t you call Joe and ask if he’s available? I think we can do all of these uptown houses” and she pointed to 6 houses on the list, “pretty quickly, then move on to these MidCity houses before we meet LeBlanc at the Lakefront house. I’m pretty sure LeBlanc won’t be able to meet us until later in the afternoon. But try to pin him down to as early a time as possible.”
“Ok. Joe early on Saturday. LeBlanc in the afternoon.”
“umm hmmm.” And she took a sip of her water.
Owen looked at her, “You want me to call Joe now.”
“hmm hmmm. Let’s confirm the plan will work so we can stop talking about LeBlanc and start talking about something more interesting and fun.”
He smiled at her. “Ok.”
“I’ll take my water to the library and then I think I’ll visit your fish while you nail down this weekend’s details. Please try for all in one day. I don’t want to spend any more time on LeBlanc then we have to.”
“Ok, Chief.” And he smiled and shook his head at how unusual this woman was and went to his office to make some phone calls.

Nola was sitting on the edge of the fish fountain when Owen returned. She had been trying unsuccessfully to determine why the fates kept pushing her together with Owen. Tago was smiling. Nola had decided that after 10 properties in 1 day that Joe would probably be able to read her mind and do site assessments himself. Once that aspect of Owen’s business settled down into a more established mode she figured she could begin to back out slowly. What she wanted to do tonight was get Owen thinking about Summer Solstice and go home. Well that wasn’t really true. What she wanted was to get Owen thinking about Summer Solstice and then escape from how easy it was to be here with him in his house. She was beginning to prefer being in his space to being in her own and that was ridiculous.

Owen met her at the fish. “Well it’s all set for Saturday. Joe will meet us uptown. I also asked Latasha if her grandson wanted to come along with us. I think that Joe likes the planning and planting more than he likes the maintenance and I think it will make Latasha happy if her grandson has the potential for consistent work. He has actually always been very good at yard work. He, like you, likes looking back on his finished product. I'll pick you up at your house at 7:30AM.”
She smiled at him, “Sounds like a plan. LeBlanc won’t know what hit him.”

Owen smiled and opened the can of fish food. “I thought I’d get in a little fish training. I haven’t fed them today.”
And he moved his hand over the water and the one with the red dot on its head followed him, came to the top and Owen dropped in few pellets. “That one is now breaking the surface but it still won’t open its mouth.”
He moved his hand over the water and the other fish followed and broke the surface with its mouth open and Owen dropped in a few pellets. “I guess you could say that’s fish training perfection.”
Nola smiled, “Could I have a few pellets?”
She waited until it looked like the fish were finished with their first round of pellets and then moved her hand over both fish until they were swimming and together following her hand over the water. She arranged the pellets so that she had some in each hand. She moved her hands closer to the water and then slowly moved her fingers into the water so the pellets could roll down them. The fish hesitated and then moved in and swam up to her hands and began eating as the pellets floated out of her hands and into the water.
Owen watched. Nola looked up and said, “Very gentle, trusting fish. I was hoping that I could get Red Dot to open his mouth near my hand. I think it might be the first step in getting him to open his mouth so you can drop the pellets in.”
“Training fish.”
She brushed off her hands and said, “I think it’s time we got back to training you, student. Summer Solstice is next week. We need to review the ritual. Shall we work in the library?”
“Ok.” He smiled, “I’ll put the fish food away while you wash your hands and I’ll meet you in the library.”

