of slugs and saris

Monday, 6 July 2009 · 5 comments

WornIf you haven’t been to see Nicola’s Art Room, hie thee hence and contemplate her elegant, yet simple works, most of them done fairly quickly. Nicola (aka Guruseva dasi) is a dear friend, and an inspiration. She’s also a wife, mother to two rambunctious young boys, and a part-time college student. She’s always got something going on, always going somewhere.

But it’s not for her busy-ness that I so admire her. Her steady enthusiasm for her work, the dailiness (or at least, weekliness) of it, motivate me to be less less consumed, less grandiose, and more relaxed and playful about writing. It’s Guruseva’s perpetual sense of wonder at and deep appreciation of the ordinary that lifts me up and blows me away.

The latest work she posted to her blog is evidence of this. It’s called Worn. Just a simple, small (7″ x 9″) linocut depicting nothing more than some pants and dresses hanging from a clothesline, while clouds float overhead.

I was utterly charmed by this image. Really, is anything more picturesque than the sight of clothes swaying, flapping, and fluttering on the breeze? And the fragrance of sun-dried clothes? Delicious. It reminds me, faintly, of fresh cilantro. Especially beautiful is the vision of colorful saris dancing and billowing like parachutes as they tug against the clothesline.

But there’s more to line-drying than mere esthetics. Eschewing the tumble drier saves electricity and gas, as well as money. If you’ve got a few big loads, it’s a good form of exercise, too.

Even the doyenne of domestic demigoddesses, Martha Stewart, sings the praises of line drying, to the point of offering a DIY project guide to building your own stylish wood-framed clothesline. Martha, however, goes beyond recommending drying your clothes on a line, and alternately suggests spreading your linens, and similar light, large cloth items, on the lawn. As a faithful subscriber to her magazine, I thought this was a charming idea and vowed to try it someday, in the event I ever got sufficient lawn space.

New Vrindaban, West Virginia

I finally got my chance when we moved to New Vrindavan in West Virginia. Summers there are truly “almost Heaven“: sunny, warm, and breezy, perfect for line drying a load of saris on the lawn, especially since clothesline real estate was usually in short supply. I had dried clothes horizontally once before, on the cropped grassy field facing the apartment buildings near the temple. The saris looked so pretty, spread out in the sunshine, resting lightly on the tips of the grass, and were ready for folding within twenty minutes. I carted my basket back to my apartment, basking in my Martha-ness.

Since things seemed to dry so rapidly, I wasn’t too concerned when I got a late start one day and the laundry wasn’t out of the washer until well into the afternoon. Eyeing the sky doubtfully as the sun approached the tops of the West Virginia hills, I thought, there’s still a half-hour of light left, I’ll just put the saris out, and the heavy stuff in the drier. Quickly I laid them out, and went back to my place…

…only to forget about the clothes until the sun had been down for half an hour. I dashed outside to collect my saris, but dew had already settled on them. They were as damp as when I first laid them down on the grass.

I gathered them up, complaining under my breath, resigned to having to hang them over the furniture to finish drying overnight. I brought them into the apartment and pulled one out of the basket to fold.

What I discovered as I lined up the edges of the fabric had never been mentioned in the pages of Martha Stewart Living magazine as even remotely possible. My eyes starting out of my head in horror, I flung the sari away from me as if it were on fire, rather than merely damp.

“AAAAAAHH!!!”

My husband came running out of the bedroom.

“What happened!?”

“Look!”

Picking the sari up again by the edge, with only the remotest tips of my fingers, I showed him: slugs.

Moist, slimy, slugs.

slugtnDozens of them, maybe even hundreds, congregating on one side of the sari, the side that had touch the grass, silently enjoying the cool dew that had soaked the cloth, oblivious to the turmoil they were now causing.

“Oh, my God!” cried my husband, “What are you going to do?”

We,” I informed him with a level stare, “are going to pick them off.”

“I’m not picking slugs off a sari. Throw it away.”

I checked to see if any other saris were infested, then looked at my husband again. “Okay, I’ll throw them away. Then you can buy me more saris.”

“They’re all covered in slugs?”

“That’s right.”

He sighed, deeply, heavily, in defeat. “I have no idea how to deal with this.”

That made two of us.

We briefly considered sprinkling the slugs with salt to make them fall off, the way Humphrey Bogart did to their cousin leeches in The African Queen, but dismissed the idea as too cruel. After all, the slugs weren’t sucking our blood, merely having a moist chill-out. It was not their fault they were stuck on the saris, but mine. But who knew that leaving them out on the grass after sundown for a few minutes would lead to this?

We awkwardly tried to peel their mucous-y bodies off the fabric, only to be confronted with a complication: the slugs were drying out. The indoor air, devoid of the dew which was precipitating on the lawn outdoors, was slowly drying out the saris, and with them, desiccating the slugs as wells. My sense of urgency was now growing into panic. I didn’t want to be guilty of slug-slaughter, but even more important, I knew that once the slugs dried out completely and died, there would be no getting them off my saris, ever. This was no longer a mere domestic debacle, but a life-or-death race against the clock.

