thanksgiving story/parable/parallel

Once there were three almost entirely grown Americans, of the US variety, in the early 21st Century, who left their country on the eve of one of its cherished holidays. They desired to be very far away from the traditional celebrations, as they wanted to celebrate the holiday for themselves, as themselves. Their country had become overgrown with the ivy of hype, and it flashed at them with its technicolor leaves and reached for their arms with its heat seeking feelers. Most of the other Americans wore the hype-ercolor leaves as clothes, as cool. These Americans were weary, they had been pruning the ivy back from their gates since they were very small and young and sneaking clips on the sly. Once one of them had taken three of the leaves and pinned them in an ironical fashion. This had got her sent home from school to change her clothes. Everywhere you went in their homeland, the hype was flashing and the people were doing what it said, and feeling how it showed them to.

The three Americans liked each other enormously, for their own reasons, which had some to do with that they all loved words, and truth, and some to do with how they hated hype. They had each traveled over some fair and not so fair bits of the world, and they shared a longing to see more of the places beyond their borders, of lands unimaginable. Deepest Peru sounded perfect. And one good thing about national holidays was the rare vacation time that they afforded off from work. So tickets were purchased and the friends decided the voyage would also be a celebration of their season, for they were to be traveling during the time when Scorpio moves into Sagittarius, a dark and private season. And Peru is South of the Equator, with a view of many fine stars, none of which any of them had ever seen before. They hoped to find the place in the sky that the Scorpion’s stinger and the Sagittarian’s arrow point to –> a mystical place known as the Galactic Center. They felt that since they were coming into alignment themselves with an alignment in the universal cosmos, that the wisdom which they received during the time of their voyage they could trust as belonging to part of a greater truth. And they did have a love for the truth, these friends, honed more sharply and held more dear because of the terrible and obfuscating hype-ercolored ivy, perhaps.

And the truth was, that at the outset, at least one of them was concerned that she was spoiled beyond grateful, and secretly afraid that her response to their culture had alienated her from her family. But maybe the truth was closer to what they all knew deep down, that traditional family holidays can be alienating reminders of just how many different kinds of bonds of love exist in the world, and just how hard it is to share something in common, even for a day. Their culture had guilt and shame in its arsenal of familial weapons, and these qualities leaked out sometimes of the ivy and dripped into the eyes of friends and loved ones, making them blind with feeling and need.

Sometimes this turned family holidays into surreal sagas of epic proportions, played out silently along people’s antenna frequencies, and supported by the underlying surges of emotion coming from the muted tv football broadcast. Sometimes it seemed like people were secretly Most thankful that they didn’t have to spend many other days like this, with people they loved and wanted to like, but didn’t understand at all.

Everybody’s karmic path is different, and these three knew that they had drawn short straws and they wondered if it was on purpose: if they had decided before they were born to live outside their culture, or if it was just the reasonable response to an unreasonable situation. But they knew that they would never determine the answer to this question and meantime, there were more pressing questions, like will one get sick whilst traveling to Deepest Peru, and will one be able to eat as a vegetarian whilst there as well? The answer to both of these questions, karmic path or no, is Yes. One will get sick, whether or not one eats as a vegetarian (which one can do as long as one does eat eggs) quite easily and pleasantly, in a country with over 200 varieties of potato and the protein rich quinoa grain staple.

In fact, if one loves papas fritas, one is sure to be visiting heaven on earth. Which is probably also what the Pilgrims thought, when they finally pitched to shore on their rickety and over-filled but finely carved wooden Spanish boats, just 50 years or so before the Spanish sailed their own boats to Peru, claimed Lima as their capital, and began to Conquistadore the Incans and other tribes, ransacking their golden temples and melting the gold down to send back to the Queen. Was it still the queen? These sound more like orders from a king. They conscripted a whole lot of Indians in the mines in the north, and they spread a fairly catholic Catholicism throughout the land. They made the Incas build lots of colonial squares and large stone churches, and the churches are filled with images that the Incans held true: the sun, the maize, the coca leaves, the serpent, the puma, the condor.

Our people disembarking on the eastern coast of the Americas, they also had funny hats, but they were a more stringent lot. They needed all the help they could get, those pilgrims of ours. The symbol of the cornucopia is a nice one, but some of the others are tacky and lack truth. They are the remnants of old marketing campaigns that stuck and require continuous boosting from new seasonal hype-factories. So the people grow hungry for the feeling of meaning when they try to feed themselves on packaging.

