• Blessing the butterflies

    If you’ve been reading Cedar Street Times, you know that our butterfly sanctuary got a bit of a haircut last season and that, coupled with a bad year for butterfly numbers made for an abysmal tourist season in the Monarch Sanctuary. So a friend of mine, Bob Pacelli, a professional videographer (Bosnia, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Cambodia for the UN – no amateur, he) who has made a documentary about the Monarchs decided that he would mount a campaign  to get some potted trees to put in between the naked ones to break the wind so to speak so the flutterbies would have something to cling to when they come back (God willin’) next week.

    Enter 87 year-old Helen, who lives at the local old folks’ residence and is a professional Butterfly Benefactor. She is also my buddy. [She’s the one who brought me some plastic lilies that have a solar-powered light so they charge in the daytime and emit a bilious glow at night as a hostess gift one time. I exclaimed as how they would look lovely in my back yard (far away from the eyes of my unfortunate neighbors) but she said no, they had to go in the front. I told her I thought they could be stolen, lovely as they are, but she said if they got stolen to just tell her and she’d buy me some more. Privately I thought I would put them in the bushes and then when she went away I’d pull them out again, but just then she said, “And I’ll drive by often to make sure they’re still working!” So now we have these plastic light-up lilies in our front yard. But I digress.]

    Helen decided that the new, potted trees needed to be blessed by some friendly local Indians so she gave them some money and set a date. Then she asked me for some help getting the word out and I allowed as how I would be happy to, so I did.

    Then she said the Indians wanted an awning where they could set up some Indian Stuff, and did I know where to get one? So I borrowed an awning from my friend Adrianne who is also a bona fide Indian of the registered, card-carrying Cherokee type whereas ours were of the Castanoan-Ohlone-Esselen Nation.

    Then Helen said the Indians wanted us to have water there (they live in San Jose and were under the mistaken impression that it’s hot in Pacific Grove which it isn’t, so I got them water and planned for the ice and an ice chest.

    Then Helen thought it would be nice if we had water for everyone, not just the Indians, and maybe some sodas and sandwiches, burritos, chips on the side, candy bars and ice cream, and she got on the phone and started getting prices on catering trucks for God’s sake. I finally convinced her that this was going to be a solemn ceremony and would only last an hour (Boy, was I wrong! But more on that later.) and if people wanted water they could damned well bring their own. She acquiesced. I even convinced her not to bake cookies, but she did hang a Mylar butterfly balloon at the entry to the Sanctuary despite my misgivings.

    She then decided that since there were going to hopefully be a lot of people, we might need a microphone and she set about calling around to rent one. I knew the City had one, a battery-operated one, so that no one would trip over the cord even though the guy who owns the motel next to the sanctuary said we could plug it in on his back porch, so I cajoled it out of the Recreation Supervisor. I had to carry it around in my car for two days because he conveniently had to go to his daughter’s wedding or something.

    Then Helen asked the Indians to bring a Butterfly Dancer, so they brought one from Oregon. Helen decided that the ceremony was going to be a little longer than originally planned so now we needed some chairs. I lined up 30 nasty, rusty folding chairs and arranged for Neil to pick them up at the city corporation yard and set them up in the sanctuary at noon on the day of the event. He was not happy. They gave me the key to the Corporation Yard and I signed in blood. The chairs are key in this story so pay attention.

    Helen wanted to release 25 tagged Monarchs and ordered them from the Monarch Farm or whatever it is, but I knew if she released them in the Sanctuary we would be lynched by the Xerces Society so I convinced her just to take them there in their handy dandy vivarium and let people look at them, then release them at Wrinklesvilla instead. I had to borrow three tables from my friend Marcia so Helen could display her butterflies and the Indians could display their Stuff.

    Adrianne came with her awning as we were setting out the chairs. She then went back to work at her gift store and the Indians came set up their Stuff. Pacelli raked up the duff and admired his trees. The Sanctuary looked lovely. Tourists came and went.

    So come time for the event, there were way more than 30 people, including the mayor, the city manager, the public works guy who is also the deputy city manager (we multi-task here in Pacific Grove), and a couple of city council people including one in knee socks, plus all the butterfly docents and the Museum Activities Director, some tourists from Ohio and who knows who else, so the tribal chairman made all the young people get up and give their chairs to the old people. I decided I was one of the young people so I stood up. She gave a nice prayer (she says it was a prayer) in the Ohlone language and we were thrilled, even though she could have been reading a recipe for Acorn Soup for all we knew. Then she introduced an Anglo anthropologist who proceeded to talk for a full 45 minutes about the history of the Ohlone. I’m standing there on one leg and another thinking, “OK, we’re up to the Spanish and the Mission period. OK, we’re now at the treaty of 1835. OK, we’re up to the breaking of the treaty of 1902.”) Just when I thought it would never end (we were at the new treaty of 1948) Pacelli gave him the wind-it-up sign and he wound it up. We’re going to invite him back to talk at the Museum when we can all have chairs.

    Then they read some more stuff in Alt-Ohlone and lit some smudge thingies made up of sage, tobacco and mugwort that they used to bless all of us and choke us one by one, and they went off to smudge the trees after assuring us they would not put the smudge thingies down and set the whole sanctuary on fire. Just as they marched off with their smoking thingies, a Monarch flew by. That was the best part of the ceremony, just so you know.

    When they got done smudging the trees and suffocating the visitors, they made us all stand in a circle which actually was more the shape of an amoeba and we all did one revolution of dancing to the rhythm of some split elderberry sticks they’d decorated with pictures of turtles. I tried to buy one for my collection of percussion instruments but the Indians weren’t selling. So I’m shuffling along, raising much dust, and thinking “What was I thinking?” BOOM bah BOOM bah BOOM bah BOOM bah! Then she made us each take a handful of the same mixture of sage, tobacco and mugwort and go bless some part of the sanctuary ourselves.

    When we reconvened, they got the Butterfly Dancer out there and she hauled out a shawl she’d made with butterflies all over it and did a brief butterfly dance. It was lovely.

    By this time, I was pretty tired and half the people had left (the mayor had an event at the recovery home and the council members had to go off and campaign for the library measure) so I decided to take one of the chairs. I rearranged it little bit, sat daintily on the edge and relaxed my full weight on it and SPLAT! I’d put one of the legs in a gopher hole so the whole thing collapsed and I went down on my mush. It took four citizens to get me up and pry the chair out of the gopher hole. Someone urged me to brush myself off as I had little pieces of butchered tree and bits of tobacco and mugwort plus some ashes from the smudging, but I assured him I had brushed it off, it was just that I’d chosen to wear white and looked extra dirty as a result.

    Helen then insisted that everyone introduce themselves (even though I’d made a brief and I thought adequate introduction at the beginning) so we passed around the microphone. I introduced myself as Skoosher of Gophers and some lady in the audience invited me over to her yard.

    All in all, it was a fun day, even if our hour-long ceremony lasted three and a half hours. We got the chairs back to the corporation yard, the tables and speaker and microphone back in my car, and the Indians and their Stuff packed into their van. That night the mayor called and said she’d heard about the gopher debacle but she thought the ceremony was lovely and would I consider putting it on every year the week before the Butterfly Parade? I guess I’ll have to if she wins re-election, and it appears she will as no one is running against her. But I think I’ll cut out the speechifying parts and ask Public Works to do a gopher check beforehand.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on September 29, 2010

    Topics: Butterflies, Current Edition, Front PG News

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