After a few minutes of futile picking at the slugs (to the accompaniment of “icks,” and “ewws.”), then wondering what to do with the slugs once they were off the fabric, we were tempted to give up on both the saris and the slugs.

By this point I was feeling a kind of existential depression. There were so many slugs, whole families of them, in an infinity of sizes, just doing what God designed them to do, namely, hanging out in a moist environment. Some of the slugs were just tiny babies, no bigger than the letter “i” in the title of this blog post. It seemed so senseless for a living entity to take birth as a slug, only to have its already brief life shortened even quicker. I looked back, with a pang, on all the escargot I’d eaten in my life .

But there was no time to waste wallowing in guilt. Racking our brains, we chanted Hare Krishna to the doomed slugs. Maybe I was becoming sentimentally attached, but I couldn’t let it go at that. Even if they didn’t have a clue that they were about to die, they all deserved a chance at completing their full lifespan as slugs. And they’d get that chance, if I had anything to say about it.

Krishna! We finally hit on a solution that would speed the picking while saving the slugs from death (and my saris from destruction). Reasoning that increased moisture would thin out the viscosity of their slime, we spritzed the slugs with water from a spray bottle, and as they rehydrated, quickly plucked them off and dropped them into a cup containing a small amount of water. After accumulating a dozen slugs in the cup, we then flung the contents into the yard, leaving them to their natural fate.

It worked! Spritz, pick, fling, repeat. And so on, for the next hour.

My husband: spritzing and flinging.

Yours truly: picking.

Both of us chanting: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare.

It seemed like there was no end to the slugs, but we kept it up until the last one was flung. I was both glad and sorry to see them gone. I had gotten over my disgust, and now saw them as simply the other side of the equation. They were causing me problems, and I was causing them a problem, try as I might to fix it. Once I made up my mind to save them, they were my sole focus, and dwelling on my disgust for their bodies was not helping any of us.

Looking back, that wacky situation only proved the point that, whatever or whomever we choose to serve, we develop attachment to. I certainly didn’t want the slugs back (it wasn’t a very deep attachment), but I was now concerned with what might happen to them out in the dark.

What entanglement! And for mere slugs. If only I could be that concerned for my own consciousness, doing whatever was necessary with a sense of urgency to ensure that, spiritually, I don’t dry out. Have I ever served Krishna with the same intensity as I served those slugs? I honestly don’t remember, which alone says something. I remember the slugs, though.

Accuse me of over-dramatizing, but I can say with all honesty that I felt no sense of boredom or resentment during the slug-fling, only the consciousness of doing what needed to be done and of feeling myself absolutely essential to the doing of it. Too often, I’ve thought that whatever service I’ve done for Krishna could just as easily have been done by someone else.

Does my service matter to Krishna if it doesn’t matter to me?

Even if our service can be done be someone else, we owe it to Krishna and to ourselves to do it in such a way that we become indispensable, as if somebody’s life depended on it, especially our own. It does.

And so, with the slugs back in the grass where they belonged (hopefully in a more spiritually advanced state than when I first discovered them), my saris were saved (and washed three times before I’d wear them again), and my husband and I had a new shared memory (although he didn’t care to remember it), along with a newly-coined phrase that we use whenever we want to elegantly sum up the annoyances of the householder existence:

“It’s just another slug on the sari of life.”
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If anyone reading this has ever remotely had anything like this happen to you, I’d love to hear about it.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Aninditadevi dasi July 6, 2009 at 6:07 pm

I like your insights on serving Krishnha, and I really liked the phrase that was born from the episode “It’s just another slug on the sari of life” 🙂

I can’t think of similar instances right now but recently I was thinking about the mood of service that you brought up- of doing one’s service as though you were indispensable. I understand that it can give one a sense of strong commitment to that service to Krishna, which is good. At the same time I think it can also feed one’s pride in a subtle way, you know what I mean?It seems like there’s a thin line between the two.

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tulasi-priya July 6, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Thanks for the kind words.

Tell me the bat story!! Tell me the bat story!! Post it on Facebook.

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tulasi-priya July 6, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Take the saris back outside, yeah, I thought of that—when I was writing this. Why didn’t I just do that? Actually, deer liked to hang out in that field also.

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Syamapriya July 6, 2009 at 2:13 pm

I love your slug story, and your deep thought. Remind me to tell you my bat story sometime.

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Karen Morgan July 6, 2009 at 1:57 pm

What a great story! Love the insight about doing service. I probably would have just taken the saris back outside and left them until morning, hoping the slugs would have moved on by then. But, your idea gave you a “project” to do with your husband. Much nicer. You can’t buy memories like that.

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