by Regina Ress
Living from within myth and fairytale, looking with a metaphoric eye, life’s lessons are deeply experienced and learned. Recently I spent two months volunteering for Fundacion Arte del Mundo, an arts and literacy center in the Andean town of Baños, Ecuador. Besides the in-town waterfall and hot springs for which the town is named, Baños offers spectacular close-up views of one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Tungurahua, “Throat of Fire.” Two days before my birthday, it erupted. We were treated to spectacular pyroclastic displays, fountains of boulders and lava, steam, and cinders. All very exciting. Then the wind shifted. Here is what I wrote from my storyteller’s perspective about the rain of cinders and the tasks assigned by Mama Tungurahua.
After a week´s orgasmic display, our Fiery Mother Tungurahua has shown her dark side, showering us with fine black dust, heavy, pervasive, abrasive. The prevailing wind, hot air flowing up from the Amazon, which generally takes the smoke and ash away from Baños, shifted and we received a rain of dust from “La Madre.” Our usual afternoon winds whipped the fallen grey powder through and under windows, doors, clothes, into eyes, into lungs, settling in to all cracks and crevices. Even the gate lock, cranky at best, is clogged with cinder-dust and impossible to use.
Yesterday was unreal. And yet how very very real, really. Reality. But it felt unreal, like a film: Woman in the Dunes comes to mind, sand, sand, sand. Like a story of the end of the world: dark, windy, few people on the streets, many masked against the blowing volcanic dust. All the dogs were grey. And the leaves on the trees. Even the sides of the surrounding green mountains have taken on a sad. grey aspect.
This morning, our little band of captured voyagers (my fellow-volunteers) had to take up brooms and shovels and clear the dust from stairs, patios, sidewalks, gutters, Huge job, as La Bib occupies a corner lot, with a big central courtyard, all open to the dust. All needing to be swept. And so we donned hats, masks, glasses. We took up our tools. We began to sweep.
Images of being captured by Baba Yaga, Strega Nona, and various underworld goddesses floated through my metaphor addled mind. Set to work, we were, to perform the tasks which teach the lessons of life. Keep sweeping. Keep sorting. Pay homage to the witch. She may turn back into the beautiful goddess. Or not. Her choice. We are clearly not in charge. But, oh, if we pay attention, if we remain grateful for the brooms, the shovels, the buckets, each other, and grateful for our Mother who teaches us the literal nitty-gritty lessons of life, we may learn how to live, fully and with deep gratitude for whatever life brings us.
Keep sweeping. All will come clear!
Regina Ress, storyteller, actor, writer, and educator, has performed and taught in English and Spanish from Brazil to Broadway, from homeless shelters and prisons to Lincoln Center and the White House. She is the NSN MetroNY liaison, is a recipient of NSN’s Oracle Award for Leadership, and teaches storytelling for New York University’s Programs in Educational Theatre and Multilingual/Multicultural Studies. She will be telling one of her 911 stories at Sharing the Fire in Albany, NY this month and will be telling the Dayak (Borneo) epic Adi, Song of Agan, in Cincinnati for the Fringe at NSN’s conference in June. Regina believes that storytelling connects us to each other and to the deepest parts of our Selves.