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.”
“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.”
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?”
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.
“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.”
“Yes, I am.”
“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.”
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.”
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?