Nola cleaned up and then went to the kitchen for more ice and water and then went to the library expecting Owen to be there. She turned as he came into the library with wine glasses and wine in one hand and the manual in the other.
“The manual was upstairs and I thought that you might want some wine.”
She held up her water glass and said, “Maybe a little later.”
He poured some red wine in each glass and placed hers on the table behind the sofa within her reach. Then he lifted the book and said, “I’m assuming that you’ll want me to read?”
“Maybe. There really isn’t much to read in this ritual. Have you looked over the ritual?”
“Yes, teacher.”
She smiled at him. “Ok then we’ll walk through it and talk about the key elements in a minute but first, I think we should talk about how you cast the circle.”
His brow furrowed, “Is there something wrong with how I cast the circle?”
She laughed, “No, not at all. It’s just that for this ritual I think that we should have the altar downstairs and that you should cast the circle around the entire property.”
He smiled, “Like I did on my birthday.”
“Yes, like you did on May Day but with the altar downstairs” She corrected with a smile.
“Ok, why?”
“Because this ritual is about interacting with and honoring the Gods and Nature. Part of the ritual is providing an offering for the nature spirits. I thought that it would be good if we could do this at the four corners of your property. Plus with the altar downstairs it’s easier for us to move in and out of the house.”
And he thought about that. “Well I don’t see an issue with the North or West, those are in private areas of the yard, but I’m not so sure about the south and east. The landscaping isn’t substantial enough in the front just yet. And the east is open to the street from the drive way. While we can do this when few people are out and about, I’m not sure I want to chance my neighbors seeing me running around in the yard at night with a naked woman.”
And she giggled. “Ok…. I think that the gods will be ok with us slipping on our robes for that activity.” Then she joked, “Maybe you could put a privacy panel on the gate. One that you could put on or take off as you needed to. Then once the gardenias grow in you could run naked in your yard with lots of women and none of your neighbors would see.”
“A privacy panel. You mean like a shade for the gate.”
“Well yes, but I was just joking.”
But his brain was buzzing with how to make that happen. “Grometted canvas that could slide over the top of the fence pikes. I could put it on or take it off whenever I wanted.”
“Owen…. it’s not necessary. We can wear robes.”
“If they see us in matching robes don’t you think that is just as likely to raise eyebrows as being naked? Actually now that I think about it, in New Orleans naked might be less likely to raise an eyebrow than robes.”
And she had to smile at that. “Well I leave you to decide what you want to do. We have robes. Or I could also bring the wrap I use around swim suits. You could slip on shorts. We can make it work.”
He thought about that and said, “I think that we’d be less likely to cause people to wonder what we are in shorts and a wrap.”
“Ok, then I’ll bring a wrap next week and you can cast a large circle around your property.”
He nodded, “Ok.”
“I’ll bring the libation fluid.”
“Is that the honey, wine, milk mixture?” and he made a face that said, yuk.
“Yes, but I am planning on leaving out the milk. I have a pitcher that will work well for pouring libation. My wand is a fennel stalk. I don’t have any sorghum.”
And she could hear the dubiousness in his voice as he said, “For the mock battle between Light and Darkness.”
“Yes, but there is a battle between Light and Darkness, Day and Night, Summer and Winter, Good and Evil. It is real. We each struggle every day to find the balance. We can make good decisions or not so good decisions. I think of this as the opportunity to magically encourage the world and all its entities whether individuals, governments, corporations, or other groups to understand that there is a battle, that there is a choice and to choose a path of balance and understanding. I think, but can’t know for sure or prove, that this piece of the ritual was added at a later date in human history, sometime after we had moved out of our hunter gatherer stage and into fiefdoms, city states, more organized governments. I think that it is important for us moderns to reach out to the greater world, to larger Nature and the unseen energies and to call on them to help us battle the forces that do not seek the same balance and alignment with nature.”
“Wow.” He teased.
She rolled her eyes at him and reached for the manual that was on the sofa between them and turned to the ritual. “Let’s take a look.”
And he chuckled and nodded Ok.
“You'll cast the circle. Then the priest and priestess would enter the circle as God and Goddess. Summer Solstice marks the maturity of the Gods and the wedding of the God and Goddess, the blending of male and female energies in all of us. With only the 2 of us we won’t be able to do this part but we can adjust the ritual to make it work.

She handed him the book and said. “Here why don’t you read the address.”
He took it and read:
“We gather now on this sacred night of Summer’s Eve and join ourselves to the powers and forces of this mystical season. On this night the Foletti gather, as do all those spirits of Nature to which we are kindred. For the witch and the fata are of a similar race. So it was in the time of the beginning, so it is now, so it shall be.”
And then he said, “Nature Spirits. Fairies?”
“Well yes and no. The Folleti and most other Italian representations of spirits aren’t simple, sweet fairies from childhood stories. They have power. But they are representational, a way of looking at powers and forces in nature.”
He still had a questioning look on his face. She smiled as she realized that fairies weren’t working on this practical, heterosexual man. Then she said,
“Think about being who you are as an individual and as a follower of the Ways. Think about how you blend the 2 together. Think about how the Ways can influence your life. Think about being a part of the wider world and universe and all its energies and quantum possibilities. As you open yourself up the rest will come naturally. Trust me.”
“I do trust you. I’m just not so sure about me and fairies.”
She chuckled, “You’ll be fine. It’s not about fairies. You’ll probably have to spend some time thinking about it but then I need you to let your worry go and it will be just fine.”
“You’re sure?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Ok, Yoda.”

“You know I don’t remember us going over Aradia’s Words on the Elements. I think that this is as good time as any to do just that. And she flipped the pages in the book, and handed it to him so he could read.
He looked at her not sure how all this fit together. But read,
“There is a vaporous, subtle and invisible quality to each of these things which are called the physical elements. The ancients have told us that all of creation was brought into being when Spirit drew the four elements unto itself. These elements are called Earth, Air, Fire and Water. And they are controlled by Spirit.
Each of these elements possess an etheric double. It is this essence which gives vitality or fertility to the physical object.
Just as the physical realms or matter contain their own forms of life, so too do the etheric realms. These entities have been personified as the many spirits and creatures of myth and legend. It is their activity which creates and maintains the vital essence within all matter.
The etheric powers of the elements also give potency to spells and works of Magick. It is within their realms that the Magickal powers ebb and flow. Thus are the spirits of the elements summoned to assist us.
She said, “This is essentially the as above so below concept. Elementals link us from the physical below to the etheric above. The elementals are placed at the 4 cardinal directions on the altar. But we’re going to give offering to the nature spirits at the 4 quarters of your property. What we do in ritual is align ourselves with energy that is invisible, subtle. We are going to call on this vaporous, subtle, invisible force of creation and we are going to channel it back to the universe for the benefit of nature, as a gift back to that which provides for us. Think of it like this and not fairies and you'll be fine.”
He nodded. He felt he understood the elementals through the process of casting the circle. They were called and resided in the substance provided. When he cast it felt like putting the pieces together, naturally. He understood the power of nature and the earth. This was why he felt aligned with a nature religion. He smiled at how Nola commented on his earth sign tendencies. She was right he was grounded and practical. What he said was, “I think I get it. I’ve felt the power of nature. It’s what drew me to paganism in the first place. I understand the elementals through circle casting. In this ritual we’re aligning ourselves with both.”
She nodded. “Right.” And smiled at him and took a sip from the glass of wine he had poured for her and let it all soak in for him.

