They say when Eve left the garden of Eden, god said she might select something to take with her and Eve choose seeds.
I've been 'cyber eavesdropping' on a couple of 'easter' discussions taking place in online discussion groups. The thread of the conversations led me hunting the archives of my digital data banks to find this story I wrote several years ago in response to 'the meaning of Easter'. At the time, i had a public space called 'The Story Centre', a limb of the 'Once Upon An Island Charitable Trust and we regularly ran programmes, events and workshops engaging with story in all her manifestations and the celebrations & beliefs associated with them.Easter has many stories - ones of rebirth, Spring, new life, resurrection, harvest, rabbits/hares, chocolates, ancient goddesses, moons and more. It is a significant festival in the Christian faith but its celebration long predated the birth of Christ. As a lover, collector and sharer of stories what I often witness (through my story -tinted spectacles) is a battle for story supremacy. The 'my story is the only true story.' claim. When in fact a story is just that - 'a story' - true for the teller if she speaks it without intentional deceit and yet untrue the minute she tries to enforce its 'truth' on others, especially when it is at the expense of other 'true stories'. Stories are the human forest of imagining and meaning making. We should enjoy them for what they are.
Grandmother rabbit had called a meeting under the biggest and oldest Totara tree. Not just a meeting of the rabbits but of all the animals. The birds, the rats, the possums, the ferrets, the stoats – the animals who were first known to the bush and those that had arrived later. It was a funny hotch-potch of a neighborhood that crowded on the branches of the great tree and clustered about the forest floor. Claws, beaks, tails, pouches, ears and feathers. For better or worse they had grown to live together in amongst the trees not always harmoniously but with an understanding.
“Quiet please,” Grandmother rabbit called from her slightly elevated position up on fallen tree trunk. The din of chirping, squawking, hissing and flapping began to subside. They could tell by the straightness of her whiskers that she had something important to say.
“As many of you will be aware, soon it will be the human celebration of Easter,” began the old rabbit.
The very mention of the word human sent a wave of tittering through the menagerie. It was generally agreed that humans were best avoided. They were an unpredictable bunch, difficult to understand. They had been known to steal bird’s eggs only to turn up months later with fledglings that nobody remembered hatching. Their offerings of food were not to be trusted – sometimes harmless other times deadly poisonous. They chopped down trees only to plant other ones, terrified animals by catching them only to release them again. And of course there were the guns and traps. No, it went without saying, that humans were best avoided.
Easter however was the exception.
It had started with the rabbits. No one could remember an Easter before they arrived. But every year since the rabbits had come to live in the bush, when summer ended the rabbits began a very extraordinary ritual. And it truly was egg-stra-ordinary. Begging from the birds those eggs that had not hatched in spring, the rabbits used them to make moulds from which they created brightly coloured chocolate eggs which they then hid for the human children to find.
Some of the birds had remained deeply suspicious of Easter, giving their dud eggs reluctantly. Why eggs? All the animals knew that neither humans nor rabbits could lay eggs.
“It’s a crazy celebration, “ muttered the Pukekos who were often out spoken, “ rabbits giving humans eggs. What use is an egg to a human or a rabbit.”
There was an awkward silence .All the animals knew humans liked to eat eggs. Just like the rats, the ferrets and the stoats.
“I’ve told you before, “sighed Grandmother rabbit wearily, “ the eggs are symbolic.”
Grandmother rabbit often used big words that made little sense.
“Eggs and rabbits mean life for ‘seconds’,” she explained.
The animals referred to the humans as the ‘firsts and the seconds’. Those who came first and those who came later, the ‘seconds’.
“There’s not much life in an egg if you eat it,” chirped mother Tui casting and accusing eye at the rats and ferrets below her, who were remaining unusually quiet.
The other birds cheeped in agreement. An egg needed to be kept warm and safe if it was to hatch and give life.
“Life eats life,” snapped Grandmother rabbit, twitching her whiskers in annoyance, “ anyway I’ve told you this story a hundred times…”
“Tell us again,” cried the younger animals who all loved these human things called stories.
"All right, “ sighed Grandmother rabbit. She rested back on her old tattered tail and began to tell the story. “Once long ago in lands far north from here where the ‘seconds’ first came from, there was a spring goddess…
“What’s a goddess?” piped a small possum voice from the depths of a warm pouch.
Grandmother rabbit screwed her face up in thought, “It’s when humans give natural things a human shape.”
“What’s wrong with the shape the shape they’ve got?” came the little curious voice again.
Grandmother rabbit continued, “there was a goddess of spring called Eostre. Her companion was the hare, which is like a very big rabbit…”
“Why a rabbit,” came another voice this time from somewhere down on the ground.
