Sunday, April 12, 2020

Eggstravaganza Remembered

Each Spring, for the past two decades, we've hosted a flamboyant neighborhood festival, the Eggstravaganza Easter Egg Hunt, on the Lone Palm property we caretake in Big Sur.


Howdy neighbors!
It began on a rainy weekend in 1999, at the bridal shower I hosted for a dear friend. Margaret could bake pies, sew wedding dresses, paint landscapes, knit elaborate sweaters, capture a provider, and be glamorous, too. I can still see her in her floppy straw hat, wearing the colorful sweater she'd knitted herself. She swings her Easter basket back and forth, her banjo-big blue eyes smiling, the coast stretching out behind her to the south, the silver gray ocean reaching out to the horizon. She sealed her nuptials later that April under the wedding tree, after riding a snow-white Arabian horse, adorned with red ribbons and pink roses, across the meadow. 

That bridal egg hunt got me thinking. It's much easier to connect with neighbors in springtime than to host a Christmas party when big storms cause power outages and impassable roads. The eccentric, sturdy folks who live on this mountain sometimes disagree - over water use, access roads, fence placement, outdoor lights, short-term rentals, controlled burns and more. But a truce is declared for those who attend the Eggstravaganza on Easter Sunday. We are Switzerland, one neighbor said, as we watch toddlers, young children and teens search for chocolate bunnies across fields of wildflowers and freshly mown lawns. Each year I hope to create an experience that lives in communal memory until the following Spring. Over the years, as we watch the children grow and play, there's a sense of continuity along with wonder. Sometimes, we can return to the garden.

The story of The Selfish Giant, written by Oscar Wilde for his two young boys, inspired the Eggstravaganza, too. A very selfish Giant returns from a year long visit with this friend, the Ogre. Outraged, the Giant throws the village children out of his garden, where they have been playing every day after school. When Winter comes, Winter decides to stay, and invites Snow, Frost and the North Wind to join the party. For years the Giant wonders why the flower and fruit trees don't bloom, why Spring never comes back. 

One day he sees that his fence has fallen down in one corner of his orchard and the children have returned. They sit happily in the branches of the trees, they skip and play along the paths. Spring has returned, the birds are singing, and all the fruit trees and flowers have burst into bloom. The Giant's heart melts and he decides to share his garden from then on, knocking down the fence and welcoming all the children. "I've been a very selfish giant," he laments. In this way, the Giant is fulfilled. His soul grows wiser and kinder as the children become his friends and enjoy his garden for many years. 

Bringing happiness to others makes us happy, and as our heart opens the world is more beautiful. In this way we create a life that flows with love. 


Easter booty
We can trace the origin of Easter to the Saxon goddess Ostara. She transformed a bird into a hare, and it thanked her by laying a batch of colored eggs. Seriously, that is the story! The celebration is also related to Ishtar, the ancient Sumerian goddess of love, who came back to life from the dead, a seasonal theme. Special celebrations for Ishtar took place around the spring equinox. Eggs are also an ancient symbol of procreation and abundance. 

What do bunnies do? What humans used to do in a pagan festival a little later in the Spring. At Beltane in ancient Celtic lands, villages and farm-folk built great bonfires, herded cattle into higher pastures, drank copious mead, danced and, like the proverbial bunnies, swapped sex partners. A child born from the Beltane celebration was a good omen for the community.

"What's Easter about?" asked my friend Lisa years ago. She'd been raised Jehovah's Witness and was curious about all the holidays. "It's about Beltane, babe," I replied and explained the ritual to her. "Oh!" she sighed beneath her Easter bonnet as we trudged through the meadow, hiding eggs. "Let's do that!"

Spring is when Lone Palm's lawns, elegant old trees and landscaping really shine. There's golden poppy, raspberry vetch, yellow lavender and purple lupines on the hillside above the house. Daisies, daffodils and birds of paradise emerge, wisteria and jasmine festoon the garden. It's a perfect time for colored eggs, Easter bonnets, and champagne flutes filled with jelly beans. 
Tribal Maidens

On Easter Sunday we frolic on the lawns, swing in the hammocks, mingle at the picnic table or on the yoga deck. Whales spout in the ocean below, curious condors swing by above. One year, we even had face painting. Kids and adults sprawled on the blankets on the grass as playful artists decorated their foreheads, noses and cheeks with multi-colored tendrils, arrows, dots and feathery shapes. We became a tribe of Easter aboriginals. 

It's always a potluck, thank goodness. The dining room table fills and empties, then fills and empties again throughout the day. One year I counted six plates of deviled eggs on the table at once. There's a variety of salads, often from greens straight from neighbors' gardens, multiple kale dishes, pasta and lasagna, wheels of brie, baskets of crackers and homemade bread, slices of roast beef and ham, spicy tamales, Bundt cakes, elaborate pastries, fresh watermelon and mango, and more.

Guests are asked to bring "nice bubbles." In other words, NO Barefoot Bubbly! If someone brings something cheap, eyebrows go up and sniffs are audible. We may be hillbillies, but we know our sparkling wines. One year we filled a small claw-foot with bottles of Champagne, the colorful labels on the bottles making the tub as pretty as a basket of Easter Eggs. 

There is a home-grown innovation to the ritual: a champagne glass hunt. Those over 21, in order to have a glass of bubbles on Easter Sunday, must first go and find their goblet in the grass. Sometimes, this makes grown-ups grumpy. "How do I get some Champagne, again?" said an exasperated Dad who the following year simply brought his own glass. 