When it looked like he was ready she went on and said, “You’ll need an offering for the Gods.”
“What should that be?”
“I can’t tell you. You’ll have to figure it out for yourself. Think about the season. Think about the battle between Light and Dark, growth and decay. Think about how these play out in your life today. Something will come to you. Remember an important part of an offering is the thing that comes from your heart. The thing that you place in the cauldron is a symbol.”
“What will you give as offering?”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“Well that’s helpful.”

She chuckled, “You’ll figure it out. You’re an initiate now. The offerings to the God and Goddess come right after we do the Rite of Union. I think the Rite will help make sure that you’re in exactly the right state of mind.
After this we’ll have to get marginally dressed and take the libations and offerings to the nature spirits at the four quarters. We do this to align with and ask for their assistance before we do mock battle and then send draw on these and our own energies and send it into the universe.”
“This ritual seems different than the other rituals.”
And she thought about the fact that she thought so too. “Well, yes. In the other rituals we recreate what the Gods have done and in the process we align with the Gods. In those rituals we are asking them to come to us or hear our pleas. In this ritual we are actively doing magic for more than ourselves. We are acting and interacting with the larger forces of the universe. We are actively charged to give back. You’re right it is different.”
“I think I understand. But the mock battle seems a little strange. Am I really going to be chasing you around with a stick?”
“Well yes. But it is symbolic. I think that in some ways this mock battle is to remind us that we have to do things on the physical plane in order for our magic to work. That’s why we do battle before we send the healing energy into the universe with the Cone of Power. No magic works unless energy is expended on the physical plane as well as in the Astral.”
“You really believe this? You’re trained as a scientist and you really believe this?’
“Yes. I do. As a scientist I know that we see and measure what we know but history shows us there is more there than we can see and measure at any given moment. We humans didn’t understand oxygen until the late 1700s. We didn’t know about it or name it or understand how it worked or how important it is to us. But it was there all along and without it we die.
Genes and DNA are a part of us and all life but Mendel didn’t name them until the late 1800’s and we didn’t have the model and concept of DNA until almost a century later. Yet we as humans have been working with genes and DNA in breeding experiments for thousands of years.
We have the model of an atom. But quantum physics tells us that the pretty simple picture of a nucleus of protons & neutrons with electrons floating around is only a shadow of what is really going on. And we are only now beginning to see what is possible.
As a scientist I have to acknowledge that there are many things that I do not, now, know for certain and that I can not, now, measure. As a strega, I know that even without names and measurements that my ancestors interacted with the forces of the universe and I can too. One day we may have scientific names and processes for it all. But for now I have to trust the mystery of things that I feel intuitively and wait for science to catch up.”
Owen was amazed at how practical and yet how willing to acknowledge the unknown and mystical this woman was. What he said was, “How do you hold all that in your head at one time?”
She sighed and smiled. “I really don’t know. It’s just there. I don’t get to say it out loud to many people. Sorry if I was a little… energetic in my delivery.”
“Energetic. Woman you were passionate and I love that about you.”
“Well thanks. It is this energy, this passion, that we have to create in the cone of power. Have you ever created a Cone of Power before?”

He shook his head and said, “No.”
She nodded. “Do you know about the chakra concept from Eastern philosophy?”
“Yes, but what does that have to do with creating a Strega cone of power?”
“Reasonable question. Let me explain. I have found that the symbols and colors of the chakra system can be helpful in creating a cone of power. What we are attempting to do is to raise energy, from within ourselves and to draw energy from the physical plane and the elementals and the unseen and send it to the Astral to help balance and heal the earth. I’ve done this with a larger group but, it’s just the 2 of us so we will sit across from each other on the floor and hold hands. We will raise energy in ourselves by centering and then we will begin to draw energy to us. We’ll start at the base chakra and push the energy from our right hands into the left hand of the other as we move the energy and draw the energy up from chakra to chakra. I’ve found that spiraling the energy up and using a color change as we move the energy from chakra to chakra help contain and channel the energies.
And she moved to the ottoman and held out her hands right hand palm down, left hand palm up and said, “Here place your hands in mine.” And he moved toward her and put his left hand under her right palm and his right hand over her left palm. She looked down at their hands and touched palms as she said, “For right handed folks like us and even in many lefties, our right hands send energies, our left hands receive. We’ll center and then I’ll start by sending energy to you and you will send it back to me and we’ll work our way up the chakras and then send the blended energy into the universe. When we do this we will lift our joined hands together toward the sky and she raised their hands into above her head to a point.”
He looked at her through their raised hands and said, “Ok, I think I understand.”
She moved her hands away from his and said, “I’ll talk us through it just like I do the meditations.”
“I’m beginning to understand why you started working on me and my resistance to magic.”
She smiled. “You are so practical and grounded in the physical. But I know that you have the capacity and this ritual calls for you to try.”
“Ok, Yoda.”
She smiled at him and said, “Mr. Practical, I’m counting on you to get us a piece of balsa wood or cane about as big around as my fennel wand. You’ve used it in circle casting and know it’s light weight. So the sorghum stalk will have to be light weight too. If you can get the balsa wood, I will collect the stand in for sorghum from along the roadways so that we can attach it to the balsa wood and have our mock battle. Remember we’ll have to break the sorghum so you’ll want to make sure that you can actually break it, snap it in half.”
And she joked and felt his bicep and said, “I think you’ll be able to do it, but practice on what you get to be sure.”
“Is that a compliment or an insult?”
She laughed, “Well I can see that it might be construed as a backhanded compliment. But I just want to make sure that the ritual is successful.”
“Woman, I can break a stick of light wood.”
“Ok,” she laughed and put up her hands, “I believe you.”
“You’ll be using my fennel wand and I’ll be using the balsa stick. When good defeats evil you will break the balsa stick. Remember it’s a mock battle but it is supposed to be a battle. There should be some ferocity in the battle if not in the blows.”
“I think I can manage.” And he understood why she was asking for such light wood. It was as much to protect her wand as it was so he could break it. “And I promise we won’t break your wand.”