“Because rabbits are good at making lots of other rabbits. They make life,” huffed Grandmother rabbit hoping she wasn’t going to have to explain in too much detail.
“Ferrets can do that,” interrupted a young male ferret.
“And possums,” another voice from the branches.
Suddenly the meeting erupted into a roar and screech of boasts and grandmother rabbit’s story was lost.
Grandmother rabbit thumped her strong back legs on the tree truck loudly and she shouted, “I am not saying anything about the story being right. I am just telling you the story. Now, do you want to hear it?”
There was a hush and the old rabbit continued.
“After the dying time when all things grow quiet, when the earth wakes from her sleep, Eostre was thought to bring gifts of eggs which were a symbol of new life. Over the years the eggs became chocolate eggs which were hidden for the human children to find. But…” Grandmother rabbit paused, “it’s all wrong and that’s why I’ve called this meeting.” The old rabbit suddenly stopped and looked quite exhausted.
There was a silence and then Ruru the owl piped up, “You’re quite right rabbit. It is all wrong. If they want eggs they should lay their own.”
“No it’s not that, “rabbit replied, “ it’s just that it’s the wrong time of year for eggs. It’s all upside down.”
The animals thought. Grandmother rabbit was right. No bird laid eggs at this time of year. All the nests were empty. The young birds had hatched in spring and had flown the nests. All that was left now was broken eggs shell and dry leaves.
Grandmother rabbit continued, “It’s not the time of new life. It’s the time of ripened life. It’s time to fatten up and stock up for the dying time.”
The animals nodded is agreement. Everywhere they looked around them they could see what that what the old rabbit was saying was true. The trees were fruiting, there were berries on the bushes and fat ripe seed heads on the grasses.
“Easter is a bit like us, the rabbits. We’re not from this place but now we live here and so the story needs to change. We need a new story -something old and something new…”
“What do you mean?” There was a chorus of curious voices.
“Well, Easter is an old story. It belongs to another place but it also belongs to the people who bought it here. It tells the story of the place where they used to live. But that story isn’t the story of this place. We need a new story that has both parts. We could keep the eggs to remember the old story but we need a new part, a part that comes from this place. We need a new egg deliverer. The rabbit’s time has finished.”
There were a few surprised gasps and then silence again as the animals thought about what grandmother rabbit had said.
“We could deliver the eggs,” said the rats and ferrets a little too eagerly.
“I don’t think so,” laughed Grandmother rabbit, “there wouldn’t be any eggs for anyone.”
“Give the job to the birds, we can be trusted with the eggs,” called Keruru, Tui and Piwaiwaka from the trees branches.
“You’re offer is kind but you are day birds. The eggs must be delivered at night when the children are sleeping. You would get lost in the dark and perhaps have an accident.”
“How about the possums?” suggested a young rabbit, “They can see in the dark and they even have pouches were they could carry the eggs.”
Grandmother rabbit thought about this but then shook her old grey head. “The new part of the story should come from this place.”
“I could do it.” A small voice came from high up in the branches of the old totara tree.
“ I’ve got big ears like a rabbit and fur. I’ve wings like a bird but I don’t lay eggs. I can see in the dark. I’m fast and what’s more I’m upside down just like Easter is in this place.”
All of a sudden there was a flutter from the branches and down flew peka peka, bat.
All of the animals cheered, “Bat would be the perfect Easter egg deliverer.”
Grandmother rabbit smiled. The Easter peka peka. A new story was born.
That year as always the birds supplied the eggs. The rabbits painted and the bats delivered. On Easter Sunday the children woke up early and ran outside to search for the hidden eggs in the grass, under bushes and behind stones. They were very surprised to find Easter eggs hidden up in the trees. They puzzled, “Had rabbits learnt how to climb trees?”
But now you know. It wasn’t the Easter bunny it was the Easter batty – bats an exciting new Easter story -don’t you think?
This year I am finding Easter especially egg-asperating.
I used to be more tolerant. Being a lover of story, ritual and celebration I used to embrace the inherited northern celebration of eggs, Spring and rebirth as our heritage while trying to draw attention to the natural world as it unfolded around us – baskets of apples, kumara and potatoes birthed from the earth, the wheel barrow of pumpkins and the dry seed heads – in every direction you look, the display of life spent and retreating, leaving us with the gifts of the harvest to see us through the winter.
There are no eggs at this time of year, only a lingering shadow of an egg in our northern genetic memory. If anything the egg at Easter has become a symbol of commercial cash cow. Industries that milk every last drop from the human love of celebration, transforming the process of meaning making and ritual into the shallow, soul destroying, disconnected experience of consuming. Even Anni- Frid and Agnetha, the sister chooks who live with me know this, choosing instead to malt and ignore the nesting box. Any mention of eggs, is met by a feathery look of disgust.