These three Americans, one Scorpio beyond her birthday and two Sagittari just becoming theirs, traveled to ancient cities and dwellings and spoke with crafts people and host people and saw rivers and mountains and rode on many forms of transport and listened and reflected and tried new foods and secretly hoped to celebrate a most remarkable holiday, far from home in a land with different traditions, They wished for a holiday that felt holy to them.

And so they set out for a remote peninsula, with a small village nestled at its tip. They made no plans beforehand, only set their intention upon a quiet and beautiful place. The awoke early on the morning of their journey, fortified themselves with coffee and mate de coca down at the docks, and prepared to board a ship across the great lake where the world began. Their captain was a quiet Quechua man, whose father was aboard as mate. The ship was small and not very full, and they set off on their voyage full of great excitement and glee, for the waters were turquoise and the wind was warm. And they stopped at a village of floating islands, where they saw many amazing and unusual things, for all of life took place on the soft firm pads of reeds, which grew in the shallows of this place in the great lake, and which the islanders had bundled and strengthened and shaped into huts and shelters and sitting places. The captain loaded up a bushel or two of reeds onto the boat and they continued to thread their way through the delta of reeds out into the open waters of the lake.

Here the winds of fate blew on the back of karma’s neck and the motor of the boat, which until now had been playing silent partner, second fiddle to the glorious experience of the day, began to beg for its due attention by starting to splutter dramatically. At first the people on the boat were un-phased by this turn of events, they probably believed that the boatmen would give the little engine some love and ingenuity, and it would be satisfied to bring them into shore. And sure enough, after a little bit of time and one trip to the place where the box of random pieces were stored in the front of the boat, the engine kicked in again. And for two minutes everybody went back to the headspace they had been in before the little fright.

But then the engine quit again, and when they looked over at their captain, he had what appeared to be the carburetor out in pieces on the bench and was blowing into it, whither to clear a line or to resuscitate it, they were not sure. And the captain’s father, he was back in the random parts box but he didn’t seem to be finding what he was looking for. And then he started to wield a very long paddle off the back of the boat with great stoic determination.

This is when the Spanish couple got nervous, and the British couple got funny. The Americans started looking around for ways they could help. One of the Americans really wanted to help the father boatman, for it was just him, one man with a long poled paddle, and they were really far from shore. And nobody on board was handy with motors, being western civilized people who specialize in thinking more than acting. Which was what made the holiday adventure so fun: thinking applied to practical use! And action! One of the Americans passed around fruit to the boatmen and other passengers, another picked up a hand mirror to signal at a passing boat, another picked up a floorboard and used it as a paddle. There was a flurry of activity, and everybody felt like they were helping.

The boat that they signaled saw their plight and made for them. Everyone was very excited about the prospect of rescue and were wildly waving their arms about in the air, until the boat drew close enough for them to see its crew, which were a menacing and dreadful lot, looking quite excited at the prospect of a boat full of tourists and their gear floating in the middle of an empty lake. Just as the implications of the rescue were becoming clear, a school of dolphins rose from the depths of the turquoise waves and began to fling themselves at the would-be pirate vessel. The dolphins emitted a new frequency of squeal, which made everybody’s ears ring. That sound, combined with the slapping on their boat, must have convinced the pirates that they would be foolish to mess with this helpless ship. Their captain turned the vessel around and they headed south towards Bolivia, leaving the Americans back in their original state of plucky problem solving whilst drifting directionally across a very large lake.

Aside from the very good feeling of being helpful, all the concentrated effort of paddling with floorboards was not as effective as they would have liked. The Spanish woman was using her technology to ask for help from ashore, but she was doubtful that the technology was having any effect either. The captain had taken each little piece of engine apart and was running them separately, in little plastic cups of water with wires extending from one to the next, presumably to give each bit of the engine its proper attention, and it did seem to work occasionally. At long strange intervals, when the captain felt the juice of his latest tinkering maneuver, he would step down on the metal lever in the floor that signaled the engine to start and the engine would start, and even run, sometimes for long enough to give everyone on the boat the illusion that it would continue running for long enough to see them to shore. And then, inevitably, another bit, perhaps the battery this time, would feel slighted by the spark plugs’ moment in the sun, and give up its ghost in a dramatic flouncing fashion, or just go silent and dim. And then the boat would float again.

For the Americans this was something of a revelation. The Spanish couple were actively horrified with the inconvenience and felt that this boat should no longer be allowed to transport people unawares. To this one of the Americans felt like giving them the proverbial finger, for while it was probably true what they were saying, she felt that they were blind to the sheer creative ingenuity and persistence that the boatmen were displaying in their efforts to return their ship to shore. One American felt that these character traits deserved a big tip and a piece of fruit or two upon disembarkation. But because the Spaniards were nervous and wanted their money back, and so did the Brits, who weren’t going to make it to visit any of the other islands they had paid for already, and because it was now getting to be evening and nobody wanted to spend any more time on a boat today, she didn’t say much about it one way or the other.