She smiled at him and said, “Well, I think that about covers what we need to do for the ritual. Any questions?”
He looked at her and said, “I’m sure I’ll have plenty, but none that I can think of right now.”
“Just spend some time with the ritual and think what we talked about and it will be fine.”
“Yes, Yoda.”
She smiled, “I’ll see you on Saturday."
“You are not leaving?”, and the disappointed face started to form.
She shook her head, “Yes, student, I’m leaving. I’ll see you Saturday at 7:30AM and then again on next Wednesday for Full Moon and the following Saturday for Solstice.”
As thought about the list of days he managed to smile.
And she laughed as she saw the change.
“You’re sure it’s not too hard to move the altar downstairs. It’s pretty big. You don’t have to move it by yourself. I can help.”
“Really, you think I need help to move the table?” He was kidding.
She was serious, “Well it’s big and awkward and you’re coming down the stairs and…”
“It was his turn to laugh. “I can handle it.” And he thought silently to himself, my stairs are way easier to manage than the stairs at the antique store.
“Well just be careful and don’t hesitate to wait for me if you change your mind about needing help.”
“Oh that’s sweet, you don’t want anything to happen to me.”
She smiled at him, took the teasing and said, “Walk me out Big Man.”

She had pulled the truck out of the driveway and he was still standing outside. She slips so easily into my life. But then she manages to slip right out again. How does she do that?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Chapter 42 – Next

Nola wasn't sure what to do next. May had been a very strange month. The May Day Ritual had been successful but the fact that it had coincided with Owen's birthday had blurred the lines some how. Then there was the fun but odd dinner with Owen's family and passing herself off as his girlfriend. She felt like she had done her best to pull back from that aspect of their relationship with Owen. She had done two No Lawnmower Landscaping site assessments with him and Joe the weekend after dinner at Galatoire’s. She had gone out of her way to make sure that Joe came along. It helped that Joe was interested and seemed like a natural at site assessment. There was no reason for Owen to say Joe couldn’t go along. But after these two outings she had done her best to intentionally spend less time with Owen unless it was specifically associated with preparation for dedication or initiation.

Responsibilities as a mom had allowed her to skip one week altogether. She was hoping that her student had taken that time to think about what it meant to be initiated and what he wanted next. Owen had pestered her to come to a pool/client party for OA Enterprises and she had agreed but said she wasn't available unless it was a Thursday since she already had that day blocked out. She did have standing commitments that made it harder on other days, but the real reason she insisted on a Thursday was that she was trying to avoid spending more time with him than was necessary. Her hope was that if she wasn't available that he would get bored and find someone else to keep him occupied. Unfortunately the pool party had the effect of reinforcing the assumption that she and Owen were an item. And it seemed like she was right back where she had started at the beginning of May.

It seemed to Nola that Owen was content with things exactly as they were. He was happy when she was there. He pouted when she left but he didn't cling or call or email in between lessons. He just waited until the next time… well not most of the time and she remembered being tricked into Saturday breakfast. He seemed to enjoy the fact that his crew thought of her as his girlfriend. He had done absolutely nothing to persuade them otherwise. And she thought about the fact that she hadn't either and comforted herself with the rationalization that the truth would be stranger than the fiction they had created. So now what? She had no idea. It seemed the only option was to just charge ahead and keep teaching. She had no excuse to stop.

Tago smiled at the frustration of Bellaria, Meana and Settrano. He knew that the only way out was through and that Nola needed time. As far as he was concerned things were just fine.

