Having gone through a bit of inner remodeling, I sat on my balcony and waited for olive picking time. Luigi had said between 10 and 11, and it was almost ten. I was ready. By 11, I was both ready and thinking that maybe this was not going to happen. By the time he messaged me at 11:45, letting me know that it was about to start, I was starting to get a little nervous and wondered if I really wanted to do that.
I mean, I had never picked olives... would ladders be involved? Would my body keep up? And mostly, would I make a fool of myself, in front of the whole crew?
I had just gone through a good bout of uncomfortableness and the rewards had been big. What would one more bring? Maybe this whole chapter was about that, anyway. Sure, I could stay home and work - but had I not gotten a good lesson on the topic?
I grabbed my water bottle and walked down to the olive grove, getting lost only once.
No one was there, which gave me a chance to inspect the situation a little more closely. I had walked past olive groves often, while in Tuscany last month, but always with a charmed painter’s eye, never with any intent on walking myself down there myself.
Totally different perspective, and I wasn’t sure I was up to this new one.
It was steep. Really freaking steep. And deep. I could not even see where the grove stopped, actually. Waaaaay down there.
One hour, I thought. I can give this one hour, then I need to get back and _________.
Finally, Luigi arrived on his scooter, hopped off and said: Let’s go!
Let’s go. Let’s go... how? Where is the crew? Where are the machines?
That’s when he reached behind a small wall and grabbed a stick (which may give some of you a giggle), a long bamboo pole that had seen better days, and walked towards the first available tree.
At that point, I decided to let go of anything and everything I may think I knew, and just be.
Out of nowhere, a woman around my age and in much better physical shape showed up with a big green net, which she laid under the tree, like a huge sheet. As soon as the net was nice and flat, Luigi began whacking at the tree with the pole. Whack, whack, whack.... I could not believe my eyes. What?? THAT’s how you do it? All of a sudden, the big Costco bottle of olive oil that sits next to my stove started glowing in my mind, and nodding.
Some olives were falling onto the net, leaves and all. Not millions, mind you. Some.
Once that tree was deemed properly beat, the net was moved under the next tree. By that time, we were still at the very upper part of the grove, outside of the fence and actually on the road.
I was still watching, feeling like a complete alien who had very little to offer.
Then it was time to gather what had fallen and thinking I could maybe contribute a little without messing anything up, I squatted down to help separate the fruit from the leaves, and put the olives in a small bucket. Luigi’s mother Cristina joined in, and handed me a pair of gloves. That felt nice.
I was in shock. There we were, four of us crouched over a net, separating olives from their leaves one handful at a time, and putting them in a bucket. My mind was having a full on chatter party, thinking about how crazy inefficient this was, how these people must hate their task, how surely there had to be a better way.
That’s when I noticed that the woman next to me was humming a little song. Right there, squatted on the side of the road, she was singing. I looked up. She caught my eye, smiled at me and said: e bella la natura, vero? “Nature is beautiful, isn’t it?” She was happy. Just happy. Her mind was making no alternate plans and there was no resistance. She was simply tending to nature’s gifts. In grateful bliss.
Her one sentence completely re-oriented me.
This was no chore. This was not something to “get better at,” or ameliorate. This was just ... this.
So I sank into it. My mind took a nap while I just felt the olives in my hand, saw the colors of the leaves and fed the little bucket. I could have sat there a long time. Surrendered.
Because Life really likes to drive a good point home, I was pulled out of my olive induced meditation by the voice of a woman, speaking to Luigi. She was speaking in careful Italian, and with beautiful blondish red hair and a tank top, was obviously not from here. She wanted to know where the road to the beach was. When he told her, she responded that no, it was closed. He turned to me with a quizzical look, as I had just been down there the day before. I shook my head, no, it was not closed. It was arduous and crazy steep, but it was not closed. I got up and told her I would take her there.
As she and I walked, she asked me how long I had been living here and I felt funny answering “two days.” With my olive stained gloves on, and all that happened since I got here, it was confusing even to me to give that answer. She looked surprised and told me a little about her.
I am from Stockholm and I am an actress, she said.
And then... wait for it....
I am here with my writing teacher. To write. I want to write a one-woman play and perform it.
Here? In the middle of nowhere, she too was here to write?
I saw Life give me a smile and a wink. Tell her, it said.
Well, I am here to write, too. Except it seems I can’t. It seems I’m stuck.
She stopped. I stopped. We looked at each other.
What’s your name? she asked.
I gave her my name and she laughed, saying that my last name was her favorite name, ever. She wrote it down.
And then we arrived at the road to the beach. Which was open.
We just needed to meet, that’s all, I said when she saw it.
Yes, we did, she responded. And we will see each other again. We hugged. She headed down the kooky road to the water, and I walked back to “my” net, my insides re-arranged a little, once more.
It was time to tend to the trees inside the fence, and I noticed that Luigi had hopped over the locked gate with a gunny sack and a bucket. As if I jumped fences every day, I did the same thing (no big whoop, I prefer it that way, god please don’t let me trip), and for the next hours, he, Cristina - who apparently had the key to the fence - the other woman whose name I didn’t catch, and I picked olives.
It was amazing. No more whacking, these trees had released their gifts by themselves, over the past days. The olives had fallen onto an expertly set up system of netting, which all oriented downwards, to the bottom of the grove. Our job was to find little pools of olives and harvest them, or nudge them towards the next low point, where they would gather, like happy looking little bunny poops.
We saw honey combs attached to trees, and I was shown where boars had dug the night before (not my favorite part). There was a small brook babbling nearby, the Mediterranean bright blue in the distance, and the quiet, sweet work of gathering these precious gifts. The further down we got, the more sacred it seemed.
My gratitude bucket was filling up just as quickly as my olive sack.
I was humbled that these people had allowed me to “help” them with this. I was proud to have pushed through the discomfort and my ego’s insistent warnings. And I was so glad that my body was keeping up.
After a good while, we reached the bottom of what seemed to me like a giant pin ball machine of slanted netting, and after checking on the avocado trees, made the trek back up, with the bags on our shoulders.
The sea was scintillating, that sea that has brought me so much home-ness since I was born, and I just paid attention to the next step.
Later that evening, Cristina came by with a couple handful of olives for me to brine. They take 20 days to get ready, she said. So we will be able eat them before you leave.
SCARED OF THE SACRED