The houses on shore became distinguishable, as did some small boats, which nobody was using to come rescue the drifting boat, and some bulls, torres, tied up in a field next to the beach. They were reaching shore, poco a poco. It was shallow enough for the strong and stout hearted among them to pole the boat in closer using long eucalyptus poles. Only one was lost in the reeds and finally, with very little ceremony, they reached shore. There was clapping. Then the father boatman rolled up his pant legs and jumped off the boat in his bare feet and went running down the beach. He may have gone for help. This is what the people assumed. And they made their plan for what they would do next and then they sat down to play cards.

The Americans loved a particular game called Palace, which turned out to be a familiar derivative of a game the British couple loved, called Shithead, which turned out to be a bit of a bridge to another beloved American game, Asshole, which one of the Americans had just learned recently. She liked Palace best, in part because of the name, and they played back and forth jovially and introduced the Brits to the concept of “trash talking”, which is a very American thing to do apparently, but the Brits picked up on it beautifully, and out-trashed the Americans and even won the game of Palace. Which happens sometimes with Palace, on your first hand.

By this time the father boatman, whose name was Senor Chokay, had returned and asked to see everybody’s ticket. He had been convinced by the Spanish couple that he had to give people some of their money back and he extended the convenience even to the Americans, whom he had at last delivered somewhat close to their intended destination. And at that, everybody carried their bags off the boat, resting on a small jutty of rocks out into the lake, and walked across the beach and up to the road, where the Spanish couple attempted to find someone with a combi who would drive them back to Puno. The Americans and the Brits started walking the other way, armed with a small hand drawn map and the name of Valentin Quispe, who they hoped would put them up for the night. The captain and his father poled off the shore and by some minor miracle or strange happenstance, got their motor started and headed in towards the harbor.

It was a fine late afternoon and the people walking were happy to stretch their legs down the red dirt coast road, past little farms and rows of ginger pigs tied with rope to stakes in the ground. It was peculiar to watch the boat go past them under its own power down the coast, but life is peculiar, after all. Senor Chokay caught up to the walking people a few kilometers down the road past the harbor, to ask for his 30 soles back from the Americans, who he had in fact delivered here, to the peninsula where they were going. The Americans calmed him down, for he was quite irate at this point, and asked him again where the sleeping house was. But he had no more to give them, after such a long day of working the long paddle, and so they parted ways and neither party looked back.

The walking people went from house to house along the road, practicing their greetings in foreign tongues, and inquiring after the house of Valentin Quispe. The road wound around the peninsula and one path led down the hill towards the water. There were some touristy people wandering down it and the walking people followed them and asked their question to the native people they found there, and there were many looks of confusion during this time, and also some giggling, and one of the women led them to a house which may have been the house of Valentin Quispe, and they told him their story of the broken boat and the long adventure and he seemed to understand their plight, only he was full up at his house. And so he sat them down with mate de coca and some hard bread and went in search of someone who would host 5 travelers with big smiles and weary arms, and feed them dinner and talk to them a little bit before bed, so that they might know where they were in the world, and not go to sleep still drifting in the questions of an empty lake.

And lo he returned with Juan from the village, and the walking people shouldered their packs and followed him up the hill through somebody’s yard where two old people sat across the chickens from each other, and onto the road into town. Just before town there was an arch spanning the road like a private rainbow, and the travelers walked all at once through the arch as though they might be entering a whole new world, and they wanted to be together when they began. And after they crossed through they looked at the hills and the terraces and the mudden houses and they asked each other if didn’t things look different and special on this side of the arch, and they were glad of each other’s company at a time like this. And they were glad to be following this man to his house on the far side of the arch just as the sun was going down.

And Juan was a giggly and kind man, married since very young to his wife Juana, and the father of five children. And the beds were made of clay and reeds and the roof was thatched and the sunset was the most glorious in all the many sunsets of the orange variety, and there was a Eucalyptus tree to lean against while it was happening. And after, there was Peruvian beer and then a feast of potatoes and eggs and rice and soup. And for dessert: chocolate pudding from their own cow. And there was much talk of thanks-feeling for the day and the people and the lives back home and the part of life that lets people find themselves occasionally so far from home and at the mercy of the universe, and then finds that universe to be a merciful one.

not the end at all.