Bellaria and Papa Eric had been working on Owen but Meana didn't feel like they were making any progress

The week after the pool party had been a busy one for Owen. The party had been a success. More work was lined up for home repairs and they had requests for a number of landscaping jobs. One of the things that Owen wanted to do was formalize was Nola's participation in landscaping aspect of his business. He felt he needed her to make this work. Gardening was definitely a drug for her. She loved it. And he liked seeing her happy. She had teased about being put on the payroll and he had always assumed he would pay her. But she had never said a word about being paid and he wasn't quite sure how she really felt about being involved in his business. He had 2 new landscaping jobs and wanted to arrange for her to do the assessment. The site assessment questionnaire she had created was very helpful and Joe was learning, but it seemed to him that the clients were more relaxed when Nola was there to do the assessment. There was something in how she talked to them that made them feel like they had control of the outcome and the cost and this made them willing to let his crew have the job. As he thought about it, the questionnaire, training Joe, it always felt like she had one foot out of the door.
"and you want her to have both feet inside your house all the time."
"Hi, pop. Yes I do." He smiled.
"Now pop..."
"So what are you going to do about changing the situation?"
As Owen considered his grandfather’s questions he realized that he hadn't thought about changing the situation at all. And then he thought some more.
"Changing the situation…. Now that is a very good question. I don't know...."
Papa Eric and Bellaria smiled to Meana.

And he did think about it. The real question was, what did he want to change? And other than having Nola around more often, he had everything he wanted as well as the capacity to get anything he could dream up. He was satisfied with his home, his work, in his own skin, and he smiled as he thought, the path he was now walking. For the first time in his life he didn’t feel the gnawing need for something unnamable.

Nola was due this afternoon. He was waiting at the fountain feeding and training the fish. While one fish had seemed to understand the connection between humans and food very quickly, the other fish was only now beginning to pick up on the idea. And he smiled as he thought about training fish. Nola pulled into the driveway and she smiled as she saw him walking to meet her.
"You look just like I thought you would when I first though about that pathway. How are the fish?"
"Learning and I never thought I’d say my fish are learning. But the one without the orange dot on its head is beginning to get the idea. Come see."
And he hooked her arm and walked her down the pathway. When they got to the fountain he took some pellets from the food container and said, "Watch." and he moved his hand over the pool and the orange spotted fish followed his hand and so he dropped a few pellets in on that end of the pool. Then he moved his hand over the other fish and it followed to the other end of the pool and came gently to the top and Owen was able to drop a pellet right in its mouth. His eyes opened wide and he said softly not to scare the fish, "Wow.... it's never done that before."
She smiled and said, "Perhaps it was just hanging back waiting until it could be perfect in the process."
"It's a fish."
"Yes," she teased, "but you're training the fish. You must think it has some capacity or why would you bother?"
"You really think the fish was just waiting until it somehow figured it all out?"
"I don't know. Maybe. Who knows? Some people are like that. My very earth sign daughter is like that. She is capable of doing much but looks like she isn't trying at all until suddenly she has perfected what ever it is she has been thinking about. Try it again."
And he did and the fish did exactly the same thing. Nola said, "It seems to have surpassed the one with the orange dot."
"I guess now I have to work on the other one."
"Do it one more time."
He did and she said, "Cool. I bet Eric will be surprised to see that."
Owen smiled and said, "Well now that we can feed them one pellet at a time, perhaps it will be less likely that he will over feed the fish. There will definitely be less food in the water."
"It's good that you have those water lilies to filter the waste." And she looked from the pool down the walkway and said, "It's a lovely little ecosystem."
"Yes it is. Thank you for creating it."
"I just dreamed it Owen. You created it."
"Nope, we created it along with Maurice and Joe and a bunch of others to help."
She smiled and nodded in agreement. He held out his hands to her and she got up and he indicated they should go through the French doors to the library. He stored the fish food and walked her back to the kitchen. As he was opening a bottle of wine he said,
"Well now that I am initiated what's next?" And he held out the wine to her.
She took it saying, "You know Owen I have no idea. For all intents and purposes you've been acting as an initiate so I thought it best to initiate you. You are already better as circle casting than some initiates I know." And she closed her eyes and took a sip, "mmm, Brunello... so good. Thank you."
He smiled and then she said, "We have a few more Words of Aradia to talk through. The Summer Solstice is coming up so we should talk about that. You have only 4 more solar rituals before you will have been around the wheel of the year." And she paused and then said, "How is your rapport with the Grigori?"
He had been smiling. But as he thought about the Grigori, he seemed to get serious. And at this she smiled because some how the fact that Owen was serious about the Grigori seemed right and good.
"Well, I'm pretty sure that they are watching, just like they're supposed to. Sometimes I feel their presence more than others."
And she nodded, because everyone's relationship with the Grigori was a bit different. "Do you feel alignment or rapport more with one than the others?"
"Hmmmm, I guess if I had to name a Grigori that I think is working with me I'd say, "Settrano. Some how since I started on this path my life seems more fun, more relaxed, more spontaneous than I've felt free to be in the past."
"Yes, really. Why do you sound surprised?"
"Well..... I guess .... you've always seemed pretty spontaneous to me... asking to buy me coffee, deciding to change flights so you would come back on the same day... dragging me to do a site assessment... and a few other things..."
"Well I am usually a very planned and practical fellow..."
"Yes", she teased, "You are most definitely an earth sign..."
And he smiled and continued, "For a long time I've had a tendency to do what other's expected or needed. Now I do things because I think they are the right things to do."
"And you think that this is Settrano's influence?"
"Well, I can't really explain it... but some times it feels like there is someone telling me, sure OK, go ahead, do it! So I do, when in the past I might have hung back and waited."
Nola nodded, "I understand." She too had felt that influence but had worked hard to resist it. Spontaneity hadn't always been her friend. Some how, Meana and Tago seemed to provide balance for her. Settrano was a background influence. Her alignment with Bellaria was natural and easy. "Any other insights or influences?"
"Well... sometimes it almost feels like Papa Eric and Settrano are working together."
"We are, son."
He smiled as he said, "Papa Eric just said they are."
"Yes, really...."
She smiled and teased, "Then you're in trouble. It's hard enough to resist Settrano's influence but if he has help....."
"Oh I'm teasing. It's interesting that your grandfather just pops in like that."
"I can't control it. But I have gotten used to it."
"Meana's working with me too, son."
"Ok..... Papa Eric says Meana is working with him too."
"Interesting. Grigori aligned with water and fire working on earth. Working with Meana has been very good for me."
Now it was his turn, "Really?"
"Yes. Really."
"Well how?"
"Well, Meana has taught me to be... softer... more accepting... of myself and others.... a little less fire and air, thought and action... and a little bit more feeling... taking care of myself..."
"So Grigori help with personal development?"
"Personal development... soul development... both... They watch and sometimes I think, just like they can let our magic work or stop it, they can influence our thoughts and actions, either encourage us or stop us. But these aren't teachings. These are just personal reflections of mine. I was curious about your experiences. I suppose it's the scientist in me looking for other supporting or contradicting data."