A decade or so ago it was an all-weekend bash, beginning on Friday night as guests arrived to help with preparations. Stalwart Moms, notably Margaret and then Peggy, have made so much of the magic happen! Handmade glitter eggs and vintage tchotchkes from the Oakland Museum's White Elephant sale, candies galore. We'd dye the eggs the old-fashioned way all day Saturday and get up super early on Easter Sunday morning to stage the hunt, before the littler kids woke up or arrived. We'd start drinking the good Champagne early in the day, with poetic toasts, of course. 


Bad Bunny
As in any ongoing human activity, things sometimes got complicated. One year the "Bad Easter Bunny" appeared and handed out airplane-size liquor bottles and bright colored condoms, which the kids blew up into balloons. Surprisingly, not everyone thought that was funny. "What's the difference between a condom and a balloon?" went the story afterwards. "About 10 years," was the response.

Each year I place a small wooden baby blue stop sign, the corner gnawed off years ago by my puppy, at the main entrance to the maze. It says, "Easter Bunny Stop Here."

At high noon, I stand on a chair, make a brief speech and ring a gong to kick off the hunt. Big kids, 10 and up, enter the elaborate narrow maze cut into the tall grass of Lone Palm's large meadow. Children 5-9 follow another, slightly easier path. Wee ones under five have their own "children's garden," a tiny spot filled with sparkly treasures and sweets, amid scarlet geraniums, bunny-soft Mexican sage, and fragrant sweet peas. 

An additional bunny visit is often required for the little ones whose parents bring them late to the party. "You are the Easter Bunny!" said my neighbor in mock awe. A Navy Seal Vet who reminds me of the Marlboro Man, he'd spied me, basket in hand and wearing bunny ears, re-seeding the children's garden with treats. 
MY basket!

Today, it's more Prosecco than Veuve, and the partying is gentler. The dozens of kids seem younger, the parents, too. I feel such joy connecting with neighbors and discovering new friends of all ages. Some little people become great fans of the Big Sur-style Easter Bunny, and bring a passion to filling their baskets each year. 

As the hostess, my Easter costume is key. After years of playing around with everything from a pink corduroy pantsuit plus a top hat to the gaudiest floral table cloth mini-dress I could find at Goodwill, I think I've found the best one yet: a skirt, camisole and jacket in a lustrous pale green fabric, with iridescent pink and yellow threads sparkling through it. A white felt hat with a veil, simple flat sandals, and off I go, Egg Hunt Mistress of Ceremonies. 

In the office the teenaged boys I'd met as toddlers were playing card games. They looked up at me as I emerged from the bathroom in my finery, so on impulse I asked them, "What do you think?" To my pleased surprised, their budding gallantry shone forth.

"You look lovely," said Theo, now studying at Vassar. "You look like Easter!" said Blake, who plays the Chinese board game Go with my husband, and cooks breakfast for us all. 



Bliss!
One of the sweetest photographs from a decade ago shows five little girls, all in their Easter dresses, jumping up and down on the outdoor bed, hair flying, laughing. The cobalt ocean is their backdrop, a sky blue sheet with clouds scattered across it covers the bed. One little gal, Stella, is in mid-air, as Mom Heather stands by, holding hands with Mason, encouraging him to jump towards the sky too.

Two years ago, one of the first young ladies to come to the party was one of those children. Now 14, Emilou's golden tresses spilled over her jean jacket and her smile was the smile of an old soul. I popped a wide straw hat, crowned with orange paper flowers, onto her head, and snapped another photo. 

Years ago, there was Ryan, with his wispy, curly hair that hadn't been cut since his birth, his eyes a soft chocolate brown. People thought he was a little girl, until he started climbing the tallest tree in the yard, a 50' Norfolk pine. I can still see him, wearing the world's smallest red plaid fleece shirt, holding the itty-bitty black bunny I'd adopted up close under his chin. I remember Ryan's sister, Kaili, scampering in the meadow in her corduroy jumper, dancing with our herd of goats. She'd pet the long-legged babies' tiny faces, then lean her head against the nanny goat's dark withers as if they were having a chat. 

Then there was Isabella, destined to be a teenage rodeo queen. You might remember her if you hold onto copies of Smithsonian magazine: in 1999 she made the cover. She stands barefoot on top of her honey-colored horse, on a hilltop above the sea. She looks directly at the camera, her eyes serious, her face wistful. "Big Sur, Life on the Edge," the headline reads. In my mind's eye Isabella holds up a royal purple egg, a diamond pattern in white crayon peeking through the paint. Her long brown hair frames her face as she smiles a Mona Lisa smile, freckles sprinkled across her nose and cheeks. 

Towards the end of the Eggstravaganza late one April Sunday, I netted a mermaid just before sunset. I gave her some big fluffy towels and a glass of Champagne and plopped her into my claw-foot tub, where strands of passionflowers swirled around her like kelp.

Her handsome, red-headed boyfriend sat and chatted with us on the nearby deck, a sheepish smile on his face as he glanced over at his girl in the bath. Lukie, all grown up, gamine and beautiful. Her close-cropped thick black hair and aquiline features, her deep amused laugh and her sweet youthful self covered in bath bubbles and flowers. The perfect finish to a day of celebrating Spring. 








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