But there are small egg like fruits, baubled decorations dripping from trees, everywhere to be had - fejoas, guavas and olives…ahhh, my tongue rests on olives.
You will roll your eyes when I tell you that I am in love with olives and more particularly, olive trees.
The grove of community olive trees grows directly across the road from my home and every day, with no effort or intention I look at them. But lately I have been in close contact. Anyone on Waiheke will tell you it’s been a bumper year for olives; the trees are dripping with fruit. Two weekends ago we picked 700kg of olives with that amount again to still come off the trees.
This time last year I arrived home from Korea with an exotic strain of flu and was unable to participate in the annual harvest but this year I was happy to find myself in the thick of community as we chattered, sung and told stories, participating in the age-old ritual of harvesting olives that stretches back some 8000 years.
The olive tree, a symbol of peace, originated ironically from perhaps one of the most troubled places in the world – the region that now encompasses Israel, Syria, Palestine and Jordan.
However my favourite olive tree story originates from Mediterranean.
In the creation of the capital of Greece, there was much discussion about which god would serve as the patron of the city. The contest came down to Poseidon, the god of the sea and Athena, the goddess of wisdom. No god was keen on making the final call, and so Zeus decided upon a competition. The god who could create the most useful gift to the people of the new city would win the title of patron.
It is a particularly good year to tell this story as Poseidon created the horse (Chinese wooden horse year). The gods were deeply impressed at this magnificent creature.
“ It will prove a willing servant to humans helping them in their labours, most especially in war. Soldiers will ride undefeated on the backs of these fearless creatures.”
It seemed unlikely that Athena could produce something more wonderful than the horse and when the goddess stepped forward with a small scrawny looking tree, it seemed to all in attendance that Poseidon had already won.
“ This tree may look insignificant, but it will demonstrate a strength and tenacity surpassing many other forms of life. It will grow in the dry arid conditions of this new city, thriving where other plants cannot grow, it will provide shelter and food and what’s more it will be heralded as a symbol of peace, which is what people need more than the scourge of war.”
Upon hearing this Athena was proclaimed the winner and to this day the capital bears her name, Athens, and her blessing.
I thought about that story as I repeatedly combed my fingers through the olive tree branches, causing the fruit to rain down on the cloth below, my eyes feasting on the hues of green, crimson and purpley black. My hands became soft from the oils and even in the heat of the day I felt strongly grounded and energized.Interestingly amongst the Bach Flowers, Olive is the remedy for tiredness and exhaustion. The more time I spent amongst the olive trees the more alive I felt. They have, I believe a tenacious magic.
So forget about nasty cheap chocolate foil wrapped eggs this Easter, reach instead for the olive jar, savour the true taste of the season and give thanks to the earth that nourishes us.
Happy Harvest and in true ‘Stark sentiment’…..winter is coming.
To celebrate the metamorphosis of Playcentre Publications into Ako books, my three teaching resources, ‘Imagined Worlds’, ‘Dance Upon a Time’ and ‘The Story Sack’ are being offered at a special ‘three-book-bundle price’ of $69.95, a saving of $20.00.To accompany this special offer I’ll be writing a series of short articles focusing on the values of arts education with some practical examples from my books.
It has been nearly thirteen years since the first of my three arts education for early years teaching resources was published. However as the world becomes increasingly more rationalized, mega -fied, screen -ified and compartmentalized the need for arts education is greater than ever.
Singing, dancing and storytelling are ancient ways of creatively engaging with the world. They are expressive forms of meaning making that bring the rational mind and the compassionate heart into union. Joseph Chilton Pearce termed this “the intelligence of the heart.”
In the process drama, ‘The Bird Collector’ found in my teaching resource, ‘Imagined Worlds’ the children are invited by a bird collector to help her find the rare ‘Wah – wah’ bird. The children enthusiastically prepare themselves, create maps, collect tools, design traps and are successful in capturing the bird who then begs the children to set her free. The ever acquisitive ‘doing’ part of the brain is confronted by the ‘feeling’ heart as the bird challenges the children, “How would you like to be locked up in a cage? How would you feel if you were taken away from your family and home?”
Process drama uses the imaginary to help make sense of reality. It gives an emotional context to learning, asking the child to both think and feel their way to an understanding.
If you’d like to know more about using process drama with the children you work, my resource ‘Imagined Worlds’ is an accessible and fun introduction. Kathleen Warren’s book, ‘Hooked on Drama’ is another excellent resource for early years (three to eight years) Process dramas are best suited for children three years and older and can be offered to both small and larger groups of children.
If you’d like to do a practical workshop in this area, I am available to come and run professional development in your Centre or School or come on a story adventure and attend a workshop with me on the magical island of Waiheke.