He was thoughtful for a moment and then he said,
"Let's move to the library."
As he started for the library he said, "Oh there is something I wanted to show you." And he stopped at the dining room table. "We have new signs for the trucks."
And she moved to the table and saw that he had a number of magnetic signs. The signs said,
OA Enterprises 504-985-7017
design, repairs, renovations, solar power & insulation
We do it all, including
NO Lawnmower LAndscaping

"What do you think?"
"You.... you... put no lawnmower landscaping on the signs?"
"Sure, business is good. How do you like the way I worked NO LA" and he pointed to the capital letters "into the name?"
"I... It's nice."
He looked at her a little confused, "I hoped you'd be pleased." But then he thought about how he felt that she always had one foot out of the door. He wanted to put his arm around her so she couldn't run away.
"It's nice Owen. It's fun and creative how you split the difference between Nola Landscaping and No lawnmower Landscaping." And she did her best to smile at him and mean it and not feel.... what was she feeling... scared?
He said, "I picked up 2 more jobs for you and I was hoping you could tell me when you are available to do the assessments."
"Jobs for me...." she said quietly. Then she got practical and said, "Where are the houses?"
"One is uptown in the Garden District and the other is in Lakeview."
"The Garden District? That's scary. Where exactly?"
"Second Street between St. Charles and Magazine. Why do you say scary?"
“Oh my god, the heart of the blue bloods... or maybe they are new blood...."
"What makes this scary?"
And she looked at him as if he was speaking another language. "You really don't know?"
"No.... I really don't know. Sure the houses are larger and the people have more money but.... so what?"
"So what? You've obviously lived a lucky life. Only someone who hasn't ever had to worry about money could say that." And he thought about the fact that she had no idea how right she was. "I'm a girl from the 9th Ward Owen. I grew up working class people. Sure I've been in the corporate world and I have skills now that I might not have grown up with, but I'm still blue collar at heart. People in the Garden District have money, power, and position. They don't think like I do or maybe it's more fair to say I don't naturally think like they do. Our base expectations and understandings of the world are so very different. I'm not sure that I'm ready to do the Garden District."
"But they've heard about us from friends and they’re interested...."
"Did Leblanc recommend these people?"
And he thought about it, "I don't know. I think that they are friends of the lady who did the fountain. She was very impressed with the yard layout. She saw it before and after and asked a lot of questions about it. These folks said they were putting in a fountain."
"Oh..? is that better somehow?"
"I... I... I don't know. It's just me. I always feel a little out of my element in the Garden District."
"But doesn't your daughter go to private Garden District school?"
"Yes, but sometimes I wonder if it's the right thing to do for her now."
"What?! Then why do you send her there?"
"Because...the early childhood program was, in my opinion, the best in the city… I needed to be able to feel good about going to work and leaving my daughter with someone else. I still remember leaving her at day care when she was only months old. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. That Garden District school made me feel ok about where my daughter was spending so many of the hours in her day. One of the reasons I’ve kept her there is because it provided an excellent education without the religious influence of parochial Catholic schools and PreKatrina most public schools were not an option. But as she has gotten older, I am less enamored of the upper social class overhead and occasional attitude associated with the school. Sometimes it seems like they expect the parents to be so grateful for the wonderful opportunity afforded our daughters and that they forget that I am paying significantly for the education being provided. "And…” she shook her head, "It's complicated."
"Well I can't say I completely understand."
"Have you ever traveled and had to speak another language to get by?"
"What? Where did that come from?"
"I'm trying to use an analogy. Work with me here."
"Oh well....considering the places you’ve been, I’m embarrassed to say not really.” And he thought about it and then said, “Except once I went to Canada, Quebec, and the signs were all in French and the people spoke French. But they could and would speak English too."
"Well do you remember what it felt like to be in Quebec? Wasn't it a little unnerving? Didn't it make you feel just a tad on edge and uncomfortable? Maybe not all the time... but at those critical points where you had to read the French sign to know what turn to take or you had to speak French to get what you needed?"
"Well..." and he looked like he was about to say not really.
So she broke in with, "I remember my first trip to French Canada. We crossed the border between Ontario into Quebec. All of a sudden all the signs were in French. The highway hadn't changed. I could still read the map. The town names were the same or close enough but it was disconcerting. It made me ... I don't know, uncomfortable until I got used to it."
And he had brightened, "Ok, yes. I know what you mean. I have experienced that."
"Well that is what it is still like for me when I interact with Garden District blue bloods. It's still a little disconcerting. I can see some of the undercurrents but I can't see or know them all because I didn't grow up in that world and it makes me uncomfortable."
And he could see she was serious but didn’t understand how she could feel that way. He knew she did just fine with people of, what had she said, money, power, position. "But your daughter has been in that world for more than 10 years right?"
And she nodded a bit dejectedly, "Right."
"I've never seen you look like you were out of your element. You seem to be able to have a natural ease when you interact with people. The guys like you...
"They are practical, hands on, blue collar workers Owen."
"The clients like you. You have a strong presence that is comforting. You listen to them and they can see that and they listen to you. You are the reason why we keep getting landscaping work."
"The landscapes are why you keep getting landscaping work. We did your yard and your yard sold the first clients and so on and so on... It's not me."
And he looked at her like she was crazy, "Come on. You do the site assessments, you talk to the clients, you created the questionnaire, you design the layouts. I just draw them up."
"And then you have your team create them and arrange for the plants to be delivered and ...."
And he put his glass down and scooped her into a hug. "You are the strangest woman. I think you can do anything and yet a few blocks of this city somehow scare you. I don't understand it but I see that it is real. I'll be there with you. It will be Ok. When can you do it?"
"I... I..."
He released her slightly from his hug, "Joe is looking forward to this."
And she sighed because she knew that he was right. Joe would be thrilled to get bragging rights to a Garden District house. "When are they expecting us?"
"How did you know I suggested a time already?"
And she just smiled at him, "I guess I'm used to Settrano's influence on you. It just seemed like you would have leaped because you could. Friday afternoon. You told them I'd be there, we'd be there, tomorrow afternoon."
And he was surprised but smiled, "Yes. See how amazing you are?"
And she sighed deeply again. "Joe will be there too?"
"Yes. You can come here and then we can go to their house together."
She shook her head, "No. I'll meet you there after work. It's close to Jamie's school and I'll have to pick her up at the coffee shop or her friend's house after we've finished. James will be at work."
That was not what he was hoping for but he managed to be light on his feet, "Ok but let me make it up to you by taking you and Jamie out for sushi."
She shook her head at him. He said, "I know that you aren't a sushi nut like your daughter but I figure that getting Jamie on my side it a good thing."
She finally said, "If I turned down sushi my daughter wouldn't forgive me. So .... Ok. Friday. Did you give them the questionnaire?"
"Yep, here it is." And he handed it to and she began looking it over. "I'm going to get the wine. I’ll meet you in the library."

She was still in the dining room when he returned from kitchen.
"Tomorrow is when we do the site assessment, woman.”
"umm hmmm... do you have anything that shows the layout of the yard?"
He put his hand behind her back and moved her toward the library. "Turn over the questionnaire. I did a rough sketch."
And when she didn't start walking he hooked her arm and said, "Come on woman... we can talk about it in the library."
And she followed him and sat in what he thought of as her spot on the sofa. She was still looking at the rough sketch. He just sat and waited. Then she looked up from the sketch and said, "The sketch is helpful... I'll need to see how the light works with the houses next door. I can use mapquest to get the rough compass directions...."
"Yes and you when you see it you the ideas will just happen and I'll have trouble keeping up you and getting them on paper. Tomorrow is soon enough. You don't seem scared anymore."
"Well... I am apprehensive, but it won't kill me." And she smiled and took a sip of wine and breathed deeply. "Besides it is gardening and with someone else's money..... how bad can that be?"
"Much better.” And he smiled and clinked her glass and said, “The Lakefront folks are hoping we can talk to them on Saturday. Are you available on Saturday?”
And she shook her head at him and thought how the fates seemed to conspire so that she spent time with Owen, “Yes. I’m an early bird my family is not. So I’m available Saturday. Saturday AM is the best time...” And she managed to smile as she said, “Did you already schedule this as well?”
“Well, I suggested Saturday morning but I didn’t promise Saturday. They haven’t filled out your questionnaire but they have it and are working on it. I’ll firm up the arrangements tomorrow.”
And she laughed lightly, “OK.”
He grinned, “I think that since we’re going to do a Friday assessment and then go to dinner and then do a Saturday morning assessment that the best thing to do is for you to meet me here. We can go to the Garden District together. I’ll take you and Jamie to dinner and then home. I’ll pick you up Saturday morning and then you can pick your truck up at my house and head back home.”
She looked at him thinking, “Well…”
And he raised his eyebrows at her as she said… “that does sound logical…”
“I thought so.”
“Thank you for doing these assessments.” He was thinking that now would be a good time to talk about making her an official part of OA Enterprises but she just said,
“You’re welcome.” And then moved on and said, “So, new initiate, what would you like to talk about tonight?”