I was sharing my story, “ My Dad’s a Dragon Catcher’ with a group of children today – I particularly enjoying telling this story in the lead up to Father’s Day. I’m not at all fond of the commercial hype surrounding these celebrations but I love it when reality and fiction overlap. If you don’t know the story here is a Batt Brief. Toby is a young boy with an excellent imagination. In response to his friends boasting about their Dads and their occupations, Toby claims his Dad’s a Dragon Catcher. His story grows more and more colourful until his teacher announces a special father’s day celebration at school and Toby’s story becomes his potential nemesis.
I’ve had the conversation with a couple of people about how this story is received by children who don’t have an ‘active Dad in their lives’ – the suggestion being that these children may feel some how marginalized by the story. It’s one of the regular story conundrums that adults throw up. Do we avoid the ‘uncomfortable realities of life’ in our story choices – death, loss, abandonment, striving for the impossible goal of universal inclusiveness. My experience is that stories make space for other stories. I tell a story about Dads – children talk to me about their experiences of ‘Dad’, which may include not having a Dad.
As a child I had my own ‘Dad’ story. I had two Dads. I still do. Apparently early on in my acquisition of Dad number two I would regularly divulge this information to anyone who would listen. My mother recounts the story of the five year old me hanging out the window of the car in a petrol station explaining to the bowser attendant that the Dad paying for the petrol wasn’t my real Dad. My real Dad lived a long way away.
My stepfather had to endure the discomfort of my brutal honesty many times over. Telling the story, I imagine, was my way of coming to terms with the situation.
At school Father’s Day craft activities always had to be completed double time – there were two cards to be drawn, two key holders to be made and in daily life there were double the emotional commitments. An abundance of ‘Dads’ proved to have its own set of challenges and having two Dads some how never filled the gap left by the absence of one.
As I grew older the Dad dilemma morphed from an issue of numbers into one of occupation. Adding to adult discomfort surrounding absent fathers, there’s the issue of gainful employment. I’ll never forget one child’s response to the story delivered in a very matter of a fact tone, “ My dad just lies around on the couch and drinks coke all day.’ Thank god this public admission only involved ‘drinking coke’. (I might add that the original seed for this story came from one such conversation I was party to amongst a group of children where a child did indeed claim that his Dad was a Dragon Catcher)
So again, what about all the unemployed Dads, the Dad’s who are in jail, deal drugs, sell marital aids or in my case, are gold diggers.
You see not only do I have two Dads’ but they also share a profession. As an adult I like to joke about this, “ My father’s have two things in common – my Mum and a love of inanimate objects.” They are both geologists. “My Dad’s a geologist.” – was not a problem as a child. If anything it was a bit exotic and generally speaking children have some fairly interesting if not entirely accurate accounts of what their parents gainful occupations involve. A friend’s child told me his father worked smashing buildings – he was in fact an accountant!
I can’t be too squeamish about this – geology more often than not translates into active service in the mining industry and it was the mining industry that put food in my mouth and dressed me as a child. I will have to live forever with this irony.
As an adult who lives on an eco- village, whose politics are somewhat luminously green and who is regularly mistaken for a ‘hippy’ – “My Dad(s) rape and pillage the earth,” does not sit that comfortably.
When visiting recently the small town where my Dad’ s current mining operation is under way the children identified me in a strangely affectionate way as “the gold diggers daughter.” The teacher politely corrected them ‘gold miner’ but the label gold digger stuck. They later proudly showed me how they had turned their entire sandpit into a goldmine – a large hole in the ground. I felt my character Toby’s discomfort and the guilty urge to recreate my Dad as a Dragon catcher. I can’t see my own story ending with the same uplifting line I penned in the book, “ When I grow up, I want to be a - replace ‘Dragon Catcher’ with ‘Gold Digger’ – just like my Dad.”
For me ‘My Dad’s a Dragon Catcher’ was primarily about the imaginative world of children and the nature of stories and truthfulness, not a literal tale about fathers and their occupations. I often talk with children about their own experiences of ‘making things up’. As any storyteller and child can tell you – some stories can get you into a whole heap of trouble. But then again maybe the storytellers function isn’t to play it safe – maybe our place is to bravely make space for other possibilities.
Maybe this funny little picture book is really about father/son relationships, absent mothers, self employment, arts as legitimate occupations, creative problem solving – that’s what I love about stories – their ambiguity. Long may it arise.
Here’s the final little twist in my ‘Dad story’ – my Dad’s were both great storytellers, each in their own way. I’m sure they imbued in me my love of stories – so perhaps I can use that final line in the book after all….” When I grew up, I became a storyteller, just like my Dads.”
An encounter with eco-lego man on the shores of Lake Rotoiti