She watched as he slipped into what seemed deep thought and wondered what kind of question was coming her way. He was suddenly thinking a million things at once… he thought about how much fun it was to work with her… he thought about his grandfather asking what he wanted to change about the situation… he thought about how this was exactly what he wanted every night to be like… sitting and talking with this woman… and he thought about how strong and vulnerable she was all at the same time… he thought about how the Garden District and well heeled people somehow scared her…. He thought about how his grandfather had said that he wasn’t sure if Nola was ready to decide whether she can be in love with her husband or anyone else ever again… he thought about… Aradia’s Words…”
Papa Eric looked to Bellaria as if to say, “Is that your influence?”
Belllaria smiled and said, “He has the capacity. But he usually thinks consciously about only one thing at a time.”
Papa Eric laughed and thought, “Well he better focus or he is might strain something.”
Nola sipped her wine and waited perhaps there was something brewing under his normally happy go lucky fa├žade. She hadn’t really seen him quite like this before. She’d seen him drop off into deep thought but it looked like he was actually not so much in deep thought but swimming in too many thoughts.
And Papa Eric nudged Meana, “How can she be so good at seeing into other people and not see into herself?”
Meana answered, “Nola does see into herself. But her life hasn’t always been easy or safe and she has taught herself to control her thoughts and emotions. When she lets herself feel deeply she feels out of control. So she keeps her feelings surrounded by her mental strength.” Bellaria nodded. Meana continued, “Through this path she has taught herself to be in the moment, but her life experiences have taught her to be almost outside of the moment at same time. She loves life and people and even without Settrano’s influence has a hedonist’s capacity to enjoy many things. But while she is brave and strong and capable she is cautious. After her father died she only allowed herself to be fully and completely in an emotional relationship with James and he has hurt her more than once. The protective layer that helps her move through life can also be the same thing that allows her to pretend she is keeping things from herself. But deep down, she knows. The problem has been getting her to act on this deep knowledge. She needs a catalyst. Owen is her catalyst.”
“My grandson does not know himself that well. He is still figuring it out. He is so comfortable that he doesn’t seem to think that anything needs to change. He needs a catalyst too.”
Tago said, “Nola needs time so let go and Owen needs time to reach out. Meana has been working with Nola. You and Settrano will have to keep nudging Owen along until the right catalyst presents itself. But we must give them time to work through this themselves.

Nola just sat there and looked at the site plan he had drawn up while she waited for him to decide what he wanted her to teach or talk about next.
Owen finally surfaced from under all the things he was thinking. When he became aware of the room again he realized that she was contentedly waiting and thinking about the site plan. He moved in and took the questionnaire from her hands.
"We can do that tomorrow."
"Well I was just keeping myself busy while you working out what we're going to talk about tonight."
"Oh... Well… then I guess that I can...
"No, you can't leave. I don't want you to leave."
"Oh.", then she teased, "Should I click my heels and salute or just say ‘yes, master’?"
He smiled at her, "I prefer ‘yes, dear’ to ‘yes, master’."
"I'll have to work on that."
And they just smiled at each other not knowing what to do next. Nola finally said, "OK, I can see I'm going to have to do the heavy lifting. Next week we'll talk about the Summer Solstice. We still have Aradia's Words on Death and Rebirth to work through, as well as ..."
"Can it be movie night?"
And she thought about her teaching movies and said, "Well…”
And he said, “I think I want to watch ‘Sirens’ again.”
“I don’t think….” and she thought but didn’t say out loud that watching ‘Sirens’ wasn’t necessary for him. He didn’t need any help to be willing ready and able to experience the transformative power of sexuality.
“ …No… considering the Summer Solstice is a ritual where we Streghe are charged to do magic to heal or reestablish or ensure balance in the world… I think perhaps that watching ‘What the Bleep do we know, Down the Rabbit Hole..’ is a better choice.”
“OK, What the Bleep. I have wanted to watch that movie again.”
And he got up, found the movie and put it into the DVD.

When he returned to the sofa he patted the spot next to him and she conceded and sat where he indicated. He happily settled into the sofa and threw his arm over the back of the sofa. Nola smiled to herself as she thought how much he was like a harmless puppy wanting to snuggle next to someone.
Nola said, “You know there is an expanded version of this, a DVD set with I think 5 hours of information.”
“5 hours. Maybe we should get it.” He smiled thinking he could probably order it on line.”

Owen started the movie and held on to the remote control and this time he paused so they could talk through some of the concepts. It was midnight before they finished.
Owen was smiling thoughtfully as the credits rolled when Nola picked up the questionnaire and said, “I can meet you here for 3:30PM tomorrow.” Owen was lost in thought.
“Jamie will have to go to the bookstore and wait for me. I’m sure she won’t mind. Especially not with the promise of sushi.” And she stood up.
Owen looked up and realized that she was leaving. Nola shook her head at his spoiled 10 year old face and said, “That face is pitiful Owen.” And she leaned into him and gave him a kiss on his forehead. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Don’t get up.”
He got up, hooked her arm and walked her out the side kitchen door to her spot under the grape arbor.
He gave her a hug and said, “3:30PM tomorrow. I’ll call and confirm with the clients. Is 9AM on Saturday OK for the assessment?”
“9AM is fine. The earlier, the better.”
“Ok, I’ll pick you up at 8AM on Saturday and we can get coffee and then head to the site. I’ll see you tomorrow, right here at 3:30PM.”
She smiled at him and said, “Ok, Chief.”